Opera singing 13-year-old attends ARC


Thirteen year old opera singing college student Tiara Abraham, smiling in front of the American River College library on Sept. 12, 2019. (photo by Oden Taylor)

Oden Taylor

In most ways, Tiara Abraham is like all other 13-year-olds: she spends her free time on social media and playing with her cats. What sets her apart, however, is a love for opera and the fact that she’s one of the youngest students on campus. 

Although she has had some successes, Tiara has also faced challenges in the music industry coming up as an Indian-American opera singer. 

Tiara, a music major at American River College, has attended classes here since she was only 7 years old. Her brother, Tanishq, graduated from ARC in 2015 at age 11 and is now a student at the University of California, Davis, studying biomedical engineering.  

Both Tiara and her brother both joined Mensa International, a group for people with very high IQs, when they were 4, making them among the youngest members ever to join in America.

Tiara’s first college course at ARC was Spanish. She says she has a passion for language and has also learned French, German and Italian while here. Her favorite language to speak is French, while her favorite language to sing in is Italian. 

Tiara says it’s different to be young and in college, but as her mom, Taji Abraham said, “she’s used to it,” as she has been in college for over half of her life.

“When I was 9, in my Italian course, I had a classmate in his late 70s and we both enjoyed doing class and conversational activities for our group,” Tiara said. “We became friends and on the last day of class, he gifted me an Italian book. It was strange that we both, the youngest and the oldest, ended up becoming the top students in the class.”

According to their mother, Tiara and Tanishq come from a long bloodline of very smart people. Tiara said she has been fortunate to have her brother and mother as classmates. 

Tiara said she also likes that there a lot of diversity at ARC. 

“Having older classmates is fun,” she said.

However, being young on a college campus does come with some drawbacks as she says she often hears inappropriate language from students and professors.

She said dealing with it was harder when she was younger, but now that she has gotten older she has learned how to ignore it.

Tiara said many people believe that she is being forced into college and that she couldn’t possibly be enjoying her life. However, that is far from the truth, as Tiara says she wants people to know she has fun and a lot of it. 

She also wants people to know that she is not always studying and that she loves what she does. She said she enjoys spending her free time writing essays on her opinions. 

Throughout her college experience, Tiara considered becoming a veterinarian or an artist, but now, she says her biggest passion in life is to become an opera singer. She has sung for the UC Davis Choir as a soloist and hopes to transfer there to obtain a degree in music and vocal performance.

Tiara says her dream is to tour the world. 

“I want to help others through my voice,” she said.

Tiara has sung in an opera style since early childhood. Her mother said she even sang nursery rhymes in vibrato although no one had taught her to sing.  

Although Tiara has had many successes, she says she has run into a lot of hurdles during her young life. She says the biggest challenge has been the racism she’s faced due to her Indian heritage.

“She deals with a lot of failures coming up as a brown opera singer,” her mother said. 

Tiara says she’s had a hard time getting people to believe her talent. She said she’s worried people won’t take her seriously as an opera singer because of her age and race. 

According to her mother, they had to struggle to find Tiara a vocal coach and that many people discouraged them from pursuing her dream.

Abraham was eventually able to find Tiara a vocal coach who believed in her abilities and from there, her career was born. When she was 10 Tiara put out a CD of holiday-themed cover songs called “Winter Nightingale.”

Tiara has also auditioned for both “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice,” but did not make it onto the shows. 

“‘’America’s Got Talent’ was only looking for a sob story,” Tiara said. 

Her mother says she believes Tiara was not chosen because “she doesn’t fit the typical profile [for an opera singer].” 

“In the American entertainment industry, they are not used to seeing an Indian-American singing western classical, so this can sometimes be a struggle to be taken seriously as a western classical singer,” Tiara said. 

In 2010, during the fifth season of “AGT”, 10-year-old opera singing Jackie Evancho came in second place. She was around the same age as Tiara when she auditioned and performed the same talent, but Jackie is white.

Tiara’s mother said she believes that this proves her previous statement about her daughter not being chosen to be on the show. Her mother also said people often ask them, “why don’t you do something [more in line with] your culture?” 

This has put them in some difficult situations, Tiara said. Her mother said she feels like they are stuck between being seen as either not white or not staying true to their racial heritage.   

“Though I am born and raised in Sacramento and have spent my whole life here, coming from an Indian-American background, I sometimes hear, shouldn’t you be singing Indian classical music instead of Western classical songs?” Tiara said.  

While these experiences have disheartened Tiara she says she is not giving up that easily. She said she wants to prove “anyone of color can sing opera.”

Despite her challenges, Tiara has persisted and thrived.

Her career has now taken her everywhere from singing the national anthem for the San Francisco Giants to performing at Carnegie Hall.   

Tiara’s words of advice to older students, especially music majors, are “work hard and practice, eventually, you will find your path.” 

She said it’s important to enjoy what you do, or in her words, “Be classy. Be classical.”