WASHINGTON - Maya Wagner, a singer/songwriter from Hillsborough, is one of five young musicians named as winners of the 2019 VSA International Young Soloists Competition, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The program focuses on identifying, elevating, and celebrating the work of young musicians living with disabilities. The winning recipients, who each receive a $2,000 award, will spend July 24–26 participating in pre-professional development activities including rehearsals and roundtable discussions with music professionals, culminating with a performance on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage on July 26 at 6 p.m. This performance is free and open to the public and will be streamed online at kennedy-center.org/video/upcoming.
Wagner, 18, was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at age eight. She has found that music is her most important coping mechanism. Singing has helped calm her tics and songwriting has given her an outlet of expression, which has helped her to put her struggles into words. This year, she recorded and released her first EP, Nostalgia, which she wrote and produced in her bedroom studio.
The EP is available on Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music, along with her new single, “Her.” Wagner will be attending Berklee College of Music this fall, where she will continue to study songwriting and music production.
The other four winners are Tori Adams, soprano, of Minneapolis, Minn.; Avery Dixon, saxaphone, of Riverdale, Ga.; Kasyfi Kalasyena, piano, of Jakarta, Indonesia, and Jose Andre Montano, piano, Washington, DC.
“Through their individual achievements and musical excellence, these five outstanding young musicians demonstrate exceptional artistry and defy the presumption that having a disability means you cannot excel,” said Betty Siegel, director of VSA and Accessibility at the Kennedy Center. “While not only honoring artistic accomplishment, this award, along with other VSA programs, advances the public conversation and shifts perceptions about disability. It is an honor to support their continued creative development.”
Since 1984, the VSA International Young Soloists Competition, founded by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, has annually recognized emerging young artists, ages 14–25, from all over the world who have disabilities and demonstrate exceptional musical talent.
Celebrating its 36th year, the award has been given to more than 112 awardees from 29 states and 30 countries. Previous winners have gone on to careers with top symphony orchestras around the world, become international recording stars, and achieved success on television programs such as American Idol and Platinum Hit. Past recipients include international recording artist Melody Gardot, America’s Got Talent Season 12 finalist singer-songwriter Mandy Harvey, violin virtuoso Adrian Anantawan, and award-winning jazz pianist Justin Kauflin.
The Kennedy Center has been at the forefront of making the performing arts accessible to persons with disabilities. Serving the international disability and arts community, the Office of VSA and Accessibility, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability program, provides opportunities for people with disabilities of all ages across the globe to learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts.
As an essential component of the living memorial to President Kennedy, the Center’s Education programs utilize the arts to embrace President Kennedy’s ideals of service, justice, freedom, courage, and gratitude. By cultivating the citizen artist in everyone, the Kennedy Center brings the arts and creativity to the center of our lives.