Amid the bright lights and dazzling dresses of the Miss America pageant, each contestant showcased a unique talent. Miss Missouri twirled a sparkling baton, Miss Oklahoma strutted her stuff with a jazzy dance number and the pageant’s winner, Camille Schrier from Virginia, blasted colorful foam from giant glass beakers in an extravagant experiment.
Caroline Grace Williams, Miss Ohio and a Miami University alumna and current employee, brought a piece of Miami into the talent portion of her performance.
As she took to the stage Thursday night, Williams performed a stirring piece from the opera “Gianni Schicchi” by Giacomo Puccini. The song, “O Mio Babbino Caro (Oh My Dear Papa),” is a light soprano number that sent Williams’ voice soaring into the upper octaves as she took her turn in the spotlight.
“I sang my heart out and left it all on the stage,” Williams wrote in an Instagram post about her performance.
But the music she sang to wasn’t any old recording — it came straight from the instruments of the Miami University Symphony Orchestra (MUSO). Instead of finding another arrangement of the piece, Williams decided to call upon Miami’s musicians to back her up as she sang in front of a national audience.
Ricardo Averbach, MUSO director and conductor for their rendition of “O Mio Babbino Caro,” said the experience was a thrilling one and right up MUSO’s alley.
“It was a rather unique and exciting opportunity,” Averbach said. “We’re always looking for unique performance opportunities for our orchestra. We want to be doing things that no other program in the country is doing.”
Averbach said MUSO worked with Williams to modify the song for her televised performance. They had to shave it down to 90 seconds, despite the piece’s typical two to three minute runtime, due to the nature of her time slot.
“But it was actually quite fitting stylistically,” Averbach said. “It makes quite a bit of sense for the character Miss Williams was playing to sing in a faster, more emotive style.”
The national exposure and opportunity to work with Miss Ohio gave some MUSO members an additional jolt of excitement when preparing the piece.
MUSO President Taylor Wallace said that while they didn’t do anything too different than normal when practicing the song, the unique energy was palpable.
“It was pretty much business as usual,” Wallace said. “But we were all so excited about this performance, we were able to put that excitement into our music and have it come through in the music.”
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In addition to the energy and excitement that came from the group’s prominent performance, Wallace said she appreciates how Williams honored her ties to Miami onstage.
“Something like this is so cool because it showcases the link between Miss Williams and Miami,” Wallace said. “It shines a light not only on the place she got her degree, but on the place she lives and works at. She’s a RedHawk through and through.”
Although Williams didn’t walk away as the winner Thursday night, Averbach believed she delivered a performance to be proud of.
“No matter who won the contest itself, we’re very thankful to have been able to work with Miss Williams and to play our music for the world,” Averbach said. “And as always, we’re already looking forward to our next performance.”