20 Under 25: John Pfingsten

Pianist, 11, Lutz

click to enlarge Jon Pfingsten in a rehearsal room at the Patel (those are his trophies atop his piano). - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
Jon Pfingsten in a rehearsal room at the Patel (those are his trophies atop his piano).

Beginner's luck? No luck involved: John Pfingsten is simply a preternaturally assured young pianist who began playing two and a half years ago, won a competition for beginners seven months later, and has gone on to excel in every contest he's entered since. Presented with a Gold Cup by the National Federation of Music Clubs in May for achieving superior scores at three consecutive state conventions, last month he won the Instrumental Music category in Tampa's Got Talent at the Patel and was awarded a scholarship to the Conservatory's Intermediate Jazz Ensemble.

Neat trick: "St. Louis Blues," the piece he performed in the talent showcase, was the first jazz piece he'd ever played.

Why his playing stands out: "He's always motivated to learn," says his teacher at Patel, John Hernandez. "He has the patience to really polish a piece. I see a lot of bright future for John."

What John likes best about playing piano: "One of my favorite parts is when you get a new piece — new notes, new composer. That's really fun. And when you perform and you're sharing your talent with other people... it's thrilling." Plus, he says, "a piano is a good place to express your feelings."

His favorite pieces (besides "St. Louis Blues"): Beethoven's Sonatina in F ("that song is energetic — and fast") and Brahms' Hungarian Rhapsody (a good slow piece to play "if I'm sad").

Piano's not his only skill: "He just made his first $15 coaching tennis," says his mother, Melo. And next year he enters sixth grade in Buchanan Middle School's STEM Institute for students gifted in science, technology, engineering and math.

Music and math? Is there a connection there? Like, is learning a new piece like solving a puzzle? "Yeah, it is," says John. "My teacher tells me to play it part by part and then put the whole piece together. So it's exactly like a puzzle."

His work ethic: He practices one and a half hours a day, even though sometimes in the summer he's tempted to stop "when my friends call me and say, 'You want to go swimming?'"

His family's musical, too: His mother studied solfege (a music sight-reading system) in her native Ecuador. His older sister, Abigale, also studies piano with Hernandez at the Conservatory (she inspired her brother to start playing); and John's younger brother, Samuel, plays, too.

Immediate goal: To learn a concerto and get into the Patel Youth Orchestra.

Long-range goal: "I want to go to the Air Force Academy because my cousin finished first in his class there."

Favorite tennis player: Roger Federer.

Favorite pianist: My teacher. I admire him.

Read more about John: patelconservatory.blogspot.com

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