STANHOPE?- "More and more, the practicing starts to get fun. I start to realize more that things like watching TV and playing Gameboy aren't going to advance my piano skills. I end up enjoying it more because of it."
That's something you don't expect to hear from a 13-year-old boy, unless it's Robert Gemignani, a student at Amazing Grace Piano Studio in Stanhope who will be performing in Celebration of the Future, the Young Artists Concert with the Fort Dodge Symphony on Sunday. He was chosen after a January audition, when he performed Mozart's Concerto No. 23 in A Major. He's the youngest of four other young artists - a bassoonist, a cellist, a soprano and another pianist - who are all part of the Sunday afternoon concert.
Gemignani has been a student of Ernest Amstalden in Stanhope for four years now, but he's long had a bent toward music. As young as age four, he propped himself up on the piano bench at home and picked out melodies on the keyboard. When he was eight, he asked his parents to start piano lessons, and they found Amazing Grace Piano Studio. There Amstalden teaches Simply Music, a unique piano learning method.
- Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Billie Shelton
Robert Gemignani, 13, a student at Amazing Grace Piano Studio, Stanhope, will perform Sunday in Celebration of the Future — the Young Artists Concert with the Fort Dodge Symphony.
It turned out to be a good fit for the young man, who said he especially likes the piano because of its range. "Many instruments are limited because of their range," he said, "but the piano can create more textures and feelings than with other instruments."
That could be what Amstalden calls the heart that the young musician puts into his playing. "If what you play doesn't tell a story, you haven't learned to play music," the teacher said. "What I have witnessed in Robert is a phenomenally talented young man, and that doesn't come around that often. That's why I pushed him to get where he is. To get where Robert is takes 80 percent hard work and 20 percent talent."
It takes a team approach to learn in this way, and for Gemignani that means working with three teachers-one for theory and another for composition in addition to Amstalden. Of course, another vital part of the team comes from his family.
"We support him 100 percent. We'll do whatever it takes," said Danny Gemignani as waits for Robert to complete yet another lesson. He and wife Christine have devoted countless hours and hundreds of miles to support their son - an only child - including making sure he has a Steinway grand piano in their Gilbert home.
In addition to playing beautifully, the teenage pianist also composes music. In 2011 his original composition, Trafalgar, was awarded top honors in his age group at the Iowa Composers Forum Student Composers Competition. In 2010 Gemignani placed second in the Riley Talent Competition at the Iowa State Fair.
Although he does enjoy playing show music and works by Elton John, "popular music now lacks the feeling and complexity of classical," Gemignani said about his choice of music. "My favorite composer is Beethoven because his style is more like mine. There's lots of low, growling tones that express a lot."
Around his lessons, attending the seventh grade at Gilbert middle school (where he's a percussionist in the band), playing on a soccer team and a fencing club, the young musician said he practices only about an hour a day. He worked on the concerto for the symphony audition for a year and now plays it flawlessly without a piece of music in sight.
What's next for the teenage musician? It will probably be another Beethoven concerto, he said. The accomplishment of playing with the Fort Dodge Symphony is another step on his way to someday writing music for large ensembles and composing music for motion pictures. It's easy to believe he'll realize that goal.
"Even if I wanted to quit piano, I don't believe I can," Gemignani said about what making music means to him. "This feels like something I should be doing. I don't think I could not play."