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Music to her ears

Brianna Panama, 11, practices in her Somerton home while preparing for her performance as a finalist for the New Jersey Network’s ‘Hispanic Youth Showcase.’ JENNY SWIGODA / TIMES PHOTO

Brianna Panama is embracing her heritage and following her dreams simultaneously. The Somerton resident performs with her dad and brother in their band, La Familia Panama.

Somerton resident Brianna Panama wants to learn how to play guitar. She probably will. Why not?

“She can play anything,” said Ted Panama Jr., her very proud father.

She already is an accomplished violinist and percussionist who has performed at the Mann Music Center.

Not bad for an 11-year-old who just picked up the violin for the first time in 2008.

“Panama” is Brianna’s stage name. Well, it’s her family’s stage name. Her father, Ted Panama Jr., is the second generation of a family that has been part of Philadelphia’s music scene since the 1960s. Ted Panama Sr. and his wife, Candy, were Latin music pioneers, said Ted Jr., who was performing with music legend Tito Puente when he was 13.

Now, Brianna Dormoi — the youngster’s surname off the stage — and her 21-year-brother Adrian join their dad in performances as La Familia Panama.

Ted and Adrian are percussionists. They play timbales. Brianna began playing those drums just last year.

“I’ve never seen a violin player put it down and play drums,” Ted Panama said.

In mid-May, La Familia Panama played with eight other musicians at the Mann Music Center in front of a crowd of more than 400, Ted Panama said. Brianna did two songs, she said, Bruno Mars’ Grenade and The Lazy Song.

It was her fifth live performance.

Was she nervous? A little, she said during an interview last week in her Regina Street home. Somewhere in the second half of her first song, she relaxed and had fun.


The word doesn’t seem to fit the young musician. Brianna is busy with music lessons, recording sessions, performances and attending classes at St. Cecilia’s Elementary School in Fox Chase. When does she relax?

She gets the time to be a kid, her father said.

She likes figure skating, she said.

“She’s good,” her father said, but he added that his daughter is not looking for a career as a skater.

Like any other kid, Brianna enjoys playing with her friends. Despite the musical accomplishments, practices and the live performances, Brianna comes off, at times, as very shy.

“We’re working on that,” her father said.

She is looking for success, and she works hard. At 9, she was in her first “All-City Elementary Concert,” which included the best young musicians in the public school system. She repeated that the next year, he said.

Brianna knew what she wanted.

“I want to be famous,” she told the Spanish-language newspaper Al Dia in 2009. “I want to have bodyguards and ride in a limousine.”

A little inside humor, her father said. He has a limo company, and a friend provides security.

On that road to success, Brianna participated in a May 27 talent showcase at NJN, New Jersey’s public television network — and she won.

The show, the NJN Hispanic Youth Showcase, was set up to select young talent for an upcoming television special on Hispanic artists.

Brianna won as 2011 Instrumental Champion and earned the show’s Tito Puente Scholarship Award.

She performed Panamenia Linda Brianna, an arrangement created for her.

“She was fantastic,” said Willie Sanchez, who produced the sold-out show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

Sanchez said NJN will air the show at 5 p.m. on June 25 and rebroadcast it at noon the next day.

Brianna also is working on a recording project and hopes to work with Menique, a Panamanian artist, her father said.

The sixth-grader will change schools in the fall to attend the CCA Baldi Middle School on Verree Road. She is looking forward to going to the school because of its music program.

“I like Baldi,” she said. “You get to wear whatever you want.”

So who is this 11-year-old musician’s favorite performer?

No surprise there.

“Justin Bieber!” she said. ••

There are a couple of Brianna Panama clips on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEGKEPxamaU and www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij0zU_W1BkA

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