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Boy May Already Have the Keys to His Future

Music * Jordan Adams started banging on a keyboard at 3. Now, at age 5, he is playing classical music for audiences.

May 10, 2000|From Washington Post

When Kenneth Adams first set down the Casio keyboard before his 3-year-old son, the boy reached eagerly for the electronic instrument, his face lighting up at the sounds it made when he touched the keys.

Jordan Adams plinked out a jumble of notes, happily composing discordant "songs."

Unlike toys that briefly kept the boy's attention, the keyboard became a favorite. Day after day, he'd reach for it, sometimes playing for hours.

Along the way, the notes started sounding like melodies. And it struck Adams: "He wasn't just smacking the keys, he was playing them."

Jordan, now 5, is still tapping, but he's graduated to an upright piano and a more sophisticated sound. No more "Jingle Bells." This kid plays Mozart--without sheet music.

His audience has grown much broader than his parents and three younger siblings. This summer, he'll play at the United Nations and two embassies in Washington. Last month, he performed for Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening during a celebration of the state's arts. This month, Jordan's parents will take him to an open audition in New York City for a chance to appear on the television program "It's Showtime at the Apollo." Not bad for a kid whose legs don't even reach the foot pedals.

His Talent Came Out Naturally

At a time when parents frequently begin pushing their children at infancy to excel, it is not uncommon to find children who acquire artistic and academic skills young. But Jordan stumbled onto his talent without being forced into a regimen of lessons and practice.

With his talent still budding, Jordan already draws comparisons to a young Denyce Graves, Leontyne Price or Simon Estes--African Americans who helped break the color barrier in classical music.

"It's rare to find a child of any age who is that focused on anything," said Raymond Jackson, a professor of piano at Howard University, who also began playing as a toddler. "And certainly, you don't run into many African American classical pianists."

Jordan's piano teacher, Bella Oster, said she certainly doesn't.

Of the 106 students ages 3 to 16 whom she teaches at her European Academy of Music and Art in Burtonsville, Md., Jordan is the only African American.

"I'm proud of them all. But he is special," Oster said. The native of the former Soviet Union began teaching Jordan 18 months ago, after his father picked her name from the telephone book.

At first, Kenneth Adams fretted about how to develop his son's talent.

"I was like, let's put him in some lessons and see how he does," said Adams, 32. "We just didn't know what to do or where to go."

Crystal Adams, 34, a homemaker, said she never thought one of her children would study classical music, which she equated with high society.

Her solidly middle-class family lives in a three-bedroom townhouse in Laurel, Md., she said. And the couple doesn't buy into baby fads, such as the classical CDs that some parents believe boost infants' brain power.

Everything Jordan has done so far, he's done early and extraordinarily well. He walked at 8 months, and started reading and writing legibly before age 3.

And then there's the piano. Hopping onto the bench of the black upright his parents bought for his fourth birthday, Jordan demonstrated why strangers' jaws drop when he takes to the keys.

"He was running out of keys," said Crystal Adams, explaining why the couple stretched their budget to replace his keyboard. "He couldn't practice the lessons his teacher was giving him."

Some Teachers Said He Was Too Young

When they began looking for a teacher, a handful declined, saying 3 was too young. But Oster was open-minded. She agreed to accept him if he was good.

Jordan plays all styles of classical music, from Romantic to Baroque. All of it was introduced by Oster, whose penchant for floral prints and red lipstick belie her stern demeanor.

"Shoulders up, sit straight. And one and two, and one and two," Oster sang to Jordan one recent afternoon. "That was beautiful, beautiful. But we can do better, yes?"

"Yes," the boy whispered.

Jordan learned to read sheet music soon after meeting Oster. He practices at least an hour a day. And he plays as if he feels the music, leaning into and away from the piano, curling his wrists up and down with each stroke of the keys.

He plays well enough to be heard, his father thought.

So last month Adams and his wife entered their son in a talent competition advertised in a parenting magazine. Jordan competed in the 9-or-younger category and won, beating nine competitors for a shiny trophy that now sits atop the upright in the living room.

Family and friends call Jordan a prodigy.

Oster prefers to call Jordan a child with a gift, one that if nurtured properly could make him a great musician. He has what it takes, she says. He sits still for long stretches, absorbs lessons quickly and focuses like someone far older.

"This is a gift," she said, snapping her fingers to the rhythm of Jordan's playing. "How much, how wide, I don't know. But with lessons, he will go far. I will teach him."

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