The first time Cameren Anai Williams (IAC 13) played Hiroshi Iizuka’s “Kinu Inge” viola was a revelation.
The 16.5” viola, named for the Japanese-born luthier’s daughter, was a perfect fit for Williams. But the price tag on an Iizuka instrument was daunting for Williams and her parents.
“When my grandma saw how much I loved it, she bought it for me,” Williams said. The gift, however, got Williams thinking. “When you get to a certain level, you need a higher quality of instrument, which a lack of funds can put out of reach for many young musicians,” she said.
Inspired by her grandmother’s generosity, Williams, then just 14, founded CamAnai Strings to help other musicians get access to high-quality string instruments. Four years later, CamAnai Strings has repaired and donated more than a dozen string instruments to schools and youth orchestras across southern Florida.
CamAnai Strings officially began in January of 2015, when Williams received several violins from a donor. “My dad and I started by just doing little things to fix the instruments—whatever we could—with things we had around the house,” she said.
Williams’ first instruments were donated to U.B. Kinsey Elementary School of the Arts in May of 2015. The donation was particularly meaningful for Williams, who attended the school as a child. “U.B. Kinsey Elementary School is where I first started playing and was introduced to classical music,” she said. “I had my first chamber music and first orchestral experiences there, and I gained a lot from those experiences. It felt really amazing to give back to kids who are in the same position I was in 10 or 12 years ago. Seeing their faces glow when they saw the instruments was incredible.”
In 2016, Williams received an MPower Grant from the Sphinx Organization—founded by fellow Interlochen alumnus Aaron Dworkin—to attend the Violin Craftsman Workshop at Pomona College in California with her father. Williams was recently awarded a second MPower grant to continue her luthier studies and purchase repair supplies. “Now that we have the proper tools, we can make more complex repairs,” Williams said.
Williams is also developing relationships with luthiers in south Florida and around the world, and hopes one day to be able to make her own original instruments for talented young musicians. “We have a few bodies of wood at home, which we’re working on cutting into instruments,” she said.
In addition to making high-quality instruments available to low-income families, CamAnai Strings assists with making quality string instruction accessible to promising young musicians. “Many parents also don’t have lots of resources for lessons,” she said. “We provide lessons at a reasonable price or for free, if need be. I want people to be able to express themselves through music, because music as an outlet is so powerful.”
While Williams has been developing her foundation, she has also been nurturing her talents as a violist. Williams was an Advanced String Program student at Interlochen Arts Camp in 2013. She made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall at age 13, and was a finalist in the American Viola Society’s 2016 Senior Division Solo Competition. This summer, she will tour as a member of the National Youth Orchestra. In the fall, she will attend The Juilliard School as the Jerome L. Greene Fellow.
Williams plans to continue CamAnai Strings during her studies at Juilliard. “My family will keep CamAnai going, and whenever I’m back home, I’ll be working on instruments,” she said. “I’m also looking at summer programs, including one in Italy, to continue my luthier studies.”
Ultimately, Williams’ goal is to help others discover and nurture their love of music. “For me, music has changed my life significantly,” she said. “I want other people’s love for music to be able to grow in spite of their circumstances.”
CamAnai Strings accepts donations of all orchestral string instruments, including violins, violas, cellos and basses. If you would like to donate an instrument, or to learn more about how you can support CamAnai Strings, visit camanaistrings.org or message their Facebook page.