Blind Brazilian Singer Wins Young Soloist Award in the US

Giovanna Maira, blind Brazilian singerVSA arts (formerly Very Special Arts) announced Thursday, February 16, the recipients of the VSA arts 2006 Young Soloists Award. It also announced the Rosemary Kennedy International Young Soloists Award, which is presented to a young musician from another country

This year’s recipient is vocalist Giovanna Maira, 19, of Osasco, São Paulo, Brazil. The international prize is supported by the Kennedy Center’s Education Department through the Rosemary Kennedy Education Fund.

Maira has made several appearances on Brazilian television and radio programs including the popular "Domingo Legal", "Superpop" and "Domingão do Fastão."

She was a featured soloist at the São Paulo’s Teatro Municipal, a prominent performance venue in Brazil and performed in a touring production of An Evening with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Maira has performed on several radio programs including "Francisco Rossi e Você" and her original compositions have received accolades at the Festival Estudantil de Osasco.

Maira is blind and works with Instituto Paradigma, an advocacy group that works toward the inclusion of people with visual disabilities in society. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP.

The American awardees are pianist Jacquelyn Weitz, 22, of Billings, Montana, cellist Brian Sanders, 22, of Madison, Wisconsin and vocalist Nichola Kouzes, 14, of Colleyville, Texas. They will all perform in concert at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington on May 23, 2006.

The VSA arts Young Soloists Program was created in 1984 to identify talented young musicians with disabilities and support and encourage them to turn their talent into a lifelong profession.

A committee of prominent music professionals selects the award recipients, granting each a US$ 5,000 award and the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center. VSA arts is an affiliate of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

"This program has helped launch the careers of talented young musicians for 22 years by offering awards and a concert performance at the Kennedy Center," Soula Antoniou, president of VSA arts said.

The Recipients:

Jacquelyn Weitz, a classical pianist studying at Montana State University-Billings, has won several national concerto competitions. In both 2004 and 2005, she was selected as one of 24 pianists throughout the country for the prestigious Van Cliburn Institute. She received the Outstanding Musician Award at the 2002 Bartok-Kabalevsky-Prokofiev International Piano competition and was one of five finalists in the Professional Category of the 2003 Pinault International Piano Competition in New York City. Weitz has asthma, severe allergies and a rare immune deficiency syndrome. She maintains a private studio teaching 14 piano students and is currently pursuing a professional concert career.

Brian Sanders, a classical cellist, began playing the cello at 10 years old. As a high school student, he was in the local youth symphony and by his junior year became principal cellist. He will graduate this May from the renowned Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he is the principal cellist of the Eastman Philharmonia, studying with Steven Doane. Sanders contributes his success as a musician to developing and understanding his own bow technique, having been born with two fingers on his right hand.

Nichola Kouzes, a Country, Pop and R&B vocalist has performed at the
Grapevine Opry, Six Flags Over Texas, Billy Bob’s, and Radio Disney. She began performing at age 7 in local talent shows and has continued to excel while entertaining at local hospitals and senior citizen events. Kouzes plays the acoustic electric guitar and writes her own melodies and lyrics. Kouzes aspires to become a professional performer. She was born with ulnar hemimelia, marked by missing bones in her right hand and lower arm, and at 8-years-old was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

VSA arts, an affiliate of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to create a society where all people with disabilities learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts.

VSA arts provides educators, parents, and artists with resources and the tools to support arts programming in schools and communities. VSA arts showcases the accomplishments of artists with disabilities and promotes increased access to the arts for people with disabilities.

Each year millions of people participate in VSA arts programs through a nationwide network of affiliates and in more than 60 countries around the world.

VSA Arts –  www.vsarts.org

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