Zakery Simpson is a piano prodigy and that accomplishment alone would set him apart from many young people.
But the 17-year-old Kelly Road Grade 12 student has composed his own music, a piece called Sunset Song. He was one of four musicians chosen to perform their original compositions just before the Prince George Symphony Orchestra performed their Messiah concert.
There was also a CD made of their live music.
Today (March 20) Simpson will perform in the annual Prince George and District Music Festival, in his Classical Concert group category, playing pieces chosen from the works of composers Beethoven, Chopin and DeBussy. When Simpson performed at the 2013 festival, he took home first class honours in piano with a score of 90 out of 100.
His appreciation of classical music began with a gift, a small electronic keyboard given to him as a child by his Oma (German term for grandmother.)
The keyboard sat beside his bed “for a long time” until at age 14 when Zak decided to try out a few pieces on it. He also listened to pieces from composers in the Baroque and Romantic periods.
“As I listened to the music of (the great composers) I began to get my own ideas for writing slow and pretty pieces of my own.
“I particularly enjoyed the music of [Italian contemporary composer] Ludovico Einaudi, especially his composition, Le Onde. I discovered Le Onde one day while I was watching a chess video on YouTube – that was the song playing in the background. So right away, I looked up the sheet music for it.”
The only problem now was, Simpson didn’t know how to read sheet music.
“That’s how I first learned to read sheet music because I really wanted to play that piece. I only had the little keyboard from Oma with just 60 keys but I managed to work with it until I got the song out.”
That only whetted his appetite for learning to play his own original pieces. So Simpson summoned up his courage and walked into a music store.
“I went into Long and McQuade and asked them how I could write a musical score. It seems I’d missed a few steps (he laughs)– I had to have regular piano lessons first,” he said.
“I didn’t get serious about music lessons until I played a beautiful song at my aunt’s funeral. It was a song about the death of a loved one.”
Another aunt, Kathy, who heard him play that day, arranged a meeting with Sandi Miller. She did an assessment and quickly saw his talent.
Meanwhile, Simpson was following on YouTube, tutorials by piano teacher Andrew Furnanczyk.
“I realized I needed harmony and theory training.”
Then one day, talking about music with a school friend, Rebekah, he found out Furnanczyk was in fact living and teaching in Prince George.
“She was the one who told me he’s here. I was speechless,” said Simpson, who had no idea his online “ideal piano instructor” was so close at hand.
“My mother went to my first meeting with him in his music studio and I played for him the first piece I’d heard from the Italian composer, Le Onde.”
Since then, Simpson has worked hard and regularly puts in four or five hours of practise every day, one of the reasons he advanced quickly in piano through to Grade 10 level Royal Conservatory of Music.
His days are long. Besides school work and piano practise, he has a part-time job. During the Canada Winter Games, Simpson volunteered as a lines person in badminton (he plays on his high school badminton team.)
He was rewarded with an unexpected financial boost to accompany his early acceptance at UNBC.
“I want to pursue an academic path and become a professor and also have time to work on creating my own music compositions.”
The Prince George and District 2015 Music Festival runs March14 to 22. The Showcase Recital and Festival Gala are on March 28.