(Ivory) keys to success
LUTZ - Dean Tidey and Paul Stoddart, who head the Rock School program at Tampa's Patel Conservatory, remember Parker Wilkson's first audition two summers ago. Parker's dad, James, had come in first and told them his son was gifted — a unique talent who'd been playing piano since he was 3. Then in walked a skinny kid with sheet music, and the two instructors exchanged a knowing look. "We hear that all the time," Stoddart said, "but usually when the parent comes in first, the kid isn't very good." Then the 13-year-old sat down at the piano and launched into a flawless version of "Clocks" by Coldplay — a song he had mastered at age 8. "With Parker, he was everything his dad said he was," Stoddart said. "It was a pleasant surprise."Now a year older, the Sunlake High School student is a working musician thriving under the tutelage of the rock veterans. Wilkson plays in a band, Sol Resonance, with three other kids he met through Rock School and as a member of Patel's new jazz quartet. "For a kid his age, he's technically really good and he can get much better," Tidey said. "He's really into it. He's one of the best students I have." He and his bandmates opened for the Florida Orchestra's Symphony Under the Stars concert, and his jazz quartet entertained Straz Center donors at the 25th Anniversary Gala earlier this month. A few months ago, Wilkson was hired to play in the orchestra for Jobsite Theater's fall production of Gorey Stories. He'd had a few paying gigs before and played with the youth orchestra for a summer musical, but this was his first experience as part of a professional orchestra. "It was so exciting!" he said. "I mean, my grandfather would hire me to play sometimes, and I've been paid to accompany singers before. But to be part of something so big was an incredible experience." Wilkson even gave a private Christmas concert Friday night at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in St. Pete Beach. He's willing to try just about any style of music. So his rock instructors encouraged him to try jazz, to test his creativity and improvisational skills. "He has a good ear and a lot of potential," Tidey said. "He can learn really quickly — that's what separates the good musicians from the others." Wilkson said he fell in love with jazz — the new scales and chords, and the fact that no two performances are ever exactly the same. "There's always been a part of me when I played rock, I'd add little parts on the fly," he said. "But improvisation is such a big part of jazz. It just kind of bleeds out of you, and you pick up off what the other instruments are doing. It helps all the solos come together." Now he's composing his own music, and it's easy to hear his influences: Coldplay, Muse and The Killers. But it's still a Parker Wilkson original, and that's the whole point of Rock School, Tidey said. "I wanted him to try composing his own music," Tidey said. "That's why I'm here. I wasn't interested in teaching kids to just play covers — otherwise they'd end up playing in a Sheraton somewhere. I want them to learn to write their own music — that's the best way to develop your own style." Wilkson had dabbled in drums and he's learning guitar. He sings, too. But piano is his first love. "I don't know where it will take me, but I really like being a part of a band," he said. "It's definitely something I want to do for the rest of my life."
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