At his first piano lesson with Janine M. Johnson, 5-year-old Noah P. Landers was more interested in the bench than the instrument.
He was crawling on the floor, looking up at the bench, Mrs. Johnson recalled.
Its an artists bench, with a mechanism for going up and down, she said.
Noah, the son of William and Vicki Landers of Watertown, wanted to know if it was a particular mechanism that allowed for the benchs up and down movement. She told him it was.
Such curiosity impressed the piano teacher.
The first thing that impressed me was his unbelievable intelligence, Mrs. Johnson said. He is extremely curious about mechanical things; how they work and how they are put together. His mind just goes constantly.
But once he could sit still on the piano bench, things took off musically. Besides impressing his teacher and family, he began to impress audiences at recitals at such performances as last summers Enchanted Gardens Gala at Thompson Park. His latest performance was last Friday night at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church on Gotham Street.
I like the sound of music and I like making it my own, he said before the recital. Its a way to express myself. Its a way to get away.
This weekend, Noah, 15, will express himself at the 10th annual Thousand Islands International Piano Competition for Young People at Maple Grove Estate in Cape Vincent. Its rare for the event to have competitors from the north country. In its history, it has had two others local competitors: Isaac J. James of Champion, who performed in 2004, and Timothy S. Lanigan, Watertown, who performed in 2005. Both were students of Mrs. Johnson.
There are 15 other contestants this year from ages 9 to 25 competing in two age divisions (9 to 18 and 19 to 25). Each division has a first prize of up to $2,000 (the money is shared if theres a tie for first), plus second and third prizes. Contestants are coming from Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Taiwan, Bulgaria, Canada and the U.S. They represent such prestigious institutions as the Julliard School in New York City, Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Peabody Institute in Baltimore and Eastman School of Music in Rochester.
The competition was founded by Dr. William J. Grant, who died in 2009. Dr. Grant was a Watertown native. He grew up in Clayton and retired to Texas in 1993 and summered in Cape Vincent following a distinguished career as a physician.
His legacy of bringing classical piano music to the Thousand Islands community continues with private donations and support by area residents.
Noah is a student at Carthage High School, where his mother is a psychologist for the Carthage Central School District.
Mr. and Mrs. Landers adopted Noah, and his brother, Seth, 12, from South Korea. Noah was less than a year old when he was adopted. Mrs. Landers said Noahs musical expertise is something he developed on his own.
Im not very musical, Mrs. Landers said. Neither is her husband, a chef educator at Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
But she believes Baby Einstein may have sparked Noahs musical talents. Baby Einstein is a line of multimedia products and toys that specializes in interactive activities focusing on the humanities for babies and young children.
We bought the classical music CDs and we had a CD player on his crib, Mrs. Landers said. Every night, he would listen to classical music.
As Noah got older, he would put the CDs into the player himself and hit the play button. But one time, Mrs. Landers put in a CD and told Noah, who was 3, it was Beethoven. She was quickly corrected.
Noah said, No its Vivaldi, Mrs. Landers said.
Mrs. Landers and her husband then decided they had a special musical child on their hands and sought lessons.
Besides being a student of Mrs. Johnson, Noah is also a student of Robert Auler, a music professor at SUNY Oswego.
In the last year, hes grown immensely, Mrs. Landers said. Each year, it was like, Wow! But in the last year, everything seemed to have clicked for him.
Last year, the Landerses got a grand piano, on which Noah spends many hours practicing. Mrs. Johnson said he is self-motivated.
Last Friday, backstage before the recital at All Souls Church, Noah told Mrs. Johnson that he couldnt think of the notes of the pieces he was about to perform. Pianists, Mrs. Johnson noted, perform by memory.
But he said, I know when I sit down, Ill be fine, she added.
Thats right. The music will take over, Mrs. Johnson said she told Noah.
The performance, she said, was flawless.