The following article is part of our Student Spotlight series, which highlights the stories and experiences of Real School students and their families.
Real School student, pianist, and composer George Whitfield sat down with Leighann Hodgkins to talk about his earliest memories on the piano, his work with instructor Eric Goldberg, and what it means to create and share his original music with others. George is a senior at Woburn Memorial High School in Woburn, MA.
Leighann: Thank you so much for joining me today! How are you?
George: I'm doing good!
Leighann: How long have you been a student at Real School?
George: I've been coming since 2010 or 2011, so it's been about six or seven years.
Leighann: What age did you start taking piano lessons?
George: I started when I was in fifth grade. I originally started on piano and I was really excited because my grandfather played piano. My dad signed me up for lessons. I got a piano as a surprise for Christmas and I start taking lessons right after that.
Leighann: That's awesome! Would you say that your grandfather is someone who inspired you to start playing?
George: Yes, definitely because at first, whenever we had family gatherings like Christmas or Thanksgiving, he would perform for us and it was really inspiring. I thought it was really cool and then I remember telling my dad that I wanted to play piano.
Leighann: What are your future plans and what are your career and musical goals?
George: I want to study music in college. Not necessarily as a full-time music student, but I definitely still want to continue to make music on my computer. That something that I've been really interested in. And, I want to continue studying piano.
I'm kind of like on the edge right now, because there's a part of me is like, "oh my gosh, I need to go all into music." But, then there's another part of me that's like, "I really just have all these other interests!" So I'm on the edge, but leaning more towards pursuing my other interests, too, in addition to music. But, music is not going to go away, it's still going to be there.
Leighann: What have been some of the most memorable experiences in music so far?
George: One of the biggest challenges for me was performing at the talent show at my school. I played a piano arrangement of the Harry Potter theme, so it was really crazy! I worked really hard at it, bought a robe online, and I wore the robe to the talent show! It was like the craziest thing!
Leighann: What has it been like to work with Eric Goldberg?
George: He's an incredible instructor, super nice, super kind, literally hilarious. I've cried laughing in my lessons before and he is so good at explaining things. He just knows everything... it's literally insane. I could be learning something and then he's like, "oh, you can play this way, this way, this way, with this inversion and this other thing..." and he just plays it perfectly, it's just crazy!
Leighann: A little bird told me that you study Japanese. How did you get into that? What's that all about?
George: I've always been really interested in Japanese culture. When I was younger, I lived in Japan for three months when I was three years old. So, I don't really remember it, but my family has really been into Japanese stuff ever since. And I got into sushi, then into Origami. That led to me wanting to learn Japanese. It took me over a year to just learn the alphabet. And ever since then, after that first hurdle, it was kind of like a snowball. Now, I've got the ball rolling and it's becoming easier.
Leighann: How has music made a positive impact on your life?
George: The big thing is just stress relief. I'm in a lot of hard classes in high school and sometimes, I'll be doing homework for a super long time. It's like I don't have any free time for anything! But I always make time for music and the piano. I mean, half the time when I play piano, I already don't have the time!
It just makes me feel better. And also, the feeling I get when I write my own music... if people listen to it, and they tell me how it makes them feel, that just means the world to me. You feel like you've helped people, it feels meaningful. I really like that part of it.
Leighann: So who are the people who have been most supportive of your musical goals?
George: Probably my parents, because whenever I'm practicing piano at home, my dad always listens and he gives me tips.
Leighann: Thats so nice! This is your senior year, right?
George: Yeah, it is!
Leighann: Awesome, so what are your future plans?
George: Get into a college... that's my plan (laughing)! I've only applied to colleges with decent music programs, so I want to either major in music alongside something else, or at least minor in it. Some schools I've applied to, like Carnegie Mellon, for example, have a music certificate program. That's something I would love to do.
Leighann: So if I gave you a magic crystal ball and it could show you five or ten years in the future, where do you think you would be?
George: Well at least physically, I think I'd still be in college. I'm probably going to go to grad school for something. I don't know yet, there's a lot of decisions to be made on that. I still want to be a musician. Hopefully, I can get to the point where, it's more like a professional career on the side, like playing at weddings and restaurants. That's something I definitely want to continue.
Leighann: So, thank you so much for coming in and talking to me today! I had so much fun interviewing you. We can't wait to see what the future holds for you!
George: Thanks so much, it's been a pleasure!
Leighann: This article, video, and this beautiful Yamaha grand piano is brought to us by our friends at Falcetti Pianos. Thank you so much for watching and we'll see you in next one!
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