East End Arts student with Asperger’s hits the red carpet

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11/13/2014 8:00 AM |

Brandon Boardman (at piano) and his teacher, Billy Johnson, perform at the Long Island Music Hall of Fame Gala on Oct. 23. Mr. Boardman, a Riverhead resident who has Asperger's syndrome, received a standing ovation following the performance. (Credit: Long Island Music Hall of Fame photos)

Brandon Boardman (at piano) and his teacher, Billy Johnson, perform at the Long Island Music Hall of Fame Gala on Oct. 23. Mr. Boardman, a Riverhead resident who has Asperger’s syndrome, received a standing ovation following the performance. (Credit: Long Island Music Hall of Fame photos)

You won’t see Brandon Boardman using sheet music when he plays piano. That’s because the 20-year-old Riverhead musician can bang out an entire tune — mistake-free — after hearing it just once.

Mr. Boardman, who has Asperger Syndrome, was one of just a handful of performers to receive a standing ovation during last month’s Long Island Music Hall of Fame Gala at The Paramount in Huntington. He received his after playing three versions of “Over the Rainbow.”

His mother, Patricia, knew how special the event was going to be. There would be a red carpet. He’d have to get his first tuxedo.

When asked during an interview last week about the source of his success, Mr. Boardman recited advice from his great-grandmother, Patricia L. Boardman, who helped raise him.

“Just be the best that you can be,” he said.

As for his latest performance, Mr. Boardman said he’s enjoying the spotlight.

“I was excited because I know that’s how it’s going to be when I’m famous,” he said.

Jim Faith, a founder of the nonprofit Long Island Music Hall of Fame, which provides support for young musicians and works to showcase the region’s talent and music history, said he invited Mr. Boardman to perform after learning of his talent from East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder.

“I listened to him and he was brilliant,” Mr. Faith said. “He was a pleasure to work with and very professional. We look forward to being involved with Brandon in the future.”

Mr. Boardman, who graduated from Riverhead High School in 2012, is the principal pianist and choir director at Goodwill AME Zion Church in Riverhead.

He currently studies music at Suffolk County Community College and learned he would play piano for the school’s Ammerman Jazz Ensemble the same day he tried out. He’s also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and is on the dean’s list.

Music runs in Mr. Boardman’s family. His grandfather, Ralph W. Boardman, was also a jazz musician, who played saxophone, keyboard, drums and piano. Mr. Boardman’s great-grandfather, Ralph O. Boardman, was a jazz musician in the U.S. Army and played with Nat King Cole at the Apollo.

In addition to Cole, Mr. Boardman said his other favorite musicians are Thelonious Monk and Chick Corea, mainly because he likes what he described as a sort of burst of music that occurs during their songs.

“I like all of the energy in their music,” Mr. Boardman said. “Especially in the runs that they do. It’s a very fast scale.” 

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