12-year-old Akron piano prodigy opens up about his sudden burst of fame, playing at Carnegie Hall (video)

December 1, 2017 GMT

12-year-old Akron piano prodigy opens up about his sudden burst of fame, playing at Carnegie Hall (video)

AKRON, Ohio - The last week or so has been something of a whirlwind for Akron boy Daniel Colaner. He performed at Carnegie Hall, played an organ at the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, performed on “Good Morning America” for a nationwide audience and was interviewed by numerous local and national news outlets.

The 12-year-old prodigy plays the piano and the organ with the finesse of a seasoned professional, skillfully working the keys and pedals with a grace well beyond his years. And that talent earned him a ticket to New York City over the weekend.

He performed at Carnegie Hall Sunday and on “Good Morning America” Monday, playing Fantaisie-Impromptu, a solo composition written by 19th Century composer and piano virtuoso Frederic Chopin.

Following his sudden burst of fame, he sat down with a Cleveland.com reporter to talk about his recent outing to the Big Apple and how he handles the glare of the spotlight.

Daniel took up the piano at the age of 6. He was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma at six months old and his doctors worried his cognitive development could eventually suffer. His parents encouraged him to take up music to exercise his brain and keep his mind healthy.

“I had always loved buttons, I had always loved bells and whistles as a baby,” he said of the piano’s appeal.

But Daniel also plays the organ.

When he was a child, his parents arranged a visit to St. Sebastian Parish in Akron to watch choir director Lynn Steward - who would later become his tutor - play the church’s massive pipe organ, an instrument larger than some small houses.

“The hands and the feet were going at the same time and I was just amazed,” he said. “It was like an orchestra, and I really wanted to be able to do that.”

Steward took him on as a student two years ago. She hadn’t taught in nearly a decade, but said she was so impressed with Daniel’s prowess on piano that she decided to once again mentor a young musician.

“I saw that little spark” in Daniel, she said.

Daniel and his father jury-rigged an organ at their home, but it isn’t nearly as complex (or as loud) as St. Sebastian’s, testing the boy’s memory.

“He has to try to remember what we’ve done here,” Steward said in a recent interview at St. Sebastian. “It is definitely not easy to go from one organ to another, because they’re all completely different.”

Mastering the organ also requires an almost superhuman level of coordination. St. Sebastian’s pipe organ can seem maddeningly complex to the casual observer, with four keyboards above a series of pedals. The keys and pedals must be operated simultaneously.

“Your feet are like another set of hands and they have to be as agile as your fingers,” Steward said.

In her first year with Daniel, she said, they worked on synching his feet with his hands.

Between the pipe organ and the piano, Daniel said he spends around four hours a day practicing, dedication which paid off when he earned a trip to the East Coast.

Headed to the Big Apple

His journey to Carnegie Hall began when he submitted a video to a competition called American Protege, which lets youth from all over the world compete for a chance to play in the famed New York concert venue.

The Akron boy remembers shouting for a minute straight after his father received an email announcing that he qualified to play in the Big Apple.

“I’d been practicing for so long,” he said. “And the thought of being able to play at Carnegie Hall blew my mind.”

Before his excursion to the East Coast, Cleveland was the largest city Daniel had ever visited, and the New York made his hometown of Akron look like “a cornfield,” he said.

Daniel and his family had the chance to experience the city when he wasn’t performing, watching a light show at Saks Fifth Avenue and experiencing the dazzling cacophony of light and sound that is Times Square.

But music remained his focus in New York.

At Carnegie Hall, he performed in front of one of the largest crowds of his life, but he kept his mind on the music thanks to countless hours of preparation.

“It was just the piano and me up there, and I was fully focused on the music,” he said. “The piano was incredible. My upright at home has got nothing on it.”

“The acoustics were amazing,” Daniel added. “Everything sounds wonderful up there.”

Outside of Carnegie, he had the chance to play the pipe organ at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (which he described as “a wall of sound”) and performed live on “Good Morning America,” which is filmed in Times Square and came with it’s share of distractions thanks to the glaringly brilliant billboards that line the popular tourist attraction.

“The billboards had tons of advertisements, I was amazed I could even focus,” he said.

Daniel’s accomplishments caught the attention of national news outlets like ABC’s “World News Tonight” and “Good Morning America.” Both outlets interviewed him and the latter let him perform live on their show. He was also the subject of an article in the Akron Beacon Journal and a segment on WEWS in Cleveland.

While Daniel is keeping his career options open, his father Dan said, he is planning for a possible career in music, meaning he could someday return to Carnegie Hall.