It began with a billboard for a school that teaches youngsters to play string instruments. Jonathan and Fe Morales had always wanted their young daughter to have an appreciation for music. When Mrs. Morales signed up her child for violin lessons with Suzuki Strings at the age of 5, Nina Morales admits it was not one of her favorite pastimes. But as she became more proficient, her love of music grew.
Now 14 and finishing her freshman year at Springstead High School, Nina has had a wealth of experiences and received numerous awards for her skill on the violin, which she hasn't been able to put down for nine years. Most recently, she was a scholarship winner and performer at the Hernando Jazz Society's jam and show, and she performed at the Springstead High School Band's Spectrum concert.
On Saturday, classical music lovers will have an opportunity to listen to Nina as she performs at the Nature Coast Festival Singers' "Songs of Faith and Freedom" concert at Nativity Lutheran Church. The concert will include patriotic hymns and a special performance by the Nature Coast Children's Chorale and 16-year-old Alexis Pletincks on French horn.
Another concert, without Nina, will be Sunday at Spring Hill United Church of Christ.
For the third consecutive year, Nina has been selected as the festival singers' scholarship winner.
"Nina is a wonderful young lady and an outstanding violin player," said Shirley Chaisson, publicity chairwoman for the festival singers. "She is so poised and so grown up for her age. It's mind-boggling. ... She truly is a prodigy."
To keep with the concert's patriotic theme, Nina will perform Jay Ungar's Ashokan Farewell, which was used as the title theme of the 1990 PBS television miniseries The Civil War.
Along with her various scholarship and school shows, Nina also performs in the first violin section with the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra in Tampa, and has played with groups such as the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, the Pinellas Youth Symphony and the Pinellas Youth Philharmonic in St. Petersburg. She continues with violin lessons at the USF-Tampa School of Music.
One of her most recent achievements was being selected as the Young Artist Competition winner (Junior Division) with the Ocala Symphony Orchestra.
"I was so shocked I won," Nina said. "There were some really, really good musicians there."
What she enjoyed most, she said, was performing with a large orchestra.
"It just really came alive," she said.
Nina's parents initially encouraged their daughter to enter competitions mainly for feedback.
"Most of these groups will provide an evaluation," Jonathan Morales said. "That was our objective. But she keeps on winning, so there is some promise here."
Nina participated in the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival in Vermont last summer, which draws string instrument students from throughout the world. The program is about a month long, and Nina was immersed in violin studies.
"It is like a violin boot camp," her father said, "and she loved it. She wants to go back."
Nina has been invited back this summer, so the scholarships she has won this year will help with the cost.
But Nina's first priority is school, "without a doubt," her parents said. And she continues to get straight A's.
"We believe music instills discipline," Jonathan Morales said. "It helps the brain train itself ... and it supports, or complements, the academic aspect."
Nina hopes to use the violin as a way to get into college.
"I'm not sure if I want to be a musician full time," she said, adding that she plans to study science, perhaps bioengineering or genetic engineering.
"I know (music and science) are opposite," she said, "but I really like them both."
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Nature Coast Festival Singers present 'Songs of Faith and Freedom'
When and where: 3 p.m. Saturday at Nativity Lutheran Church, 6363 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee; 3 p.m. Sunday at Spring Hill United Church of Christ, 4244 Mariner Blvd. (Nina Morales will perform only at the Saturday concert.)
Admission: Free; an offering will be collected.
Information: Call (352) 597-2235.