During the past year, residents of the Denton State School in Denton, Texas, were held spellbound each week as 16-year-old Nicole Young sat at the piano and performed music of the great composers. Beethoven. Chopin. Bach. Scarlatti. Liszt. The residents enjoyed them all.
"They like everything she plays," said Nicole's mother, DeeAnn. But judging by crowd reaction, the undisputed favorite still remains the "Charlie Brown" theme song, she continued.For nearly a year now, Nicole has performed piano concerts at this school for the mentally disabled. Her willingness to share her musical talents with the school's 670 residents emerged out of a desire to reach out to the community.
The concerts are informal, but entertaining. Nicole is typically greeted by up to 30 students who line the doorway as she enters the school. On one occasion, a young man in the school dressed up as an orchestra leader and stood beside Nicole at the piano while waving his arms as if conducting the music. Nicole followed his tempo to the delight of the audience.
"She finds such a joy in performing," said Sister Young. "It's a joy that's mirrored in the beaming faces of the residents." Her greatest challenge comes from playing the "clunky" upright piano of the school, when she's used to a Steinway grand piano. "The Steinway grand piano is what we have instead of a car," Sister Young added.
At one point during the year, Nicole looked at the clean, but somewhat simple and aging conditions of the school and wondered what more she might do. With the assistance of the school, she performed a public concert and raised nearly $3,000 to be used to make improvements.
Nicole demonstrated an aptitude for music when she first began piano lessons at age 5. But it wasn't until age 12 that she tasted the power of her talent. "She practices nearly six hours a day," said her mother, "unless she's preparing for a concert; then she practices eight."
Nicole, a member of the Denton 5th Ward, Denton Texas Stake, and a student at the University of North Texas, considers it an honor to play for the residents, said her mother. "She has developed a love for the school and a compassion for those with differences. She has an appreciation of their nobility."
Illustration by John Clark.