June 16, 2008

Lenny Donadio and His Music

Lenny's introduction to the piano came in first grade.

"I didn't start thinking I was any good until seventh grade, but I guess I did learn pretty quickly." Cynthia and Leonard Donadio, recognizing their son's rapid progress, arranged for Lenny to study with Irina Tchantceva, a pianist and music educator affiliated with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School and Providence College.

"I guess that's when my music skill and interest really took off. She let me play anything I wanted. Irina is a great teacher, but I think it was the free rein she gave me to take on big things that was so important at the time."

Lenny just finished his sophomore year at Classical High School, where he's an honor roll student and plays on the varsity tennis team. He wishes he had more time to practice the piano. "I'm pretty harsh on myself. I practice up to two hours a day, but I'm learning longer songs. The Tchaikovsky concerto I'm working on now is 20 minutes long. It takes me an hour to get through it!"

"I think Lenny's incredibly talented, gifted perhaps," says his mother, Cindy. Recently, as winner of the annual concerto competition, he performed with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. "But he works very, very hard at it. The minute he gets home from school he's on the piano. He's always playing."

"I don't have a good ear," says Lenny. "I can't hear a piece and sit down and play it. I need to read music. Josef Hofmann could learn anything by ear. And Anton Rubinstein had a photographic memory. A lot of the really good musicians have really special abilities. I don't have any -- I just practice hard.

"I'm never sure of myself. I watch people play on YouTube, and the technical feats required to play some pieces is amazing. The drive has to come from within, and I've never been driven toward anything else like the piano."

Lenny moves over to the Steinway grand piano in the family's East Side living room. "This was my Christmas present -- for life! Would you like to hear something?"

"Scriabin is great fun to play. He has a different kind of phrasing. Listen to this.

"As I get older my interest has moved to later music periods. Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich -- the dissonant Russian composers, I guess.

"I like really strong pieces. Not everyone plays as loud as me. That's one of my strengths: I'm intense, not afraid to really throw myself into it."

Lenny is playing one of those intense dissonant Russian pieces, very loudly, as his mother tries to talk. "Please don't play right now!" she says. Lenny doesn't listen so she shouts over the music. "Now he loves Rachmaninoff. The style he prefers changes with his age, and that's a beautiful thing. He's in the loud, intense phase now.

"He's the only kid I know with an iPod full of classical music. Oh, and Monty Python, so he's very well-rounded!"

"What excites me the most?" says Lenny. "It's fun. I enjoy doing it. It's not incredibly profound or deep. I just like music. I like to listen and I like to make it. And I'm good at it. There's a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment but, more than that, simply a sense of enjoyment.

"I never get too ahead of myself with piano. It's probably the only thing that I'm not arrogant about. I have to stay humble because there are people out there who are simply better than me."

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