Mia Strayer of Cherry Valley
When Patricia Strayer gave her teenage daughter Mia a Christmas harp music CD seven years ago, she didn't know the gift would change her daughter's life. But it has.
After listening to the CD constantly for a year, and after asking her parents three times for harp lessons, Strayer received an Irish harp from her parents and began taking lessons.
When her first teacher moved to Arizona, she continued lessons with Nanette Felix, the principal harpist for the Rockford Symphony Orchestra. During the summer, Strayer auditioned for Special Talents America, playing "The Prayer" on her pedal harp.
Although most people would find it a challenge to simply learn to play the 44-string concert harp, it was a minor hurdle for Strayer compared to the other obstacles she has faced.
Not only does she have cerebral palsy, she also is visually impaired.
"I can't see out of my right eye. But my left eye sees enough so I can see the color strings on the harp," Strayer said. "I basically have to learn all the music by ear."
Now 21, Strayer is a graduate of Illinois School for the Visually Impaired in Jacksonville.
"Music has changed my life," she said. "I'm always cranking up the tunes in the car -- Celtic Woman and stuff like that -- classical and Christian music. I love music. I listen to it on my iPad and in the car. Sometimes it hits a string in my heart and makes me cry."