Miriam Costa Jackson isn't your average teenager. Unlike other 13-year-olds, the Sandy girl doesn't have her radio tuned in to a rock station. When she listens to music, it's almost always classical.

"Classical music has always been in my family," Miriam said. "I've loved it since I was little."

For which her father is thankful. "Maria Callas is always on," Walt Jackson said. "I'm grateful not to have to listen to rock 'n' roll."

Miriam's love for classical music goes back to when she was very young. She said that her mother has a large collection of classical CDs, mainly opera arias. "When I was younger, I would get my mother's CDs and listen to all the different arias by different composers."

Her favorite composer is Puccini. "He is my absolute favorite. He's such a romantic composer. What I like about him is, he puts so much passion and drama into his music. It just appeals to me and touches my heart."

As she grew older, Miriam started singing along to her mother's recordings. Soon, her parents realized that Miriam showed a lot of promise and natural talent. "Since she was 11 or 12, our neighbors would hear Miriam singing and think they were hearing a recording," Walt said. "They'd ask us what it was they were listening to, and I'd tell them that it's our daughter. They were amazed by how good she sounded."

Walt believes that Miriam's musicality is inherited from her mother, Emilia Costa Jackson. "Her mother sings well, and her grandmother had a wonderful voice. Miriam inherited some great genes." And Walt admits that he, too, has a bit of a musical background. "I've had some musical training. When I was at BYU, I sang in the barbershop quartet, which was a lot of fun."

Two years ago, Miriam's parents began looking around for a voice teacher. "No one wanted to take her, because of her age," Walt said. So they made a video of Miriam singing and sent it to Jo Ann Ottley. "Jo Ann sent us to Betty Jeanne Chipman, who, she said, is the mother superior of voice teachers here in the valley."

When she met Miriam, Chipman was immediately struck by her gift for music. "Betty Jeanne told us that Miriam feels music in a way that you can't train a person," Walt said. "She could see that Miriam has talent in natural abundance."

"Betty Jeanne is a great teacher," Miriam said. "She is one of the best in Utah, and I'm happy that I can study with her." Walt added, "This is such a perfect union between a youngster and a veteran teacher."

Unfortunately, giving the young singer the advanced musical education she needs is quite expensive, and the Jacksons have limited financial resources. "It's not easy coming up with the money for her training," Walt said, adding that, besides his full-time teaching job, he also runs a part-time business to make ends meet. "In the last two years, we've spent nearly $7,000 on Miriam's training. The caliber of the training she needs costs a lot of money."

Help, however, is forthcoming. Recently, the Italian Cultural Center of Utah has offered to hold a benefit concert for Miriam. "My wife, who is Italian, is good friends with Stefania Orme, who is now the director of ICCU," Walt said. "They called us not too long ago and said they want to hold a benefit concert for Miriam, and have it as the first of an annual talent award."

"I'm really excited about this concert," Miriam said. "It makes me feel special and very blessed."

The ICCU's goal is to raise $10,000 at the concert, the bulk of which will go to further Miriam's training. The remainder of the funds will be used as seed money for future awards. "This has been a godsend for us. Without the help of the community, it wouldn't be possible for us to continue with her musical training," Walt said.

The money will allow Miriam and her older sister Ginger, who is now 16 and also a singer, the opportunity of traveling to Italy to study voice. "We've already made arrangements with a very good teacher in Palermo," said Miriam, who is fluent in Italian. "We're leaving for Italy on May 7, the day after my birthday, and we'll be back in Utah on October 15."

Miriam and Ginger will be traveling with their mother and a third sister, Marina, who is 15 and a ballet student.

For the benefit concert, both Miriam and Ginger will sing arias by Donizetti, Puccini and other composers, along with Italian folk tunes and popular songs. Guest artists include accordionist Janet Todd, pianist Ramona Mayerhas and tenor Enrico Nassi. KSL-TV newscaster Dick Nourse will be the presenter.

"Miriam wants to be an opera star," Walt said, "and both girls have the potential to be high-class singers. I'm hopeful that the community will help. Like the saying goes, 'It takes a village to raise a child.' And we need that kind of support."

"I want to become a professional singer," Miriam said. "I would like to take it as far as I can. But I'm still young, so I'm just taking everything one step at a time."

Benefit concert

What: Miriam Costa Jackson

Where: Judge Memorial High School auditorium, 650 S. 1100 East

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

How much: $25 donation at the door

Phone: 230-6948

E-mail: [email protected]