Through a memorial opera scholarship, this local family’s love of music comes full circle in more ways than one
In 1956, Klaus and Dorothea Peters took a leap of faith. They left their home in Germany, arriving in Central Florida with their three-year-old son Oliver and what they could carry with them on the transatlantic ship. But they also brought something else: a love of music and the opera.
Sponsored by a U.S. Army major with whom Klaus had worked in Frankfurt, Klaus and Dorothea worked hard, learned English, and prioritized saving for the future. Although their incomes were small, they valued culture and the arts. Klaus played the accordion, and as Oliver remembers, had a special ability to pick up a tune by ear. Dorothea sang for years in her church choir. The couple shared a mutual love of the Orlando Opera, where they were season ticket holders for decades.
Known affectionately as “Opa and Oma” by their grandchildren, the couple inspired a love of music in Oliver’s kids, Christopher and Ashley. When both children expressed an interest in learning to play the piano, their grandparents’ encouragement knew no bounds. They attended every recital and made sure the young students kept up with their lessons (which, coincidentally, were given by Altamonte-Wekiva Springs Life’s own Michael Kramer). The full-circle nature of this story, however, does not end there.
In 2015, after Klaus and Dorothea had passed away, the Peters family searched for a way to honor their love of opera and music and pay forward their desire to make sure musically inclined students have the means to pursue their passion. The Peters family decided to establish an ongoing scholarship in Klaus and Dorothea’s name for students studying opera.
For both Christopher and Ashley, who grew up in Lake Mary, their love of music has become integral to who they are today.
Christopher is a professional guitar instructor, and Ashley has been the choral director at Rock Lake Middle School in Longwood for the past six years. An alum of Lake Mary High School, Ashley returned to Seminole County after graduating from UCF. She first taught at Highlands Elementary School in Winter Springs before her career took her to Rock Lake, which is where she met then-sixth grader Katie Heintz.
Today, Katie is a sophomore at Lake Brantley High School who juggles her busy schedule with an extracurricular activity not many students her age pursue – study of the opera. She began singing in Ashley’s class a mere four years ago. At a vocal coach’s suggestion, Katie auditioned for the Opera Orlando Youth Company during her eighth-grade year. Much to Katie’s surprise, she was accepted. Amidst her excitement, Katie remembers thinking, “Now what?” A newcomer to the opera scene, Katie’s mezzo-soprano voice had been classically trained, but she had much to learn about this new genre.
Here’s where the story takes yet another turn. Each year, the directors of the Opera Orlando Youth Company select recipients of an opera scholarship. Katie was recently honored as one of these students and received an award card detailing “The Peters Tribute.” As they read the card, Katie and her mom Suzette could not believe their eyes when they saw a picture of the Peters family that included Katie’s former music teacher, Ashley.
Likewise, Ashley had no idea that her former student had been chosen as a recipient. When thinking back to the young girl she met years ago, Ashley states, “I’m so proud of all Katie has accomplished and how she has put in the hard work to follow her dreams.”
Katie’s mom, who loves to hear her daughter sing whether at home or on stage, could not agree more.
“It’s so exciting to see your child fulfill their passion and take the steps to get there,” says Suzette. “This generous financial assistance has been such a big help.”
Where does Katie hope opera will take her? Given the full-circle theme of this story, the answer should come as no surprise. Katie plans to follow in the footsteps of her mentor Ashley and one day become a vocal music educator.
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