VSA Florida is pleased to announce the winners of their 10th Annual 2017 VSA Florida Young Soloist Competition who will be representing the State of Florida in the VSA International Competition in Washington, D.C. later this year. Congratulations to 19 year old pianist James Williams from Pasco County and Jennifer Gordon, age 17, from St. Johns County. Through a strict adjudication process facilitated by Tampa Bay professors of music at the University of South Florida and HCC Ybor, the two will represent Florida in their quest for the international title.
The coveted annual international award goes to four outstanding musicians, two from the United States and two from the international arena, providing an opportunity for these emerging musical artists to each earn a $2,500 award, professional development and a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Both the Florida and International Young Soloist Program seek to identify talented musicians, age 14-26 who have a disability with the intention of increasing their likelihood for successful careers in the arts. This outstanding program delivers by offering opportunities to serious music students to highlight their craft and performance ability at venues throughout Florida. Additionally, through a partnership with the Florida Orchestra and Ashley Furniture, each winner will perform at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg in October 2017 at the orchestra’s annual Concert in the Park.
James A Williams fell in love with classical music when quite young and taught himself, by ear, to play the piano despite the lack of formal training or the ability to even read sheet music. Autism makes this gift even more relevant. After winning a school talent show in 2010, James produced a fundraising CD, A Moment with the Classics.
Since beginning his musical journey, James has put numerous music performance competitions under his belt including the FAF (Fine Art Festival) in Orlando, Louisville and Phoenix. In 2014 he won Spotlight on Talent at the Heritage Arts Center and has performed for VIP guests at the closing ceremony of the Martin Luther King Day celebrations organized by the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival. James’ performances include entertaining autism advocate, Temple Grandin at the CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) annual conference in Orlando, the Tampa Yacht Club and continues to share his gift with churches, nursing/retirement/veterans homes, coffee houses and local businesses in the Tampa Bay area. James plans to attend South Eastern University where he will seek a degree in music performance.
“Playing the piano brings me peace and solace from difficult times and the courage to overcome adversity. I am more able to concentrate when I play my classical music and love to see the enjoyment of others when I play for them”.
Jennifer Gordon began singing and discovered her love of music at an early age. Although diagnosed by the age of nine with Tourette syndrome, characterized by a series of tics and unanticipated movements, Jennifer reaped the unexpected therapeutic benefits of making music with her voice …the tics vanished!
Jennifer attends Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida dedicates herself to her art form by taking advanced coursework such as AP Music Theory and music history as well as participating in the school chorus. Jennifer attended Interlochen Arts Camp-Young Vocal Artist Program in 2014 and in 2016 attended the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, recognized internationally as a premier summer training program for aspiring young musicians.
“All of my life”, Jennifer writes, “I have faced obstacles; with each obstacle I grew stronger and used my voice not only as a way to create art, but as a tool to pave the way for other young artists with disabilities.”