At just 9 years old, Carys Williams can say she has stood with a professional maestro and conductor — one who has worked worldwide — and sang with a large choir and orchestra.
That’s because Carys, a fourth-grader at Tildenville Elementary, is a member of the Opera Orlando Youth Company.
Carys started with the program when she was 7 years old. At the time, she was the youngest person in the company. Her father, Tim Williams, has been involved in the theater community for years and is an acting coach for the youth company.
“I think that she’s always loved singing, she’s always sung around the house,” said Carys’ mom, Alina Williams. “Her dad’s an entertainer and her grandfather is an entertainer, so she’s always been exposed to it all along.”
THE YOUTH COMPANY
The Opera Orlando Youth Company is for children and teenagers between ages 8 and 18 and is divided into two divisions — the Children’s Chorus, for elementary and middle-school ages, and the high-school-age Apprentice Company.
The youth company was founded by Education Director Robin Jensen, and under her tenure the youth choruses have performed with multiple Orlando Philharmonic productions. For Opera Orlando, she developed an intensive singing and acting program for children ages 7 to 18.
Along with Tim Williams serving as the acting coach, Jensen also brought Amado Bobadilla onboard as the vocal improvisation/composer.
“Last year, they had a very rigorous performance schedule,” Alina Williams said. “A selection of the Opera Orlando children choir was cast to be in the adult opera ‘La bohème.’ Right after that, they got to be the children’s choir in the Orlando Philharmonic’s ‘Home for the Holidays.’ The Orlando Philharmonic is on stage, and they had the Opera Orlando kids, another chorus and a professional cast of Disney performers. They did a couple of weekends of performances with that. It was really neat, they got to perform at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the kids were amazing.”
The children get to perform a mixture of traditional opera and some musical-theater pieces. Carys’ favorite part, she said, is getting to be around like-minded people and having the opportunity to participate in large productions.
“We get to perform around a lot of people,” she said. “We have fun doing it. It was really cool. It was interesting to sing with adults that are trained professionally in singing.”
CARYS THE SONGBIRD
At just 2 years old, Carys became fascinated with watching “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with her grandparents. She watched it just about every day for a while, to the point where she had nearly memorized every part of the DVD.
Her influence also comes from modern pop stars and popular music.
“When I was little, I used to sing Lady Gaga,” Carys said. “(I also like) Imagine Dragons, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande.”
Tim Williams said Carys always has been very melodic and had a propensity to sing from the time she could vocalize.
“She would stand up on the chaise in the middle of the living room with a microphone and a cappella sing Lady Gaga’s ‘Edge of Glory,’” he said. “Even now,she’ll make up songs. It’s nice, because it’s a form of self expression for her.”
At about age 6, Carys and her parents went to the Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art. The youth company sings there almost every year, Tim said. Although Carys was too young to officially sing, there was a part in the show where company members asked guests to write down their favorite Christmas memory in one sentence; they then used those memories to form lyrics and improvise a song from them.
“She not only brought her paper up but said she wanted to sing,” Tim said. “There was my daughter, not in the company, but singing at the Festival of Trees. She just got a lot of encouragement. I think even more than just singing, Carys is really gregarious and a social extrovert. She likes to be around people, and I think the youth company really made her feel welcome. It’s a place where she can express herself and have friends.”
During busy parts of the season, when the youth company is putting on productions, it can be a challenge to balance a rigorous practice and performance schedule with school and sleep. Alina Williams said for “La bohème” and “Home for the Holidays,” they worked on late-night rehearsals, and it was a balancing act with show commitments, school, getting enough sleep and doing homework.
But the opportunities Carys receives as a member of the youth company are unparalleled. Already a student at Tildenville Elementary’s dual-language magnet program, she also gets to learn different languages for some productions.
“That’s hard (sometimes) because you have to learn different languages,” Carys said. “We do Italian, and we did two other languages. ‘La bohème’ was in a whole different language.”
Carys also is getting the same training that professional opera singers do at 9 years old. Although a little less intense and done in a classroom setting, the training is invaluable.
“I’m just overjoyed with pride and happiness for anything that she finds happiness in,” Tim said of his daughter. “I also get to experience something a lot of parents don’t, and I know I’m lucky in this aspect. A lot of parents will send their kids to piano or tennis lessons and drop them off and come to the recitals and see the fruit of their labor: I’m different in the sense that I get to through the process with her, because I’m one of her teachers. ... It’s pretty amazing to watch her and be a part of her process; it means a lot to me.”