You might be familiar with the names Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, but have you heard of Matthew Whitaker? You will.
He’s been playing Piano since he was three, and has been called a prodigy, a jazz player who recently played the New Orleans Jazz Festival. “It is amazing to be here. Like, this is where jazz started,” Whitaker said.
It was touring that festival with 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi that the level of his talent was displayed; as they walked around the festival full of noise and music, Alfonsi noticed Whitaker was able to cut through the sensory assault and identify songs in seconds. “He’s playing ‘Just Closer.’ Yeah. ‘Just A Closer Walk with Thee,'” Whitaker said, identifying a song he heard. “I heard like three notes and you already know what song it is? Lord,” Alfonsi said.
According to his music teacher Dalia Sakas, D’Agostino Greenberg Music School in New York City, Whitaker can listen to a piece of music one time and then play it.
“I was performing a couple of recitals and the Dvorak Piano Quintet is a piece actually for a piano and string quartet. So there’s five of us,” Sakas said. “So Matt and his mom came to hear, you know, the night I played. He comes in Saturday morning. I walk into the studio and he’s playing the opening of the Dvorak Quintet. You know, and then the cello comes in and he knew that whole thing… And I thought, Oh, very nice.” Dvorak’s Piano Quintet is a challenging piece for five musicians. Whitaker was playing his version of all five parts on his piano.
It’s an incredible amount of skill to not only be able to identify music that quickly, but replicate and create as fast.
Did we also mention that Whitaker is blind? Matthew Whitaker was born at 24 weeks. He weighed 1 pound 11 ounces. His parents were told he had less than a 50% chance of survival. One of the many complications he faced was retinopathy of prematurity, a disease which can lead to blindness. In his case it did, but that didn’t stop his love of music nor his skill with a piano. With a little help and training along the way his talent caught the attention of Dr. Charles Limb.
Limb, a musician himself, is a surgeon and neuroscientist who uses MRI brain scans to better understand how exceptionally creative people do what they do. “I think anytime somebody watches Matthew play piano the first thing that you think is, ‘How does he do that?’ Except rather than just wondering I’m actually trying to answer the question,” Limb said.
If you want to know more about Matthew and what Dr. Limb has learned you’ll have to check out your Good News Story of the Day here, but if you’re interested in hearing his music Whitaker’s latest album is called “Now Hear This.” One critic noted that it sounds like Whitaker is playing with six hands.
Story and Image from CBS.