One needn’t think too hard to come up with a list of celebrated children who seem somehow less exceptional when their baby fat comes off and their permanent teeth come in.
Her parents were the first to recognize her extraordinary abilities.
It’s nice when a musically gifted child is born to parents who are not only willing to cultivate that seed, they understand that their 18 month old sings with perfect pitch…
She was nearing the age of reason when the general public became acquainted with the pigtailed composer who played piano and violin, loved improvising and drew constant, not universally welcome comparisons to Mozart.
At seven, she penned a short opera inspired by “The Sweeper of Dreams”, a short story by Neil Gaiman.
She followed that up with a full length operatic reimagining of Cinderella (age 10) and rigorous training that built on her early exposure to Partimenti — keyboard improvisation.
Now 18, Alma continues to spellbind listeners with her seemingly magical ability to conjure a piano sonata using randomly selected notes in less that a minute, just as she wowed 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley after he picked a B, an A, an E flat, and a G from a hat back in 2017, when she was 12.
She’s was unabashed about her love of melody in the 60 Minutes appearance, and has remained so, explaining the reasoning behind her piece, Waltz of the Sirens, to a 2019 Carnegie Hall audience by saying that she’s always wanted to write beautiful music:
Music that comes out of the heart and speaks directly to the heart, but some people have told me that nowadays melodies and beautiful harmonies are no longer acceptable in serious classical music because in the 21st century, music must reflect the ugliness of the modern world. Well, in this waltz, instead of trying to make my music artificially ugly in order to reflect the modern world, I went in exactly the opposite direction. I took some ugly sounds from the modern world, and I tried to turn them into something more beautiful through music.
The full length opera The Emperor’s New Waltz is the soon to be 19-year-old’s first major adult achievement in what promises to be a long career.
Taking her inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, she sought to create a love story that would appeal to young pop fans (while also getting a few swipes in at the “tuneless world of atonal contemporary music.”)
I’m sure that if Mozart or Schubert had heard the most beautiful melodies of ABBA, or Queen or Elton John, then they would have been jealous and they would have said, “I wish I had thought of that!”
– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.