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East County Monday, May 14, 2018 1 year ago

Renaissance Girl

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Classical music virtuoso Isabella Bank composes, sings and plays multiple instruments — and is not above bagging groceries at Publix.
by: Eric Snider Contributor

On a Saturday afternoon in April, when most 14-year-olds are enjoying their downtime, Isabella Bank politely  — very politely — asks if she can move back a scheduled 4 p.m. interview by 15 minutes. “I’m on my way home from work,” she says. “I work at Publix to help pay for my music lessons.”

She takes a lot of lessons, with a teacher in each of her four disciplines: piano, cello, composition and voice. The cost of these sessions adds up, so Bank works up to 13 hours a week at the grocery store to help chip in. We’ve all met young people who are mature beyond their years, but it’s rare to encounter one so poised, articulate, focused, hard working and self-possessed as this wunderkind. 

Bank is blessed with an abundance of raw musical talent that allows her to pursue her far-reaching interests with the seriousness of a Juilliard graduate. Most kids with her preternatural gifts would be plotting a path toward pop music stardom, but Bank has a decidedly less Top 40s interest: classical music. While she expresses equal enthusiasm for each of her endeavors, it’s likely that singing is her sweet spot. At this stage, she’s what is known as a light lyric soprano. Her teacher, Carol Sparrow, says that may change as she grows older.

“Within the time she’s spent with me, her voice has quadrupled in size,” says Sparrow, who co-owns the Sarasota Voice Academy and has been working with Bank for a little more than a year. “She’s still a little reluctant to fully sing, so it’s difficult to say where she’ll land. But Isabella’s freeing up, and she’s sprouted like a little blossom.”

Bank, the daughter of a Brazilian mother, Marice, and American father, Larry, was born in Boca Raton and has lived in California, Washington state and Italy. “My dad’s job took us different places, so we moved to Rome for two years to explore the culture (and) expand our horizons,” Bank says. 

Bank and her sister composed the opera “Gli Alberi,” based on an old children’s parable. Bank wrote the music and her sister wrote the words.

The Bank family, which also includes Juliana, 11, Gabriella, 16, and Diana, 18, now attending Cornell University, settled in Lakewood Ranch about a year and a half ago. Bank loves her life here, which includes home schooling, practice, performances and regular swimming to help her build lung power. She manages to squeeze in family time, but little in the way of adolescent frivolity. In social settings with other teens, she’ll sometimes listen to soft indie rock, but when pressed to name these artists, she draws a blank. “There’s only classical music on my computer,” says Bank, who is fluent in Italian. 

As a toddler, her favorite toy was a toy piano. Her voice emerged early as well. Instead of calling out for her parents, Bank would sing for them. She started playing real piano at age 5 and at age 6, joined the Columbia Choirs of Metropolitan Seattle. “It was such an amazing experience, singing with children my own age,” she recalls. “I’d get goose bumps at certain points of a song, and that’s when my passion for music really started.” By the time she was in third grade, she was playing the cello in the school orchestra. 

At age 11, she composed her first song, a simple one-minute piano piece titled “Morning Rain.” “I had so many ideas swimming around in my head, I started writing them down,” she says. “Then I sought the composition training I needed.”

Her most ambitious project thus far is an opera, co-written with her older sister, Gabriella. It’s based on the short children’s book, “Of Wizards and Kings and Living Things,” written by John Rosemond. The sisters recently decided on a title: “Gli Alberi,” which means “The Trees” in Italian. “Gabriella is writing the libretto and I’m writing the music,” Bank explains. “We have a good system. She ships (the words) over to me, and I might change a few to fit the music. It’s a very intimate working relationship.”

Pausing for a moment to consider her sister’s role in the project, she adds, “She’s very patient and kind, too.” 

Bank recently completed an album, “Altissima Luce,” a collection of medieval religious music written centuries ago by an anonymous Italian composer. Working in a recording studio at the Del Couch Music Education Foundation in Palmetto, she sang all the parts, layering the tunes with digital instrument sounds — oboe, clarinet, harp and others.

Lest anyone question her proficiency or chock up her successes to adult micromanagement, there’s her list of awards — eight in total, including a second-place victory in the 2016 Mozart International Piano Competition for 11- to 13-year-olds, and first place in this year’s District 9 Concert Competition for classical singers ages 13 to 15 hosted by the Florida State Music Teachers Association.

Juggling all these pursuits is fine for now, but Bank knows eventually she’ll need to hone in on just one. “I don’t think I would ever drop something,” she asserts. “My priorities might shift from time to time, but I’ll still continue with cello, piano, composing and singing. As of right now, I’m prioritizing my vocal career and composing, but I’m still keeping the others strong.”

Like a young Édith Piaf, she’s leaving her options open. She’s too mature to set her sights solely on becoming a diva at the Metropolitan Opera. But this much is certain: Bank will have a professional career in music. “Oh, absolutely,” she says. And you believe her.

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