‘Finding Mozart’ – Boy Genius releases album A Hertfordshire teenager, hailed by his private school as a ‘musical prodigy’, has provided proof positive of his innate talents as a composer, a factor that Iain Robertson was keen to investigate.
When a complete ‘unknown’ is introduced to you and that individual’s talents are highlighted as being prodigious, it is inevitable, if slightly unfortunate, that alarm bells sound. After all, what is it that determines ‘genius’? It is clearly more than mere aptitude. Yet, if you trace back to Mozart, it is a recognition of artistic brilliance in a subject that allows creativity to excel.
However, in a music industry that is overpopulated by so-called ‘gurus’, like Simon Cowell, whose musical interest falls more in line with bank interest on earnings potential, modern day recognition of genius is all too readily swamped by commercial ‘reality’. Stars come and go. They are as dispensable as much of the mindless cacophony that emerges from ear-buds reflecting the singleton tracks that define the listener’s life-style.
Album sales and musical genre have become confused and faltering, as a result of the scattergun policies generated by the advent of the iPod, the downloadable stick and the flaming Interwebnet. Many of today’s most popular and more surprising ‘musical stars’ emerge from busking down the Tube, or releasing tracks on YouTube. For them, the conventions of what used to be are no longer tenable. It is fortunate that they have been able to percolate to the surface of shark infested waters, to release maybe one, or two albums, which provide a taste of the limelight but, all too readily, are overcome by the ‘next best thing’, so changeable is the ‘market’, so fluid are its expectations.
Pity, then, the young child, who wanted to play his first keyboard at the age of three years. Encouraged by a father and family and friends, who could scarcely believe their ears, at what was being played. This is the same child that announced his life plans to be ‘a composer’ at the age of six. Fostered by those appreciative listeners into taking the playing and mimicry those vital steps forwards, he did so. However, what was more than clear was that this same child was not merely playing music but was developing a prodigious cranial capacity to hear a chord, to spot a movement, to write and rewrite music in his head and, even without the necessary span, to display remarkable digital dexterity in reaching for keys that would have been impossibly unfeasible for a child of his tender years.
There were casualties. A mother, who wanted him to stop playing music, when his innate muse could not. A father, who was shoved from pillar to post by an endless stream of well-intentioned advice. Yet, the child continued to play; continued to develop his musical ideology, with an advancing maturity that was a considerable distance ahead of where he should have been.
The all-encompassing question was and remains, how do you harness such brilliance? How do you contain (should you contain) what is clearly prodigious talent? Despite an early recording opportunity with EMI (signed at the age of 10 years, the youngest person to do so), despite winning a scholarship to a prestigious grammar school, despite winning a Young Composer award at Symphony Hall in 2011, despite playing privately for The Duchess of Kent and at Cherie Blair’s home, despite promoting precocious skills through Classic FM, this is still a child and, by all current standards, the promotion of a child is not something with which too many right-minded people feel entirely comfortable. We live in awkward times, of that there is no doubt.
Shane Thomas, son of Clayton, is now fifteen years of age. He is a good looking teenager. A little young for his years but certainly not lacking in bravado, which you need to translate into innate confidence. The confidence of the consummate performer. The musician par excellence. He has already played to an audience of several thousand and accepted the accolades and applause, some of which has been translated into print, much of which is translated into typical electronic chatter, which does spread, if not like wildfire, then in an organic and manageable manner. He has already been gifted a bust of Mozart, his notional ‘hero’, at the Woking Music Festival and, since the age of ten, he has composed more than 200 fully-formed classical works, a small, 12-tracks sample of which constitutes the genius’s latest album, ‘From Me To You’.
Shane does not own an iPod. However, like any modern teenager, popular music is intrinsic to his life. His current favourite is an Irish three-piece by the name of ‘All The Luck In The World’. An alternative ‘Indie’ band, they display a clarity lacking in some modern ‘pap’ and their defined beat appeals to young Mr Thomas. However, electronic compositions, from the likes of Reigate duo, ‘Disclosure’, or the acid electronica of the troubled ‘Clarian’, sit as easily in Shane’s songbook as Diana Ross, the works of Lerner and Loewe, blues, jazz and show tunes.
His style is musically, rather than lyrically based. His performance is unique. From the 12 stand-out tracks on ‘From Me To You’, a slightly clichéd title, which include the ‘Melody for Nana’, ‘Dance of the Bowerbirds’ and ‘Rainfall’, is a particular stand-out entitled ‘Mrs Matise’. Yet, for me, his personal rendition of ‘Clair de Lune’, Debussy’s delicious ‘moonlight sonata’, is tear-formingly beautiful.
Shane’s piano playing is inspirational and motivational. You can feel his energy, his drive, his artistry that blend so seamlessly with his prodigious compositional talent. It is easy to become swept away on an eyes closed dream boat, unfettered by meaningful and lyrical non-necessities, absorbing the nuances of pitch and key shifts that are entirely at Mr Thomas’s behest and that gift each piece its own tempo and depth of character. Yet, only one track does not belong to anyone else but him. The other eleven are unique compositions from the head and heart of Shane Thomas. Compositions that belie his tender years, some of which are a brief trip back to his formative years, filled with beauty, some with pain, all with the intrinsic aim of pleasing his audience.
In asking Shane what he wants most, recognition is his one-word response. He knows that he is still learning and gathering information, technical know-how, but what emerges is pure and purely his property, his remit. Of course, he loves the attention. Who would not? Wise beyond his years, he happens to be a Grade A+ Student at St George’s College, which would love to lay claim to his prodigious talents. He loves Latin, a language that he knew nothing about but which he knows aids his other languages and English fluency. He masters mathematics with genius agility. Science and social history fascinate him as much as current affairs do. Yet, his love and lust is for music and his talents continue to broaden by playing the cello, following his father’s immense skills as a multi-percussionist and being able to score for a full orchestra.
He composes mentally. He can play with immense powers of recall. A single chord, sometimes just a note, will spark his desire to write. Yet, while Mozart enjoyed the patronage of powerful people prepared to promote his works, Shane lives in a doubting world of redoubtable integrity, in which the reach of his undoubted skills strike barriers at every twist and turn. Will he ever be recognised for what he is? He certainly warrants critical acclaim. Will he ever be believed for what is intrinsic to his soul? His performances, his latest album, highlight that he should be. However, in a crassly commercial world, it is a long uphill climb.
A few good listeners will cotton on. Shane Thomas will receive his moment in the spotlight. He might be difficult to classify, because of the sheer breadth of his musical appreciation but he will achieve, because the really inspired performers do reach the top. He will have his time, just like Jamie Cullum, Kate Bush and prodigious talents from other musical genre. As a modern-day Mozart, he deserves the break and it will be a rewarding one for him, his father and the rest of us.
The album is ‘From Me To You’. It is available on QG Records and you can listen to more Shane Thomas compositions on iTunes and Amazon.