Joey Harmon sat at the piano last Thursday and prepared to play one of his favorite songs, “The Great Smoky Mountains.”
“Are you ready yet?” he asked his mom, Susan, and instructor, Tatiana Balepina.
Sitting up straight on the piano bench in the second-floor lesson room at East End Arts in Riverhead, Joey began to play. His fingers glided effortlessly over the keys as he performed the song from memory, with no sheet music in sight.
Joey will perform the two-minute song at Carnegie Hall next month as part of his prize for being a Grand Prix winner in last month’s Concert Festival International Competition.
The Carnegie Hall performance will be 9-year-old Joey’s first time on stage.
“That will be exciting because all the kids there are Grand Prix winners,” Ms. Balepina said. “They will be the best, so it’s not only performing but learning how others play.”
The Concert Festival International Competition, based out of Sea Cliff, N.Y., is for musicians ages 5 to 25. Winners are named at three different levels in each age and musical category, with Grand Prix being the highest level of recognition.
Joey submitted a YouTube video of himself playing the David Carr Glover song he’ll perform in April and learned in February that he’d been named a Grand Prix winner.
Joey, who lives in Riverhead with his parents and twin sister, practices numerous times a day for 20-minute intervals — totaling about two hours of piano playing daily, his mom said.
The hard work has paid off. Not only did Joey receive the highest level of recognition, he did so in the first competition he’s ever entered.
“I’m very proud,” his mom said. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
Joey said his favorite aspect of playing the piano are the “nice pieces.” He also enjoys playing “Arabesque” and listening to “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” which Ms. Balepina said is a more advanced piece for those with a college-level skill set.
Joey began playing the piano at age 6 and has been studying with Ms. Balepina since December 2016.
As part of his work with Ms. Balepina, who described her student as advanced for his age, Joey has to learn seven pieces this year — and must be able to perform them from memory. So far, she said, he has mastered three, including his competition piece.
In addition to memorizing the pieces Ms. Balepina assigns, Joey composes his own songs, some of which he uploads to YouTube. He also created his own musical instrument after a lesson at which she explained how the parts of the piano all work together, his teacher said.
Although piano is his main musical focus, Joey also plays the guitar and drums for fun.
“Joey has a very creative, interesting personality,” Ms. Balepina said. “He composes some songs. Last year he wrote it down, which is fantastic for 8 years old. Not many adult students can write down a composition.”
Photo caption: Nine-year-old pianist Joey Harmon of Riverhead will play at Carnegie Hall next month. He has been a student at East End Arts since December 2016. (Credit: Nicole Smith)