Winston Schneider is not a typical 9-year-old boy. Sure, he is fascinated with “Star Wars” movies and enjoys building his own replicas of the starships with his Legos.
But unlike other kids his age, he also composes award-winning piano music. His piece “Attack of the Jabberwock” won second in the national Hal Leonard Carol Klose Composition Competition.
“I like hearing the songs when they are done and sound really full and complete,” he said. “Sometimes they have a really big sound and crescendo, and I like how it surprises everyone.”
Three of his string quartet pieces will be presented Thursday during the Nebraska Rising Stars Recital at the Strauss Performing Arts Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.
The concert, co-sponsored by UNO School of Music, the Omaha Conservatory of Music and the Omaha Area Youth Orchestra, begins at 7:30 p.m. and will feature young musicians from across Nebraska.
“These pieces have only been played once before, and I’m dying to hear them live,” Winston said.
Winston’s musical career started at age 5 when his mom, Heather, enrolled him in piano lessons at the Omaha Conservatory of Music. Winston began experimenting with songs he learned from his lessons and started writing simple melodies. Soon after, he composed his first piece of music, “Snowman, Snowman Don’t You Melt.”
“He usually has a lot of ideas of his own about a melody or key he wants to work with,” said Dr. Kenneth Meints, Winston’s composition teacher at the Omaha Conservatory of Music. “It’s like being a muse. You give him possibilities and he does his magic, which is amazing for a kid his age.”
A love of music has been passed down in his family. His father, Bryan, took some music classes, and his mother, Heather, grew up singing with her family. Sister Giselle, 6, also plays piano and takes piano lessons at the Omaha Conservatory of Music.
Since his first piano lessons, the home-schooled third-grader has composed about 30 pieces of music. In 2015, he studied music composition with high school students at the Potomac Arts Academy at George Mason University in Virginia. He studies college-level music theory at the Omaha Conservatory of Music.
Winston also worked with nationally recognized composers Maria Newman and Shulamit Ran at the Omaha Conservatory of Music Summer Institute.
“He has quite a characteristic sound to his music. And if you hear a lot of his music, you’ll already hear that his music has a ‘voice,’ ” Newman said.
He devotes a few hours five to six days a week to playing piano and composing music. Winston also plays the cello and the drums but says he enjoys playing piano the most because of the way the music “sounds” on the piano.
Within the next few years, he hopes to compose longer pieces with more complicated melodies, but it’s not yet clear if composing music will become his career.
“He has a lot of different interests, but I see him get a lot of enjoyment out of it,” his mother said. “I will just take my cue from him. I’m sure there will be something on his path related to creativity.”