Emma Grubbs was too shy to sit next to her voice coach when she went for her first trial voice lesson, since then she has learned the joy of entertaining a crowd.
Her grandmother, who plays the piano and sang harmony with toddler Emma, encouraged her to take her first lesson. "My mom thought I was too young for vocal coaching and that my grandmother was a little biased. Mom agreed that if someone was willing to listen to a 4 year old sing, she would allow me to try. My grandmother contacted vocal coach Sabrina Hess who agreed to have me come in for a trial lesson since I was so young. My first lesson was about 15 minutes, and I was too shy to sit with Miss Sabrina on her piano bench, but she did manage to get me to sing. I have studied with her ever since," Emma says.
She sang "Castle on a Cloud" from "Les Miserables" for her first recital. She sang her first operatic piece, "Pie Jesu" from Gabriel Fauré's "Requiem" at a recital when she was only 6. "From that point on I wanted to sing songs in different languages and when given a choice I always liked serious opera pieces. My teacher would tell me the stories behind the songs, since I was just learning to read. Even though the operas were quite serious I loved them.
"I'm not sure why I am drawn to classical music. My mom tells me she played instrumental classical music to me constantly when I was an infant and toddler so maybe that is why I connected with it so much. I enjoy singing other genres of music, but when I sing opera I feel very emotionally connected to the music," she says.
Her parents and grandparents support her, but she says her biggest influence is Hess who introduced her to opera.
"I like many different genres of music ranging from the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber to Ella Fitzgerald and pop. I am happiest when I connect with an audience with an opera piece even though the language is different, and they may not know what the words mean. The emotion and music are the same in any language. I have enjoyed performing pieces in Latin, Italian, German, French and English. Some of my favorites are Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" from "Turandot" and his "O Mio Babbino Caro" from "Gianno Schicchi." "Panis Angelicus" was fun as a duet with my voice teacher," Emma says.
In 2016 Emma competed in Appalachian Fair's Got Talent and won first place for singing "Nessun Dorma." "I was ecstatic to have someone recognize and appreciate the type of music I sing. I remember watching Jackie Evancho sing on television and thinking "hey, there is another kid who likes the same thing I do.' I have struggled performing opera in front of my peers, because classical music isn't that popular in my age group. I have always been more comfortable singing in front of adults. The positive feedback at the fair increased my confidence to sing the music I love," she says.
During the last few years, she has performed in an ensemble with Broadway performers David Elder, Gary Mauer, Elizabeth Southard and Beth Leavel at The Niswonger Performing Arts Center to raise money for Niswonger Children's Hospital. She sang the national anthem at Thompson Boling Arena for the Lady Vols, at Bristol Motor Speedway for a truck event, at an Elizabethton Twins baseball game and at Muddy Creek Raceway. She has performed on WJHL's "Daytime Tri-Cities" and for the Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble at the Tennessee Amphitheater in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Emma would like to pursue musical theater classes in the future. She wants to continue to sing opera because it allows her to express emotion through song, but she isn't sure if she wants to pursue a career in opera. As she's only 12, she has time to decide.
"There are so many things I want to experience, before I decide what to do when I am older. God has blessed me with a gift to sing opera, and I intend to share that as long as I can," she says.
Emma is in the sixth grade at Providence Academy in Johnson City, Tennessee. Her parents are Gina and Chris Roberson and the late Jonathan Grubbs.