Madeline Ayala stands tall with her head held high as clear, sweet notes flow from her throat. Even though it’s just an impromptu performance outside of Starbucks, it’s focused and intense, comfortable with the music, like it’s part of her.
Ayala, a 14-year-old from Fort Worth, has been singing in public since before she was in kindergarten. Now she’s heading to Vicenza, Italy on June 26 to study at the International Lyric Academy.
The International Lyric Academy is a summer training program for emerging classical musicians from around the world. Candidates audition for a place on the program and alumni include opera singers Dominique Moralez and Mardi Byers.
Over the next three weeks, she will take masterclasses, private singing lessons and perform in her first opera, “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Ayala admits she’s nervous about some things, but overall she’s looking forward to the experience.
“I’m really excited because I’m going to learn more things,” Ayala said. “You know, broaden my horizons.”
Ayala’s voice coach, LK Fletcher, who is also an instructor for the International Lyric Academy, encouraged her to give the program a try. Fletcher said Ayala was going to be an intense experience.
“Students are immersed in about as much rehearsal and content in three weeks as most of them will get in graduate school,” Fletcher said.
Ayala’s mother, Elizabeth Ayala, said her daughter is not afraid of hard work.
“She has a strong work ethic,” Elizabeth Ayala said. “And when she finds something she’s passionate about, she goes for it.”
The girl her mother calls “the songbird” used to get in trouble at school for singing during naptime. Finally, one Friday, her teacher asked her to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at a special event. Ayala, 4, memorized the national anthem over the weekend and performed on Monday.
Then her grandfather’s friend asked her to sing at a basketball game. Ayala said the opportunities keep coming.
She eventually added musical theater and dance to her repertoire. In her second year, she performed at Casa Mañana.
“Without having all of these opportunities, even as a pre-K student, I don’t think I would likely be where I am and realize my love for musical theater,” Ayala said.
Ayala attributes her success to her parents, but Elizabeth Ayala said her daughter does the work to make it happen. She trains hard and finds sponsors to help pay for her lessons.
Sometimes she auditions for a role but is turned down. When this happens, Elizabeth Ayala said her daughter receives feedback and tries to improve.
“You learn from struggles,” said Elizabeth Ayala. “You enjoy wrestling. You can’t always be on the right track every time and you have to learn how to be down and up.
Ayala doesn’t have a lot of free time, but when she does, she enjoys walking or biking the Trinity Trail with her family. She also enjoys reading, but most of her activities revolve around her love for music.
Ayala attends Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school in Michigan that provides intensive training in the fine arts. Ayala is targeting Carnegie Mellon University for college and a musical theater career in New York.
Fletcher said the training schedule in Italy will put Ayala in a good position for a music career, just like athletes have to go through the minors and attend special camps and programs to qualify for the big leagues.
“[It’s] a big step forward,” Fletcher said. “And because she’s so precocious and already has so much work done and competitions that she’s already won, she places herself with the middle schoolers to do what she does.”
Ayala said she will “continue to train” when she returns home.
“There’s always so much more to learn,” Ayala said.