Peeking at PHS Pianists

Andrew Flury, Staff

Music and musical instruments shape people’s lives in more ways than they can measure. Whether it is playing, performing or simply sitting back and listening, everyone has a personal connection with music. In this article The Vanguard takes a look at two unique Viking musicians with one thing in common: the piano.


Ben Limric

Sophomore Ben Limric has been playing piano for almost a decade.

“I started when I was in first grade and [I practice] 45 minutes to an hour every day,” Limric said. “My teacher mostly assigns me classical and contemporary pieces but I really enjoy doing my own thing and I love improvising.”

Limric has perfect pitch, an ability that allows him to identify the name of any pitch without any musical reference, like a keyboard. Perfect or Absolute Pitch is extremely rare and about one person in every 10,000 has the gift, according to Diane Deutsch, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego.

“When I was starting out the piano, my teacher had me doing ear training exercises and I was insanely good at them,” Limric said. “So my dad experimented, along the lines of ‘what would happen if I played five notes at once’ and when I was able to name all the random notes, we realized I had perfect pitch.”

Along with note identification, Limric’s pitch allows him to sing perfectly in tune, name the key of a piece of music and quickly learn new music.

“My perfect pitch makes it really easy to learn pieces, just because I can hear the song exactly right,” Limric said. “What I do sometimes at school is bring my music with me and play it in my head to memorize it.”

The brunt of that work is devoted to performances and competitions, where Limric has had his fair share of disasters and miracles.

“I get really bad nerves and will always be really antsy, just the moment before performing. It is nerve-wracking,” Limric said. “My first big competition was a Russian festival and I was so so nervous. All the kids played better pieces than I did and I felt like my music was pathetic. But I have this habit where I think ‘it was my first performance; you will do better on the next one.’”

This positive mindset has helped Limric through potentially ill-fated situations.

“Earlier this year I was accompanying this violinist at the Puyallup fair,” Limric said. “It was an outdoor venue and so windy that her music blew off the stand! I had to reach down with my left hand and play everything with my right hand. Then I did a glissando and handed [the sheet music] to her.”

Limric was raised on classical repertoire but has recently discovered jazz. He draws a clear line between the two genres of music.

“When you are playing classical, you interpret a piece and you add your own kind of flair to it. But jazz is different because there is more sass,” Limric said. “When you play the chord that does not quite sound right but leads into a perfect resolution–it is on another level. Between classical and jazz, I enjoy jazz. Classical is straightforward and predictable whereas jazz can go somewhere totally different. When performing I feel an adrenaline rush for those full, rocky, jazzy style of pieces.”

Limric has been playing for 10 years but he believes it is never too late to begin.

“Definitely start small; YouTube is actually great resource,” Limric said, laughing. “Once you learn the basics, you can really have a lot of fun with it. Find any song and figure out what the notes are or do your own thing. Do not go to piano lessons and hate it. Do not make it a chore. [Piano] is only as fun as you want to make it. Enjoy and explore and do whatever you feel is going to be good for you.”


Isaac McDonald

Senior Isaac McDonald has been a lead pianist of the PHS Jazz Band for the past three years but his piano experience stretches much farther.

“I have played off-and-on for about nine years and I have always loved how virtuous it is,” McDonald said. “Piano spreads out into all instruments. In many ways it is the instrument. You look at all the best composers; they all play piano. It is all in their repertoire. And it helps a lot in other fields of music”

Like Limric, McDonald has a classical background. And also like Limric, he prefers jazz.

“Jazz band is really fun because you can play with other people,” McDonald said. “The thing about piano that sucks is you always play solo. So when you mess up, it is all on you. But with jazz band it is different. Instead of just pushing a train, you are on the train; you are there for the ride. It was really fun last year because I was super close with the rhythm session. [Together with] the guitar, bass and drums–it was phenomenal.”

Prior to attending PHS, McDonald had no intentions of playing jazz. But that changed after his freshman year.

“I was playing piano when my brother’s friend came over. He went ‘you got to try out for jazz band’ and brought me audition music. The very next day I performed and got into jazz band and have loved it ever since,” McDonald said. “One of my favorite performances was just last year. There was this solo I had right when the song started out–it was just drums and me. The solo was a real solo, super hard and fast and I would mess it up every time in practice. I got it once out of all my practices and went into the concert feeling like crap about it. But I nailed it at the concert. And everyone was pleasantly surprised; it was a great feeling.”

Through his years of experience with the instrument, McDonald sees the piano as more than a solo platform.

“Sometimes a piano song will get to me but that is rare,” McDonald said. “Piano is more a foundation, where I build other things. I am glad I learned it and I am glad I had it in my childhood. If you want to learn piano, try your best at it. Really work hard at it. Piano is fun–it just depends where you take it.”