Interview by Tanya Levy
He plays piano with utmost passion and excitement, and his smile is contagious to anyone who catches it. Brandon Goldberg (MGBH), an 11-year-old Floridian, a gifted jazz piano player, has conquered the hearts of many, including mine. Will he win yours, too?
PPM: Please, tell us about your participation in the TEDx. Did you have to practice your speech a lot? Did you have help writing it or did you do it yourself?
BG: My mom made me write the speech by myself. She said, “Just tell your story.” So, I went to my room, and I wrote it down. Then, she helped me organize my thoughts and put it all together. The whole TEDxYouth@Miami experience was great – all the kids selected to participate would meet at the Cushman School every Saturday morning for several months to rehearse in front of each other. Arvi Balseiro (MGBH), Principal of the Cushman School, and Lisa Herbert (MGBH) would give us feedback on our speech. They did it in such nice a way that it gave everyone the confidence to present in front of a big audience. At first, some of us were nervous, but at the end, everyone memorized their speeches. They helped us become better speakers and it was fun getting to know the other kids. On the last practice day, they brought in the red circle that TED is famous for, and we all had to practice speaking and staying on the circle. It was fun.
PPM: How did you first start composing music?
BG: I first started composing music when I had an idea and I wanted to develop it. I really wanted to express my thoughts. I asked my parents for some manuscript paper and then I just went from there. Soon enough I started using Sibelius and Finale, and eventually I started using Logic Pro X to record.
PPM: Did/do you study classical piano with a teacher?
BG: Yes, I currently study classical piano with Paul Posnak (MGBH), a retired professor from University of Miami Frost School of Music. He is a good fit for me, because he can teach classical and also appreciates other genres of music. He’s best known for his note-for-note transcriptions of Fats Waller and George Gershwin (OBM) Improvisations.
PPM: Who was your first piano teacher?
BG: Well, my first unofficial piano teacher was a Russian lady, Ina (MGBH), who lived around the corner. I think I was three or four, but I was too young to stay focused. Then I worked with, Rosa Rabinovich (MGBH), a teacher at our elementary school for a little while. Eventually, I switched over to Mila Vaserstein (MGBH), when I was five years old. I studied with Mila for about three years.
My first Jazz teacher was Markus Gottschlich (MGBH). He taught me a lot and introduced me to Wendy Oxenhorn (MGBH) at the Jazz Foundation of America. I’ll always be grateful to him.
PPM: Does anyone in your family play piano?
BG: Not really. My mother took piano lessons when she was younger for about 5 years, but she she stopped playing.
PPM: Do you have any siblings? If so, do they play an instrument?
BG: Yes, I have a younger sister, Aubrey (MGBH). She’s more into sports, especially gymnastics. She’s really good at gymnastics and dance.
PPM: You speak eloquently in from the audiences. How is speaking in front of people different from performing?
BG: Thank you. Speaking in front of people is different because I use words to share my experiences and my story. I try to choose my words carefully to make sure I get the right message across. With performing, it’s more fluid and spontaneous. I really try to inspire people through my music.
My first introduction to jazz was through an old Rat Pack Movie that I watched at my grandparents’ house. I became somewhat obsessed with the Rat Pack and everything about them…
PPM: Who introduced you to jazz and what was the first jazz song that you learned?
BG: My first introduction to jazz was through an old Rat Pack Movie that I watched at my grandparents’ house. I became somewhat obsessed with the Rat Pack and everything about them…how they carried themselves, what they wore. Then I started watching old concert videos of Frank Sinatra (OBM) with Tony Bennett (MGBH), Ella Fitzgerald (OBM), and many other singers from the Great American Songbook era. There was one Frank Sinatra concert with Oscar Peterson (OBM) on the piano and that was it – I just loved the sound of jazz, and it excited me. From there, I listened to the Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans (OBM) collaborations with Tony Bennett and just kept listening. I would probably say the first standard I learned was “Fly Me to the Moon”.
PPM: Tell us about meeting Tony Bennett and Joshua Bell (MGBH). What was special about meeting those men and what did you speak to them about?
BG: I’ve been lucky enough to see Tony Bennett in concert four times – and I’ve been able to meet him after each show. There’s always a long line of people to meet Mr. Bennett, so we don’t really have time to talk. I wish I could really spend some time with him and play the piano for him. It would be a dream come true to accompany him.
I got to meet Tony Bennett’s whole band once. They were really nice, and each band member autographed the set list for me. That was really special.
I met Joshua Bell briefly after his performance at Tanglewood. He encouraged me to keep playing. My parents also met Joshua Bell at a YoungArts event in Miami (I wasn’t there). He told them the story of how, when he was little, he used to put rubber bands on the knobs of his dresser drawers to create different sounds. My mom shared that story with me, and I even put that into my TEDx speech. It inspired my theme…everyone has their own instrument; you just need to take the time to find it.
People always tell me I’m an old soul.
PPM: Do you feel your age or do you sometimes feel older? Do you have older friends? Do you have a preference of having friends your age or older?
BG: People always tell me I’m an old soul. It’s hard to know what an older person feels like, but sometimes it is easier to connect with older kids and adults, especially if we can talk about music. I have friends my age and a few older friends that I play music with. To me age is only a number, but I am only 11 so I may need some more life experience.
PPM: Do you go to school or are you home schooled?
BG: I go to a regular school. Next year, I’ll be going to a performing arts middle school.
PPM: What are your favorite subjects to learn?
BG: I like Math because the numbers and equations relate to music.
PPM: What are some of your most memorable performances?
BG: I have a few… Definitely the time Monty Alexander, one of my heroes, surprised me for my 10th birthday and invited me onstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center to play “Fly Me to the Moon” with his band. That was awesome. I also got to play at the famous Apollo Theatre at the Jazz Foundation of America’s A Great Night in Harlem. I was invited there to honor McCoy Tyner (MGBH) as he received his lifetime achievement award. That was really cool. There were a lot of amazing musicians performing that night – Dr. John (MFBH), John Batiste (MFBH), John Mayer (MFBH), just to name a few.
Recently, I played at another Jazz Foundation of America event in Los Angeles at Herb Alpert’s club – Vibrato Grill. I got to meet Patti Austin (MGBH) and the amazing Merry Clayton (MGBH), who sang “You Are So Beautiful to Me” while I accompanied her on the piano. That was impromptu and really fun! I also met the one and only – Mr. Quincy Jones (MGBH). That was cool.
Harry Connick Jr. (MGBH) was also pretty great. It was nice talking to him – I feel like he understood me and it was really fun to jam with him on the piano. His band was really great, too!
I like Frank Sinatra, because he used his voice as an instrument. The variation and his phrasing of the lyrics and songs was like an improviser playing with the melody.
PPM: Why do you like Frank Sinatra (OBM)?
BG: I like Frank Sinatra, because he used his voice as an instrument. The variation and his phrasing of the lyrics and songs was like an improviser playing with the melody. I always like the arrangements that he sang that were done by Quincy Jones and Nelson Riddle (OBM).
PPM: Do you have other kids pianist friends?
BG: Not really, but I do have a good friend that plays guitar really well. I also have some friends that are in high school that I like to jam with.
PPM: Does your family take road trips? If so, where do you go?
BG: Sometimes we drive to Disney World or Universal Studios, since we live in Florida. We like go to the Berkshires in the summer for our family vacations and we’ve gone skiing the last few winters, but we fly to those places.
PPM: Do you have pets at home?
BG: No, but I would love a dog. My sister and I have been begging for a dog.
PPM: What are your responsibilities at home?
BG: I make my bed, keep my room clean, do well in school, and practice piano. I work on composing and playing in my Dad’s office at home, so he is always telling me to clean up all my wires, instruments, and cases.
PPM: What do you do on weekends?
BG: I have my classical piano lessons on Saturdays, and we’re usually busy with events or performances. I usually have homework to do on the weekends, but if we have free time, I like to swim or just hang out at home, compose music, and play on my Fender Rhodes vintage keyboard. If there is a jazz concert or a show in town, we try to go to that.
PPM: What is your biggest dream?
BG: I want a successful career playing and making music. I want to record and play my own compositions along with the top artists in Jazz.
My favorite book to read and re-read is Herbie Hancock’s (MGBH) autobiography, “Possibilities.” My mom says that it may not be age appropriate, but it’s really interesting.
PPM: What books do you like to read?
BG: My favorite book to read and re-read is Herbie Hancock’s (MGBH) autobiography, “Possibilities.” My mom says that it may not be age appropriate, but it’s really interesting.
I got to meet Herbie Hancock after a concert he did in Miami. He was so kind and inspiring. We talked about music, and he autographed my book and album covers. He wrote some really nice messages to me. He’s amazing, and I really look up to him.
PPM: Do you speak any foreign languages?
BG: I can understand Russian and speak it a little. My mother was born in the Ukraine.
PPM: Have you travelled outside the US? If so, what was the trip you enjoyed the most?
BG: The only time I’ve been out of the US was on a cruise to the Caribbean we took with my family.
PPM: Do you like to be funny and make people laugh?
BG: I like to make people laugh, but that seems to mostly happen unintentionally.
PPM: Do you have any recorded CDs?
BG: Not yet, that is my goal in the next year or so.
interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)
Emily Bear is a young pianist and composer with a beautiful heart. Her enthusiasm for music is inspirational and contagious.Emily Bear is a young pianist and composer with a beautiful heart. Her enthusiasm for music is inspirational and contagious. A role model for many young girls around the world.
PPM: Please, tell us about your family. From other interviews we know that your grandmother is a pianist and a piano teacher. What about your mother and father? What are their occupations?
EB: My Mom was a voice major at University of Michigan Musical Theater Department. She also teaches piano and voice privately and has a Masters from Columbia University in NYC in Music Education. My Dad is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in Hand & Upper Extremity Surgery. He trained at the Mayo Clinic and Hospital For Special Surgery in NYC. He is the only one in the family who doesn’t play an instrument but is a huge supporter of all of our interests (and has become a great Harp mover for my sister!)
PPM: What do you siblings do now that they are older? They learned to play instruments, too. Do you play music together sometimes?
EB: My sister plays the Harp and Piano. She is the Principal Harpist with the Rockford Symphony Youth Orchestra and has played with several professional orchestra’s as well. I love to play with Lauren and have accompanied her on the harp as well as played harp-piano versions of my original music with her. Lauren is also a competitive figure skater, skating at the Novice Level (all the double jumps) and her competition music for her skating program is one of my original orchestral pieces! My brother plays piano, guitar and tenor saxophone. He doesn’t play sax that much any more since he is in college now and not playing with a jazz band anymore. His main hobby is photography. I love playing music with my siblings. Sometimes my brother and I will play 4 hands on one piano, and my sister and I will play 2-piano duets as we have 2 grand pianos back to back in our living room. Or I will play piano, my sister harp and my brother wither on the other piano or on his guitar.
Sometimes my brother and I will play 4 hands on one piano, and my sister and I will play 2-piano duets as we have 2 grand pianos back to back in our living room.
PPM: Tell us about your Ravinia experience at 5 years old. Do you have a memory of it?
EB: I remember being super excited for the concert and doing cartwheels backstage. Once I got on stage, I was super focused. The concert music was 1/3 classical, 1/3 jazz and 1/3 my own music that I composed. I remember that I played a song that I had composed that week for my sister called “Little Angels”. I really love performing at Ravinia – it is a very special place for me.
PPM: When you write music for an orchestra, do you use a software like MuseScore or similar?
EB: I compose using LogicPro. I first create a mock up using orchestral instrument samples, layering them one by one. Then I input each note into Finale (a music notation software program) to make the music ready to print for the orchestra.
PPM: What inspires you in writing music?
EB: It could be anything, the weather, a person, a place, something that had just happened. “Snowdance” was composed after I noticed the snow swirling from the wind outside my window by my piano. I composed “Northern Lights” after reading a Magic Treehouse book on the North Pole. I asked my Mom what an Aurora Borealis was. She showed me video’s of the rainbow lights in the sky on Youtube. “Final Journey” was composed after a very close family friend passed away and “Les Voyages”, an orchestral piece was based on the book Homer’s Odyssey, which I was reading in English Class at school! I was awarded the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer of the Year Award for “Northern Lights” when I was 6 years old out of a 30 and under age category.
PPM: What was your first composition and at what age did you write it?
EB: I composed my first real pieces when I was 3 years old. A couple of my earliest pieces are called, “Crystal Ice” and “Sunday Morning.” Hal Leonard Music has been publishing music I composed since I was 4 years old. I currently have 5 sheet music songbooks distributed worldwide and 2 sheet music singles. It is so cool to hear other people playing my music -even using them for recital pieces! A teenager recently won the grand prize in the senior division in a classical music competition performing my piece, “Peralada.”
PPM: What charities do you raise money for?
EB: It has always been really important to me to give back through my music. Each of my 7 CD’s have profits designated for different charities. Some of these include Children’s Hospitals of Los Angeles and Chicago, The Ronald McDonald House, PAWS Pet Rescue, & Cancer Charities. I also like to perform at charity benefits, concerts and galas around the world and have helped raise millions of dollars for various charities. One of my favorite concerts was when I performed for the kids at a summer camp for children with cancer. I still have the friendship bracelet they made for me.
PPM: What is your relationship with classical music vs pop vs jazz?
EB: Classical is my base and foundation, Jazz is where I can express my freedom, Pop is fun yet harder than you would think! Last April I performed the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, and in October performed Rhapsody In Blue by Gershwin. I love learning and performing classical works as well as my own orchestral music. Performing jazz is like a conversation with the other musicians I am playing with. Writing and singing pop music is another way to communicate things that I am feeling and can relate to. For example, one of the songs I recently wrote is about a friend who was getting bullied at school.
PPM: Has your mom ever make you practice piano?
EB: Never. It’s actually a rule in our family that if we have an interest, whether it is piano, figure skating or whatever – that it is our responsibility to be prepared for lessons. When I was little, she would sit with me as I practiced but that was more for company. It has also been stressed to me and my siblings that you need to have a passion for what you do, work hard and try your best but most important – keep it fun.
PPM: Do you have your daily routine in practicing piano? How many hours a day do you practice? If not every day, what are your practice patterns? Do you take days off music?
EB: Every day is different depending on what concerts are coming up, when my lessons are, how much schoolwork I have, if I am focusing on a new music composition. It is definitely never boring. I might work on classical piano after school then get an idea for a piece and run upstairs to compose and then start playing some jazz or reviewing for a concert. It is never the same!
PPM: How often do you travel for concerts?
EB: I travel often for concerts, for music lessons in NYC and Chicago as well as songwriting sessions in Los Angeles. I really love traveling!
PPM: You have been a recipient of ASCAP jazz award. Did you formally study jazz? If so, who were your teachers?
EB: I have studied jazz piano since I was 5 years old. My first jazz teacher was Alan Swain in Chicago. I also study jazz with Frank Kimbrough from Juilliard Jazz Department. I was really honored to be awarded the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award in 2016 and now in 2017 as well. My new CD, Into The Blue, a collection of original jazz tunes performed with my trio reached #5 on Billboard Charts. Quincy Jones has been my mentor for many years and he is a huge influence on my music.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your experience of playing at the White House. How did that happen?
EB: We received a phone call from the White House asking me to perform at the White House Easter Celebration. They asked me to perform 2 concerts in the East Room. It was surreal to be able to walk through the rooms of the White House and to meet the President.
PPM: Do you have a pianist/piano performer role model that you grew up with as a child?
EB: I like Lang Lang because he is very well respected in the classical world yet is bringing classical music to other mediums and does a lot of outreach with education as well.
by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)
Jacob Velazquez (MGBH) from Miami, FL comes with a special and unique story. Around the same time his family discovered his talent, they also learned about his autism spectrum. Instead of feeding the Darkness, they chose to feed the Light. With many studies indicating that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) respond well to music, the family decided to use Jacob’s diagnosis as an opportunity to inspire others. Jacob frequently talks about autism during his performances and interviews, gives concerts dedicated to this charitable cause, and simply embodies the idea of making lemonade out of lemons.
We interviewed Jacob (in black), his mother Tina (MGBH) (in blue), and his father William (MGBH) (in brown) for the magazine. And here is what they had to say.
PPM: Jacob, do you play piano every day?
JV: I take lessons two days per week with my teacher and i practice most other days with my dad.
PPM: What are your hobbies?
JV: My hobbies are playing drums, playing outside, watching TV and reading books.
PPM: What are your favorite toys and games do you like to play with?
JV: My favorite toy right now is my Elf on the Shelf. He’s not really a toy because he comes alive at night and moves around the house. My favorite game to play is chess.
PPM: Do you go to a traditional school or are you home schooled?
JV: I go to a traditional public school.
PPM: What music are you currently working on?
JV: I’m working on the Hayden (OBM) Concerto in D Major, Fantaisie-Impromptu by Chopin (OBM), and a Christmas medley I’m doing for a fundraiser for Autism Speaks.
PPM: How did you decide to record your first album?
JV: We met with a music producer Hal Batt (MGBH) when I was six. He came up with a concept and we decided to record it.
PPM: Do you play piano for your schoolmates?
JV: Yes, sometimes.
I would love to work with Taylor Swift (MGBH), Bruno Mars (MGBH), Yanni (MGBH), Joh Katodo (MGBH), a drummer from Australia, and The Miami Symphony Orchestra.
PPM: What musicians do you dream of working with?
JV: I would love to work with Taylor Swift (MGBH), Bruno Mars (MGBH), Yanni (MGBH), Joh Katodo (MGBH), a drummer from Australia, and The Miami Symphony Orchestra.
PPM: How long does it take you to memorize one page of music?
JV: One to a few days depending how difficult the piece is.
PPM: Who and at what age taught you to read music?
JV: My first teacher, Ms. Jaffird (MGBH), taught me to read music when I was 4 years old.
PPM: Do you write your own music?
JV: I’m not writing yet, but I like to improvise.
PPM: What are your biggest challenges when it comes to piano and piano performance and how do you overcome them?
JV: My biggest challenge with piano is mastering my technique. I just have keep practicing and try to remember the things my teacher tells me.
PPM: Have you ever been nervous on stage? If so, how did you handle it?
JV: I don’t get nervous on stage. It’s not scary, its just fun!
PPM: How do you use your imagination when performing on stage or recording your music?
JV: I use my imagination to be enthusiastic and funny. I like to entertain people.
PPM: Do you have siblings? If so, please, tell the readers a little bit about them.
JV: I have a little sister named Skylar (MGBH). She’s 4 years old, and she likes to be like me. She just started taking piano lessons. She also likes to dance and sing. I have two older brothers. Brandon (MGBH) is 23, lives in California and works for the Coast Guard. He loves music and dancing and he’s a really great D.J. Tyler (MGBH) is 21. He goes to college at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. He plays piano, too, and also loves to dance.
PPM: Tina, we know that for children to be successful, it is important for parents to keep on top of things. What does it take to be a mother of a talented child pianist?
TV: I don’t think what I do is much different than most other parents; scheduling their child’s after school activities, running them here and there, encouraging them to do their best, making sure their lives are balanced between school, play, homework, extra curricular activities etc.
PPM: Who maintains Jacob’s website, takes calls from reporters, manages Jacob’s performance life?
TV: My husband and I have worked on the website together however I am the one who maintains it for the most part. I’ll typically screen the initial call to find out what they’re looking for. When Jacob was younger, say 5 and 6 years old, he didn’t do much talking it was mostly just about performing. Now he loves talking to reporters and anyone else who will listen! I filter all of the initial inquiries through Jacob’s webpage and social media. My husband and I always make the final decision together based on what we feel is best for Jacob. Willie and I work with Jacob to manage all aspects of his performances.
PPM: Do you have a job outside being the boss and the nurturer of your household?
TV: I volunteer in my daughter’s preschool classroom, however, my family takes up most of my time.
PPM: Can’t avoid this question: how did you start talking to Jacob about his diagnosis?
TV: I decided to start talking to him about it when he was about 5 years old. At that time I felt he could understand & wanted him to here it from me. I got some children’s books that explained autism from his counselor at The Center for Autism & Related Disabilities. We talked about how a person with autism’s brain worked a little differently than someone without autism, and how that made them unique. I also showed him a quote from Taylor Swift “If you’re lucky enough to be different, don’t ever change.” I continue talking to him about it whenever I feel it’s necessary.
PPM: What is your message to other families with autistic children?
TV: Millions of families this year will receive the news that their child is on the autism spectrum. These families have two choices at that point, in my opinion. 1) Let this diagnosis take away your hope for your child’s future; or 2) let this be a driving force and fight to ensure your child will become anything and everything they deserve to be in this life. As a member of the autism community, I feel drawn and responsible to encourage my fellow families to put their focus on the things their child can do, rather than the things they cannot.
PPM: And under what circumstances did Jacob decide that he would take on upon himself to represent and inspire the children with autism through his performance?
TV: It’s kind of funny because when you talk with Jacob, you can get the sense that he’s not really listening. He’s usually jumping on/off the couch or making drum beats on the table. I wasn’t even sure if he heard or grasped some of the things I discussed with him about autism, until he began talking about it during a performance. He pretty much reiterated everything I had been telling him. He got a great response from the crowd and has been talking about it ever since.
PPM: Do you speak with Jacob about fame and success and what it means in the real world?
TV: Jacob and I often talk about how everyone has their own talents and things that they excel at while, at the same time, we all have things we struggle with. Jacob happens to be gifted musically which, along with his hard work, has opened the doors for him to travel to a lot of fun places and meet some great people.
PPM: What tools are you equipping him with to handle the potentials flip side of fame?
TV: With each event, my husband, and I always try to prepare Jacob based on what we are expecting him to be presented with. With that being said, Jacob is blessed with a very humble disposition. He truly cares about others and is the first to notice and celebrate the successes of friends, family and fellow musicians. Jacob gives sincere words of approval to others when they are practicing. He loves when people cheer for him, not so much because he is proud of himself, but because he is truly pleased that listening to his music has made them happy. We’ve witnessed him step back to allow fellow performers to get praise. This is how Jacob sees himself in relation to others with regard to his music.
PPM: How do you manage balancing his professional career at such early age with being a kid?
TV: Being a kid is Jacobs #1 job. We have turned down events before because he had a friend’s birthday party to attend just needed some down time. I am Jacob’s mom, his advocate, and his biggest fan. My husband and I manage all aspects of his life. We wouldn’t give up this control because no one will ever truly consider Jacob’s best interest the way we will.
Being a kid is Jacobs #1 job. We have turned down events before because he had a friend’s birthday party to attend just needed some down time.
PPM: William, from video interviews we know that you play piano, and Jacob has been hearing you play since he was a little baby. Are you a professional pianist? Where did you get your training?
WV: I very much enjoy playing the piano, however, I am not a professional pianist. I began playing when I was 7 years old on an organ we had in the house. Soon after I attended a local piano school, and at 10 years old I attended a conservatory school of music for 2 years. Afterwards, I had private lessons at my parents house for several years. In high school I played keyboard in a band we named Excelle. We played local gigs in the New York area.
PPM: When your family discovered Jacob’s talent, did he ask for lessons? How did things progress from that moment on?
WV: At the time we noticed Jacob’s ability he was very speech delayed, but we felt he would benefit from piano lessons. At first, it was difficult finding someone willing to teach a 4 year old, but, fortunately, we found someone, and Jacob began training with her. I have also taught Jacob a few short pieces.
PPM: Do you participate in your son’s “piano life” (recordings, practice, performances) or if it mostly a responsibility of your wife?
WV: I enjoy practicing with Jacob and playing for him as well. He and I have worked on a few medleys together. I recently worked with him on the National Anthem, which he performed at the American Airlines Arena for the Miami Heat game. I was also very involved with his album and his concerts.
Being on the autism spectrum, Jacob has struggled with his emotions. I think music is helping him express his own emotions as well as better understanding others.
PPM: How do you think Jacob’s piano life helps in building his character?
WV: Being on the autism spectrum, Jacob has struggled with his emotions. I think music is helping him express his own emotions as well as better understanding others.
PPM: What is the most surprising thing you learned about your son through the piano discovering journey?
WV: I am amazed of how much he has progressed in such a short period of time, and how quickly he is able to memorize a piano piece regardless of the size. I also recently discovered that Jacob has perfect pitch, which means he can identify notes and chords being played on the piano without looking.