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Dennajye teaches himself to hit the right notes

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Self-taught pianist Dennajye Paynter (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Inspired by the classical music in Japanese cartoons, Dennajye Paynter taught himself to play piano.

In only five months he mastered Rondo Alla Turca, a Mozart composition that takes most people years to learn.

“They play a lot of classical music in anime and I have always loved classical. I wanted to play some of the intros from these shows,” he said.

“I had never played any musical instruments before. I have no instructor. I did not take music in school so I cannot read sheet music.”

Dennajye, who graduates from the Berkeley Institute today, bought a keyboard and then checked music books out of the school library.

“I also watched a lot of YouTube tutorials,” said the 17-year-old. “I taught myself to play by ear.”

He started with the complex music he heard on his favourite shows, Naruto, Bleach, One Piece and Attack on Titan.

“The most challenging thing about learning was gaining hand independence,” he said. “You have to really split your brain into two. The left hand can only play this and your right hand can only play that. Some people, when they start playing the piano, will play the exact same thing on both hands because they do not have hand independence.”

He got the technique down in two-and-a-half weeks.

“It just came naturally to me,” he said. “Once you are passionate about something it comes fast.”

He was eager to move forward and approached John Woolridge, Berkeley’s music teacher.

“I had never touched a real piano before. So I started playing the beginning part of Rondo Alla Turca.”

Impressed, Mr Woolridge invited him to “come every now and then to practise”.

Dennajye joined a small community of students who gathered in the music room at lunch.

“They either teach each other the works of Debussy, Beethoven and Mozart or have a jazz and blues jam session,” Mr Woolridge said.

Switching from a keyboard to a proper piano was a dramatic change for Dennajye.

“I did not expect the keys to be so heavy on a piano,” he said. “My fingers had to get adjusted to playing. They hurt at first but as you get used to it, your fingers develop more strength.”

But there were also advantages.

“Pianos have foot pedals,” he said. “With that, you get a much richer sound.”

His friends were amazed that he had never had lessons.

“They did not believe me at first,” Dennajye said.

Mr Woolridge added: “He practices constantly and is adding to his repertoire. Playing [Rondo Alla Turca] is a mammoth task. He has mastered this in months rather than years.”

He invited Dennajye to play at a celebration that took place at the school in May honouring Florenz Maxwell and her book, Girlcott.

He “felt a rush of joy that lasted for three or four days when” he conquered the song but was nervous when he sat down to play it before the 60 or so audience members.

“When I am playing I cannot hear the notes that well,” he said. “I am so focused I can’t hear people talking. I thought I gave a mediocre performance. I thought I did not play loud enough. People were clapping, but I thought it was a pity clap.”

Thirty seconds after he sat down people were still clapping. When a teacher told the crowd that he was self-taught and had only started playing in January, “they clapped even harder”.

Nerves struck again when he was asked to play at The Berkeley Educational Society luncheon for this year's graduates as he was “playing for people I actually knew”.

But that performance went well also.

One of his challenges has been finding the time to practise.

“I had school and a job,” he said. “So that left me about two hours during the day to do what I want.”

He carefully divided up his time, giving himself exactly half an hour to practice on his keyboard. He also gave himself 30 minutes for his other passions, video games and Japanese cartoons and comic books.

Dennajye is going to the Bermuda College in September to study computer science but is not entirely sure what he wants to do with his life.

“I’m interested in computers but they are not my top passion,” he said. “I either want to become a psychologist, a computer scientist or a performing artist. Anywhere in that area would be decent.”

One day he would like to get proper piano instruction.

“I think it might help me with my fingering,” he said. “I do not have quite the right fingering style, but I guess if I can press the right notes then it does not really matter.”

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Published June 28, 2022 at 7:26 am (Updated June 29, 2022 at 7:44 am)

Dennajye teaches himself to hit the right notes

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