Musical prodigy directs Mark Twain adaptation

Whether he is performing, directing or listening to music, freshman Nathan Alef’s innate musical abilities have established him as nothing less than a musical genius.

Alef’s childhood was full of music. At just 18 months he started playing the piano; at 3 years old he began to refine his skills through formal lessons. He received a guitar at age 7, followed by a mandolin, ukulele and later an oboe. When Alef reached middle school and became a part of the band, he could play almost any instrument put in front of him.

Not only does Alef possess the talent to play almost any musical instrument, according to him, he also has perfect pitch.

“When my friends found this out about me, they would often joke around and ask me what pitch things were,” Alef said. “Once they asked me what pitch a bird was singing in and I responded ‘A-flat and a C.'”

Alef’s ability to recognize the pitch of everyday noises including a dog bark or car horn has enhanced his ability to play music by ear.

Alef is able to listen to a song and play it back after only hearing it only once. His passion for music and his ability to play any song with a variety of instruments has set his foundation to play music professionally.

Alef jokes that he started his professional career when he began traveling with his grandmother, playing the piano at their hotels for tips.

“We would go into hotels and find pianos and I would sit down and start playing,” he recalled. “Sometimes we asked, other times I would just play.”

At 12, Alef began to play professionally. He played in bands at concerts, private parties and public events.

“I was always the youngest person there. I never remember anyone younger than me during these performances,” he said.

Alef attended South Eugene High School where he continued to play professionally. On top of that, he was also their jazz choir pianist. During the spring of his senior year in high school, Alef was the rehearsal accompanist for the production “Godspell” at Lane Community College. While working on “Godspell,” Alef took over many of the responsibilities of musical director, which included leading rehearsals.

Alef, a Eugene native and now a University freshman, hasn’t wasted any time in finding his next musical opportunity. When theater professor John Schmordecided to put on “Big River,” a production based on Mark Twain’s novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Schmor didn’t have to look far to find a qualified music director.

“I watched him during another set of auditions last June and was immediately taken by his professional confidence,” Schmor said.

“He was first on my list.”

Not only is Alef the musical director of this production, he will also be playing the organ, guitar, mandolin and ukulele in the show. Schmor said Alef holds extraordinary talent like he’s never seen it before.

“Nathan is the first undergraduate musical director I can find in our department’s 100 years of existence,” Schmor said. “This is someone with a gift. He plays well and improvises better, but most importantly I can hear a musicality to what he does that isn’t caged by technical prowess.”

Vocal coach and music doctoral student Gene Chin agrees with Schmor that Alef possesses an unique musical gift.

“Nathan is a wonderful talent,” Chin said. “He’s got it. Music is in his blood. On top of that, he is very professional and projects a maturity, focus and seriousness well beyond his years.”

Alef’s responsibilities as musical director are to keep everyone on schedule, to delegate rehearsal time to things that need work and to direct every piece of music including the warm-up.

“Warming up is one of the most important parts in music, its like stretching before you run a marathon,” Alef said. Alef’s job of overseeing the entire orchestra involves more musicians than he has directed in the past, but Alef is confident he will benefit from this experience.

“Everything is a stepping stone, any experience you have in music will somehow provide a knowledge that you cannot get elsewhere,” he said.

Scoring music for films has been Alef’s ultimate musical goal since he was in grade school. In fact, Alef says that he recently found a paper from his first day of third grade that asked the simple question,”What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Alef had written, “I want to score music.”

“I feel like everything I’ve done has given me a different wealth of experiences that are required for the job,” Alef said. “I do recording, I work at a studio in town and I do theater projects.”

“Everything that I’ve done has given me experience that will ultimately provide me with the experience I need in scoring films.”

Although Alef’s dream job may be in scoring film, he claims what he likes most about music is its meaning that is seen differently by everyone.

“To me, music is a very strange form of communication because it’s not like writing where you can for the most part convey some sort of concrete meaning,” Alef said. “Music can still send a message but that message is different for everyone.”

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