Athena Montalbano has been singing since she could talk.
Before she was a year old, she was singing along to Tropicana's orange juice commercials on TV.
“From the moment she was born, this child has been singing and dancing,” her mother Jessica Montalbano said. “I knew it was something more when around 2 years ago she started singing a Justin Bieber song a capella style like it was nothing. It stopped me in my tracks because she had no music going but knew every word to the song.
Athena is currently a fifth grader at Beachside Elementary School. Before Beachside opened, Athena was a student at the former Osceola Elementary where her music teacher, Sarah Johns, also taught. Johns has been a music teacher for 23 years, having started as a high school band director. She moved into teaching music at elementary schools 18 years ago.
In October, Athena became John’s 20th student to be chosen for the All-State Elementary Chorus.
Athena has never taken a vocal lesson or done any performances or competitions. She has only ever sung in music class with Johns. She was chosen to audition for the All-State Choir at the end of her fourth grade year and spent the summer practicing and learning the audition songs.
All State is not a requirement for music teachers to involve their students in, but Johns decides to take time out of her schedule to give each of them that opportunity.
“It’s something that I do outside of school that I truly believe is such a life changing experience for the students,” Johns said. “Most, if not all of the students that were in All-State in elementary school go on to do something music related in the future even if it’s joining chorus in middle school.”
Johns chooses 10-12 students each year to audition for All-State. Their audition is recorded and submitted in September of the new school year and then sent off to be judged. Each student must receive a certain number of points from their audition, which are given by judges during both the song and warm-up portion of the audition.
Each student is competing against their classmates as well as other students all around the state. The All-State Elementary Chorus receives around 1,000 auditions each year and only selects around 200 students.
“She really amazes me sometimes because when she outs her mind to something she is going to figure it out and that’s what she’s done with music; she’s always wanted to be a singer,” Jessica Montalbano said.
Athena’s favorite artist is Taylor Swift, but she said the person who inspires her the most is Johns because “she is able to sing and teach others how to sing and improve their voices."
When Athena isn’t singing, she is participating in school clubs such as Garden club and Girls on the Run. She also enjoys spending time with her siblings, making friendship bracelets and helping them with their schoolwork. Athena is still young, but she has a few career choices in mind: Becoming a singer, a lawyer or maybe a music teacher.
The All-State Elementary Chorus will perform at the Tampa Convention Center as part of the Florida Elementary Music Educators Association conference in early January 2024. They will perform six songs, three of them being in different languages.
“I cry every year," John said. "It’s nothing like anything you’ve heard in your entire life. You look at these kids that are 9 and 10 years old and they sound like the most amazing angel band you’ve ever heard.”