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Monterey violinist a natural at the age of 4

By DENNIS TAYLOR , Herald Staff Writer

POSTED: 10/12/13, 12:01 AM PDT |



Fifteen minutes before Nicholas Brady stepped onto the small, makeshift stage at Carmel's Devendorf Park on Saturday, his mother shooed away a reporter seeking an interview.

"I'm sorry," said Alina Brady, of Monterey. "I'm just too nervous right now."

Nerves weren't part of the dynamic for 4-year-old Nicholas, who at that moment was more focused on a man demonstrating a remote-control car than he was on the mini-concert he was about to perform on his violin.

The preschool prodigy already is a veteran of solo performances at the Carmel Bach Festival, the Pebble Beach Authors & Ideas Festival, and at Carmel's Church of the Wayfarer. This showcase at the Carmel Art & Film Festival was no big deal.

So, while his mother wrung her hands, the little boy in the black vest and dress pants strutted to the microphone, tucked the instrument under his chin and wowed his audience with nearly seamless renditions of "Humoresque" by Antonin Dvorak, "Concerto in B Minor, Movements I and II" by Oskar Rieding and "Hungarian Dance No. 5" by Johannes Brahms. Without sheet music.

He finished with a flourish, hoisting his bow victoriously overhead, bowing deeply at the waist. With an elegant sweep of his left hand, he invited the crowd to acknowledge his accompanist on the keyboard.

Then, like any 4-year-old, he tugged on his white baseball cap and hurried off to see the fish pond on the other side of the park.

"He's a very well-rounded little boy, with a lot of different interests," said his violin tutor, Stephanie Brown. "He showed up at his lesson this week wearing a pirate's hat and a Batman mask and said, 'Ha! I'm a pirate!'"

The pirate also plays the piano. He speaks Russian and Spanish. He likes to play ball — any kind of ball will do. He loves to ride his bike down to the pier with his dad, Dennis, to fish and swim. He enjoys reading and (even better) being read to.

But music ... that's special.

"He's the youngest musician we've ever had in our junior youth orchestra," said Vanisha Evans Douvon, executive director of Youth Music Monterey County. "Generally our students start at around 7, and they range all the way up to 20 with our honors orchestra. Nicholas is just naturally dedicated — he loves the music."

Nicholas was a year old when his parents put him into the "Music Together" class Brown teaches at Church of the Wayfarer, an educational playtime for children up to 5 years old.

"The program basically is aimed at developing basic music concepts by the age of 5 in terms of matching pitch and beats accurately," Brown said. "Nicholas was able to match pitch and beats from a very early age, and for a child of 1 or 2 to be able to do that is quite unique."

He also proved to be an observer and absorber. His parents noticed him with a broomstick, pretending to play an imaginary cello, after watching a band at a farmers market. He was fascinated whenever Brown performed for her class at the church.

"I'm a believer that childhood is a time when the brain is very elastic and absorbent, and because that time frame is short, it's important to give Nicholas the training now, while he's so anxious to take everything in," Alina Brady said. "My sense is that all children are like this, and with the right sources we can stretch their minds. My hope is that Nicholas can inspire other little guys to do that."

When Alina first asked Brown to tutor her son, Brown was hesitant.

"I explained to her that it's a fine line between studying when you're physically ready for an instrument, as opposed to developmentally and emotionally ready," Brown said. "If children don't have enough maturity, it can often turn them off. I really had to consider that."

But Nicholas did exceptionally well at his first lesson. During the week before his second lesson, he taught himself to play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

"That just blew me away," Brown said. "I occasionally play that son during class, and he's obviously been listening. I think he just sucked it in like a sponge and was able to absorb it. He watches what I do and he copies it."

Indeed, he could play complex songs on the violin long before he learned to read music. Dennis Brady said his son would listen to Alina hum a song, then pick up the instrument and mimic the tune.

One day Alina went out for a run and had a chance meeting with another jogger, Farkhad Khudyev, music director and conductor of Youth Music Monterey County.

"We didn't know anything about Monterey Youth Orchestra," Dennis Brady said. "But when she found out Farkhad was a conductor, she said, 'You know, I have this son who seems to be ... pretty good.'"

Khudyev listened to the boy play and immediately agreed. If Nicholas could learn to read music, the maestro said, he could become the youngest musician ever to join the youth orchestra.

He not only learned to read music; he learned to play the piano.

"When his mother approached me 3½ months ago about teaching piano to Nicholas, I told her I rarely accept a student that young," said piano tutor Arline Arrivee. "But her perseverance won out. I accepted him as a student and I knew immediately that he was a rare find, an extraordinary talent.

"Nicholas has an uncanny understanding of what music is all about, an innate musical sense. He has an unbelievable ability to memorize and improvise," she added. "And, yes, occasionally we take time out to find out just how loud and fast he can play. All pianists, young and old, love that part."

Although he's gearing up for a piano performance, that instrument is mostly for fun, his mother said. He practices daily on his violin, but sits down at the piano several times a day to pound out a few songs.

"Our life has been reorganized around music, and this has been positive in every way," Alina said. "Violin has changed the day-to-day workings of our family structure, and with more music in our home, life vibrates at a higher notch and makes us feel more alive."

In only a few months, Nicholas has emerged as a local wunderkind, with massive community backing. A CD is in the works, and local filmmaker John Harris recorded Nicholas on the violin for "Mystery of Dreams 3D," a film due for release in March.

Brown said she has scoured the Internet trying to find a comparable 4-year-old violinist and has become convinced her student most likely is the best in the world at his age.

Nicholas will perform again at Devendorf Park at 1 p.m. Sunday — a concert that will delay his nap.


Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or

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