Shoppers at Cape Town’s Table Bay Mall might have seen Andrew Willicott, 9, sitting at the piano in one of the forecourts playing the piano with his fingers moving quickly and effortlessly across the keys.
From Melkbosstrand, Andrew started playing the piano aged 5 on a keyboard he had at home. His father Gary, 46 and a CEO and pastor, YouTube’d the first few lines of “Oh When The Saints Go Marching In”. “We had a keyboard at home in case one of our kids developed an interest,” he said. Gradually, his youngest son became curious so one day his father decided to show him the first few lines of the song.
“I played it with one finger, the way I knew from my childhood. Andrew watched me, studying my fingers, and within a couple of attempts had managed to play it the whole way through.” The next day, Andrew walked up to the keyboard, turned it on, and played the song to perfection on his first attempt, from memory. At that moment, his father realised he may have a gift. “I showed him another song, and the following day he came back and played both from memory without any help. I asked Andrew if he would like to see someone about taking piano lessons, he warmly welcomed the idea. Within a few lessons, his teacher said that he believed Andrew had a gift,” he said.
Today, Andrew can read sheet music and his repertoire includes “Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika”, some classics as well as gospel music. Such talent has the potential to open up many doors for the young pianist, but for his father, success is defined by how his playing makes others feel. “Success can be such a strange word to define, all I know is that I get filled with emotion and joy every time I hear him play. Many times it literally brings tears to my eyes. It brings even more joy when I see how happy he is when he plays, especially when playing for other people. If his playing brings joy to one other person, that is success in my book.”
For parents hoping to get their children into instrument playing early on, Willicott suggested creating opportunities for them to explore their interests. “If you can afford it, invest in even a second-hand instrument to have around the house and allow them the chance to discover how instruments work.”
Incidentally, he and his wife bought a keyboard to give their eldest child that chance, “She didn’t develop enough of an interest, neither did our middle child although we thought he might like drums, so we tried a few lessons but never showed enough of a passion to practice enough in between lessons,” she said. Andrew, however, discovered the piano and loved to play it every day.
“Don’t push them into something too early, they may have a talent for it, but if you force it on them you might just kill the desire to ever play. Create the opportunities, see how they respond, if they show the desire and passion then support them as much as you possibly can.”
It’s still early days at the moment, but that more and more people, including the media, are starting to discover Andrew, his father is sure more doors will open. In the meantime, the talented youngster plays for whoever he can, whenever he can. “ Andrew plays for every new visitor that comes through our front door.
A trip to Table Bay Mall never allows the opportunity to play on their baby grand, to be passed by. He did have the opportunity to play at a Rocco De Villiers concert recently, and to pick up a few tips which can be seen on his Instagram @minormozart.” As for his first paid job, Willicot said, it was a small Instagram advert for a local business, “Which may have shown a little bias as that business was owned by his parents,” his father joked.
As for the minor Mozart himself, he shared that his favourite song to play on the piano is “Ballade pour Adeline”, a 1977 instrumental by Richard Clayderman, composed by Paul de Senneville. “When I play it makes me feel calm, and makes it feel like all the pain in the world isn’t there.”
Andrew also has some rather big dreams he hopes to live out in the near future. “I used to want to do a world tour by the age of 12, but now I’d like to do it by 11 to beat Michael Jackson's record,” he said.