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Child Prodigy, 11, Leaves 'Dune' in Dust

March 01, 1987|CAROLYN LUMSDEN | Associated Press

WEST BOYLSTON, Mass. — What's next for the child who spoke her first word at 1 month, quoted Shakespeare at 1 year and starred in the movie "Dune" at 7?

Answer: playing piano on weekends at a local eatery.

Alicia Witt, now 11, runs through everything from Mozart sonatas to Broadway ballads in front of diners every Friday night to pay for her budding career as a concert pianist.

Her long red hair trailing below the piano bench, she sits with ruler-like straightness, plunking away at Cole Porter tunes one minute, a Tchaikovsky piece the next. Sometimes she is joined by her 9-year-old brother, Ian, also an award-winning pianist.

Variety of Ambitions

Besides show business, Alicia's list of ambitions includes being a drugstore clerk, being a "farmstress," or farm mistress, and raising four children, "because that's a lucky number."

Her mother, Diane Witt, said Alicia has won every piano competition she has entered after only three years of classical training. But on the salary of her father, who teaches science at a junior high school, the family cannot afford a car, let alone travel to faraway contests, Witt said.

The family's tight budget has not stopped the voracious appetite for knowledge that Alicia has shown since she was a baby.

Her mother said Alicia said "hi" at 1 month and began reading at 7 months. At 2 years old, she knew the names of every member of the president's Cabinet and shocked an Internal Revenue Service agent who visited the house by grabbing a tax guide and reading it aloud, Witt said.

"Sometimes it astonished you, sometimes it frightened you, that a child this young could do these things," said Elizabeth Harrington, who lived near the Witts until a few years ago.

'That's Incredible' Spot

A published photo of the toddler engrossed in a women's magazine led to articles about her talents and appearances on such TV shows as "That's Incredible."

Witt said she taught Alicia at home because her own experience teaching large classes of children of varying abilities had taught her that "school can really destroy all that curiosity."

Alicia decides day to day what to study, whether it is a chapter from her mother's college trigonometry textbooks or a new piano technique, which piano judges have extolled, Witt said.

"Superior performances in style, grasp of each piece, interpretation," wrote M. Freiberg, a retired professor of music at Tufts University, in an evaluation during a statewide contest. "Superior technique, tone, intonation and more. . . . Superior stage presence. A real pianist."

Alicia's horticultural studies have led her to grow prize-winning roses and to write 100 pages of notes on a house spider's mating habits, which family members took turns observing around the clock.

Alicia had never seen a movie nor been far from her Worcester home when the family flew to Mexico for the filming of "Dune." She was cast in the role of a child born with the memory of several generations because she charmed the director with a recitation, in alphabetical order, of the nation's state capitals.

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