Thirteen-year-old New Yorker Scott Feiner has already had the kind of musical training at an early age that many older musicians would kill for. He studies everything from classical to jazz, and is a talented composer and improviser as well. He’s also sharing what he’s learned with the next generation. “When I was really young, we had a neighbor named Sam Blumenthal,” Feiner says. “Sam was a classical pianist and he would sit me on his lap and play songs with my finger. I remember playing Mary Had a Little Lamb. Then he would improvise around children’s songs. Now, I do the same thing when I play for small children.”
When did you begin playing piano?
Around the age of four. I would copy the songs my father played. One of those songs was Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which I particularly liked because it was in the movie Shrek, and also because Leonard Cohen was my mother’s babysitter.
When did you first begin improvising?
My father challenged me to play both parts of “Heart and Soul” at the same time — which turned out to be very helpful because it got me started playing stride piano. I also remember improvising to the theme song from Local Hero.
Who are your biggest musical heroes and influences?
For classical, Vladimir Horowitz. Whenever I play a new piece, I try to find a recording of him playing it. He’s incredible and it’s amazing what’s available by him on YouTube. Right now, Debussy is my favorite classical composer, but my biggest musical hero is probably Stephen Sondheim.
Why piano and not some other instrument?
I guess because the piano was right there in the middle of the living room!
So is it just piano, or do you own or play some synths?
My father collects keyboards and other instruments. In addition to a Steinway grand piano, we have a Hammond organ and Leslie speaker, a Rhodes electric piano, and a Minimoog. Other keyboards include a Korg OASYS 88, a Yamaha Motif 6, and Kurzweil. I’m pretty lucky.
What’s your favorite material to play?
I love to play Fats Waller and all kinds of boogie-woogie, and I learned a lot from watching videos of Dr. John. I also love playing Debussy — and Dave Brubeck, too!
Was there a particular teacher you credit with launching you on your path?
Actually, three: My first teacher was Patricia King, who I’ve been studying with for seven years. She has that magical ability to know just what I’m ready to learn, and she encourages me to compose. My second teacher is Steve Belfer, who teaches me jazz, musical theater, and works with me on sight-reading. He’s always thinking of new ways to help me grow as a musician. My third is Pippa Borisy. She’s the force pushing me to perfect the pieces I work on, and to get the best possible touch and tone out of the piano.
Do you prefer to read sheet music, or play by ear?
Playing by ear comes more naturally to me. To overcome that, part of my daily practice schedule is to sight-read for 15 minutes. Sometimes I read vocal scores of musicals, and also easy classical pieces.
What are your ultimate musical goals?
For now, I like to play to entertain people, and to learn new pieces and new kinds of music. I’m also writing a series of short piano pieces about very basic feelings, as well as the outline of a story for a musical theater piece.