Musical inspiration


POSTED: Friday, May 29, 2009

Nat Stanton at 18 is no child prodigy. He taught himself to play the piano when he was 15 but recently auditioned his way into the University of Hawaii's music school after only three years of piano lessons.

“;That's unheard of,”; said his teacher, Ellen Masaki of the renowned Ellen Masaki School of Music.

What makes his accomplishment more unusual is that Stanton is graduating from Kalani High School as a special-education student. His classmates don't know he has a mild form of Tourette's syndrome, a neurological condition characterized by involuntary motor and vocal tics, because he has learned to control it, he said.

Stanton said his condition has always made learning new things harder: “;It affected my listening, and I have to repeat things over and over again; it was a struggle. I was interested in music because my whole family is musical. I guess I just wanted to be like them.”;

“;My dream is to be a world-class piano performer,”; he added.

Masaki, whose students have included premier pianists over her 59 years of teaching, said, “;It's unusual to see such talent. ... He'll go far, if he can make this much progress in one year.”; (He took lessons from someone else for two years.)

She started his classical music training on April Fools' Day 2008 when “;he could barely read music. ... He had spaghetti fingers—very weak,”; but his self-discipline and persistence endeared him to her, she said.

Stanton's mother is also a piano teacher at Punahou, and founder of the Manoa Piano School. Carolyn Stanton said her son never wanted to learn the piano, but started clarinet lessons at 9. She and husband Tim were astounded to hear him out of the blue playing “;The Entertainer,”; the jaunty theme song from the movie “;The Sting.”;

Nat Stanton said when he first heard the tune, he was hooked and vowed, “;I'm going to play that song one day.”; He taught himself the song on his mom's electronic teaching piano when no one was around, because he didn't want to take basic piano lessons. That led to other songs.

“;It's harder to learn piano than clarinet because piano is like playing two instruments at the same time. ... I like piano better because there's a lot more you can do with it. You get more feedback from a piano,”; said Stanton, who is double-majoring in piano and clarinet.

A shy person of few words, Stanton said playing allows him to lose himself in music's broad range of emotions. “;It gives me inspiration.”;