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Junior Miss Linn County builds her musical platform for Miss Iowa
Music education, accessibility a priority for the Cedar Rapids girl competing for the crown
CEDAR RAPIDS — Most seventh-graders used their spring break this semester to relax with their favorite activities, take a vacation with their parents or sleep in. Not Mira Gibbons.
As others took a beat or two to rest, the 11-year-old kept plucking her violin’s strings to the beat of her own passion. For her spring break, she played for the masses of Linn County.
Inspired by her love for story hour — reading and being read to are her favorite things — she realized that the reading programs for kids she experienced had never included music. So with a weeklong tour in March, she did something about it.
“I like playing my violin and connecting with little kids,” said Mira. “One of the reasons (music) is meaningful to me is I can connect to people through music.”
Though Mira has played the violin since age 2, music’s ability to connect with others is something that was reinforced with the precocious middle school student by playing for her grandmother years ago. As she played for her grandmother in her final years, a connection was forged that eluded the need for words. Her grandmother couldn’t remember who she was, but music made the connection.
“I’m not sure why, I just know it works,” Mira said. “Music is really moving to people.”
Mira is the daughter of Jennifer Gibbons, who is hard of hearing, and Derin Sherman.
“I played piano until I lost my hearing but I wasn’t great at it or anything. My grandma, Julie, played the violin as a child but World War II kind of put a stop to that. I think it’s mostly due to persistence on Mira’s part and a really, really great teacher, Beth Hoffman,” said Mira’s mother, Jennifer Gibbons.
In her spring break tour, the Junior Miss Linn County played for seniors at a nursing home.
With a maturity her closest mentors say is beyond her years, Mira spans a musical connection with her community outreach to children, too. At libraries and children’s events, she makes cutouts of violins to decorate, leads sing-a-longs, and brings instruments for children to try their hand at — making music tangible for every age.
And at one animal shelter, even dogs without a home had a chance to revel in her notes — a stop she made a point of after learning the calming effects that classical music can have on animals.
“I think shelter pets are probably really stressed out,” Mira said.
As she builds her platform leading up to the competition for the Miss Iowa Scholarship Program competition in July, it’s perhaps no surprise that music education access is her keystone.
With debate club, the swim team, drama, show choir and mock trial filling out the preteen’s already full resume, her musical pursuits provide a distinct bass line.
In addition to giving back to Harmony School of Music’s youth orchestra program by mentoring other children on the violin, Mira’s business has bookings throughout the year to play at weddings, holiday gatherings and corporate events — proceeds of which all benefit Harmony.
“There are so many other ways she could spend her time,” said Jessica Altfillisch, a director of Harmony’s program since she founded it in 2017. “She chooses things to take up her time that will have an impact on others.”
While many girls Mira’s age struggle with self-confidence and self esteem, Mira has blossomed with her musical talent, lending it to others younger than her as she helps with technique work and mentoring that builds a sense of community with participants.
After 25 years of teaching violin, Altfillisch said her presence has helped assuage the rising anxieties she has seen children develop more and more over the years. In many ways, older children like Mira play a key role in helping children stay the course in music before children lose interest toward the end of elementary and middle school.
“It’s amazing to watch her,” said Altfillisch, who has worked with Mira for about five years. “To see them smiling and really listening and absorbing what Mira says when she offers them advice — it’s wonderful to see.”
With children that may be nervous to enter orchestra programs in middle school, Gibbons demystifies the future and makes musical education seem more approachable — and exciting.
Named a youth leader by the 14 Under 14 award from the Kids First Law Center, other mentors hope to see her go even further.
Franklin Middle School drama coach Chastity Williams knows Mira as a violinist, mentee, entrepreneur, stylist and lover of education. When Williams mentioned the opportunity to compete in Miss Iowa through the program’s Rising Stars initiative for students under 12, Mira saw it as a chance to spread her love for music even further.
“To meet a child that’s so accomplished is very astonishing,” Williams said. “I believe she has the capability to not only be a mentor to other younger girls, but has the ability to make an impact in the community and state. She has visions, goals and a dream.”
The program offers her the chance to carry out even more community projects as she shapes her future. As she gains confidence with each step of the way, that confidence can carry over to every other part of her life.
Williams sees this Junior Miss Linn County doing big things.
“She has a big vision,” Williams said — a factor she believes is a driving factor of Gibbons’ broad accomplishments at such a young age.
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