Wowing crowds

Scott Swanson

Moriah Winn has turned heads since she was a little girl – most recently in east Linn County.

Moriah, 12, is a violinist and singer who has wowed local audiences at church, school, in last year’s SHARC Showdown talent show, and at the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and Singing Christmas Tree performances this year, where she made cameo appearances.

In each performance she has demonstrated unusual musical awareness and technique, at times singing and playing the violin simultaneously.

“I was in awe,” said Paul Rowton, now-retired director of the Singing Christmas Tree and a longtime local musician, teacher and choir director. “Everybody, our chins were hitting our chests. I’ve never seen a 12-year-old who could play much of any kind of instrument that well.”

Moriah’s adopted mother (who is also her aunt) Siu Winn said it was obvious early that her daughter had talent. In kindergarten, in California where Moriah was born, a teacher complained that she was “disrupting” the class by constantly humming and singing.

“I knew Moriah was musically gifted,” she said, noting that her daughter is “distantly related” to singer Dinah Jane Hansen.

“I just sing,” said Winn, who, like her daughter, is of Tongan heritage, though Winn herself was born and raised in New Zealand.

At 4½ she started Moriah in violin lessons, which lasted for several years until they moved to Sweet Home in 2014.

“We couldn’t afford lessons up here,” Winn said. “All I can do, as a parent, is push her.”

So, even though she’s not a violinist herself, she used YouTube videos to keep Moriah moving forward, she said.

“I had to be creative because she’s a child – she didn’t want to practice,” Winn said. “I’d go onto YouTube and we’d pick a song, and she’d play it. We really formed our playlist based on any music we heard.”

Rowton noted that the violin is particularly challenging because, unlike a guitar, it doesn’t have frets, so it’s more difficult for a musician, particularly those without a good ear, to stay on key. Moriah’s performances haven’t evidenced a lot of sharp or flat notes.

“Violins and trombones, those are ear instruments,” Rowton said.

Moriah said she enjoys playing a wide variety of music: classical – Handel’s “Music From the Royal Fireworks” is one of her favorites right now; pop, folk, country, religious.

She sang with the Church of the Nazarene’s youth choir for two years, her mom said, which gave her additional musical experience.

The public started becoming more aware of Moriah’s talents over the past few years, first when she performed with guitarist Ron Diller at the Crawfordsville Community Church’s Christmas open house, and particularly last year when she won the SHARC Showdown, with a violin and vocal rendition of “Touch the Sky” from the movie “Brave” and an entirely-by-ear fiddle-style rendition of an Irish jig, “Kesh Inn,” “because it’s St. Patrick’s Day,” as she noted to the audience at the event last March 17.

At the Crawfordsville Christmas event, Diller, an accomplished guitarist who plays entirely by ear, asked if Moriah would play with him, and a bystander videoed and posted their performance. She began playing at church, which helped spread her reputation.

Last summer she turned heads again with a performance at the Renaissance Fair in Kings Valley, outside Philomath.

“It was amazing to watch people come up and look,” Winn said.

This year, as a seventh-grader, Winn sent Moriah to North Albany Middle School, which offers more musical opportunities than Sweet Home can, including multiple bands and choirs – Moriah is learning the flute – and an annual musical. The fact that Winn is taking classes at Linn-Benton Community College makes North Albany more convenient, she said.

Also, last February Moriah tried out for the Albany Youth Orchestra. Moriah thought she was trying out for the Junior Orchestra, Winn said, but she ended up being chosen for the Chamber Orchestra, composed of more advanced students, performing with them during the spring and summer.

“We didn’t realize there was a chamber orchestra,” Winn said.

Then, at the Nov. 9 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree celebration at Sweet Home High School she performed for an audience that included Sen. Ron Wyden and a broad range of city officials, as well as a crowd of local citizens and visitors.

For someone who hasn’t had a lot of lessons, Moriah far exceeds the norm, Rowton said.

He was curious what would happen when Moriah first appeared at a Singing Christmas Tree practice, especially when she was asked to accompany the choir in a number off a violin part she was handed, he said.

“I wondered, ‘Well, is this going to work?’ The second time I knew it was going to. As a professional, I was blown away. It’s wonderful to see that kind of talent out there.”

Moriah pauses, when she’s asked what she likes about music, what I means to her.

“Mom told me music is an international language. Just playing songs I know and singing it brings me joy. I can use the gift God has given me.”

Though she has thoughts of becoming an oncologist, she said, she also wants to have a musical career.

“It’s a way of expressing myself,” Moriah said. “It’s a gift God has blessed me with and if I have this gift, I should share it with others.”

This year she is not playing with the orchestra because of her commitment to music at North Albany, particularly in preparation for a tour school choir students are taking in May that will include a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

“It’s a world-renowned concert venue,” Winn said.

The cost for the two of them – Winn is going as a chaperone – is around $5,000, she said, so they’re fund-raising.

Moriah said she gets a little nervous before performances, but it isn’t very evident when she starts playing.

Prior to her appearance under the spotlight – literally – at the Singing Christmas Tree, “I was like a deer in the headlights,” she said.

For her three appearances during the Singing Christmas Tree, Choir Director John Klutz presented Moriah with a surprise $300 scholarship toward her trip, on top of $240 donated by audience members over the three concerts.

Winn said she’s decided to forgo the candy sales fund-raising route and focus on having Moriah earn her way through her talent – hence, the concert in Sweet Home. She said Moriah is also available to perform in other venues as well.

“It’s motivating me to practice,” Moriah said.

The Jan. 18 concert will include “multi-generational” selections, Winn said, so that audience members of all ages should hear pieces they enjoy – classical, Broadway, pop, country and more. It starts at 7 p.m. at the Sweet Home High School Auditorium, 1641 Long St.

Admission is free, but donations toward the trip will be appreciated.

“Her presence is wonderful,” Rowton said. “I hope she gets to go to New York. I hope her teacher has her accompany the choir during their performance.

“It’s wonderful to see that kind of talent out there. I hope she gets to use it. I just really hope she gets to fulfill her dreams.”