When 16-year-old Clear Creek High School junior Sophia Sereni takes the field to sing the national anthem before the Houston Astros’ game against the Seattle Mariners at about 7 p.m. Monday at Minute Maid Park, it will be a shining moment that is the result of perseverance through difficult times and dedication to her craft.
Pretty much all of her life, singing came naturally to Sereni, who comes from a lineage of musicians.
Sereni’s father came to the United States from Rome, Italy, and sang in the Sistine Chapel choir as a boy. Sereni’s mother learned to play the piano at age four, and is a music teacher at Ross Elementary in League City. Sereni said she has been interested in singing for as long as she can remember, dating back to when her parents used to own a piano bar in Kemah.
“I always used to sing some songs with them, and I also grew up singing in the church,” Sereni said. “And ever since then, I’ve felt like God has been pushing me toward that kind of career — to always sing out my heart and sing out my gift.”
Sereni began singing in school choirs in middle school before having to leave when she fell ill. Sereni was diagnosed with leukemia, and in April 2015 began a two-and-a-half-year cancer treatment process.
“I didn’t really realize what was going on at first, because leukemia is a big concept at that age,” Sereni said. ”It was really weird thinking that something that big can happen to you. You never think it’s going to be you. But once it happens, you realize how many people are affected by it, and you just have to keep the faith and stay strong.”
One month into treatments, Sereni’s leukemia began to go into remission. She credited her faith in God and support from both her immediate family and extended church family at Texas City’s First Baptist Church — where her mother is the church pianist and her brother plays bass guitar — for helping her get through the grueling treatments.
“At the end of my eighth-grade year, they finally let me go back to school,” Sereni said. “For a long time, you can’t really go anywhere because your (blood cell) counts are low, your immune system is low, and therefore, you can’t be around people or be in a school because you could get sick really easily.
“It was really tough going through that, because I really wanted to see my friends and hang out,” Sereni continued. “Middle school is a really important time, and you learn a lot of stuff. So, it was really weird transitioning back to high school. Going from just a little bit of eighth grade to high school was really hard.”
Entering high school, Sereni was able to find fast friends by joining the Clear Creek choir her freshman year. Now in her third year as a member of the choir, Sereni has been a part of multiple sweepstakes award-winning performances, and herself received all-state honors from the Texas Music Educators Association last year.
“I love choir so much; choir has really changed my life,” Sereni said. “The support they showed me during my treatments and the support they show me now is so amazing. Our choir is really, really good. Our chamber singers are really, really good, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
INVITE FROM A HALL OF FAMER
While going through her leukemia treatments, Sereni came into contact with the Sunshine Kids Foundation, a Houston-based non-profit organization that provides a variety of free programs and events to pediatric cancer patients.
Not long ago, Sereni was at a meet-the-Astros event put on by the Sunshine Kids Foundation, and that event featured a fateful meeting with Astros Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio, who is a longtime spokesperson, supporter and fundraiser for the Sunshine Kids.
Word of Sereni’s singing talents had made its way to Biggio, and the Astros legend had a proposition to make to her.
“He was like, ‘Would you like to sing the national anthem?’ And, I was like, ‘Of course,” Sereni said. “So, from there, I just had to send in a video, and (the organization) was like, ‘OK, you can go.’”
Sereni said she has performed in large venues, such as Jones Hall in downtown Houston and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, but singing in front of a Major League Baseball park packed with rowdy fans will be a first.
“I feel like the main thing singing in that stadium is it’s really hard to hear yourself because everything is really echo-y,” Sereni said. “So, that’s going to be my main concern.”
Sereni said she is most looking forward to seeing the players up close on Monday, including her favorite Astro, George Springer.
“It’s been a rough but amazing journey,” Sereni said. “I’ve gotten so many blessings through this rough time, and I just have to thank God for it and my friends and family, because I wouldn’t have done it without them.”
Going forward, Sereni said she hopes to attend Baylor University and study music ministry. After that, Sereni said she hopes to use her musical talents to be a worship leader.