Mozart and James Pearce Ullrich of Bainbridge Island were about the same age, 5, when they composed their first song.
We’re not saying James, now 8, is another Mozart, but both of their accomplishments at such a young age should be noted.
Parents Jeff and Anna Ullrich bought James a Casio keyboard when he was just a couple of years old. When he watched Little Einstein on TV, his dad said James would pick up on the melody.
Ullrich plays a number of instruments — piano, guitar, percussion, french horn, clarinet…“There are a lot of instruments around the house,” he said.
That probably inspired James to start playing, but Ullrich said his son’s interest has inspired him to start playing again after years of neglect. Ullrich has even played with James at a few recitals.
“Families sharing music” is one of the goals of James’ piano teacher, Laetitia Lehman-Pearsall.
While Lehman-Pearsall emphasizes improvisation and creativity, she has worked with James on composing songs since he started lessons with her about 2½ years ago because of his interest in it. His most recent composition is called, “Sinpar, just a made-up name,” he said.
Lehman-Pearsall liked it so much that they entered it in the Young Composers Project of the Washington State Music Teacher’s Association. It won the kindergarten through second-grade category. As a result, he will play at the association’s annual conference in Longview June 23-25. That will likely be in front of his largest crowd ever, as his recitals only had about 50 people.
His mom said James does not get nervous before performing, but she does. “I was terrified” before his first recital, she said. “He likes to perform; the attention of being center stage.”
Anna said James started taking music lessons in preschool, but not for any specific instrument. Even though James is very smooth on their baby grand piano now, Anna said, “It did click, but it’s taken a lot of practice and frustration. He has a drive to create something original and express himself.”
Now he has one piano lesson, and practices about 20 minutes five days a week. So that’s not all he’s interested in. He also loves reading, writing poetry and limericks, swimming and playing video games. Recently he has taken up coding. And he also enjoys playing with their black lab Bubba.
Anna said James “does listen to classical when he drives in the car with me.” Like Mozart, James enjoys it, but the soon-to-be Wilkes Elementary third-grader said he likes “all kinds of music.” His mom said he likes contemporary artists such as Lizzo, Dua Lipa and Jack Harlow.
For one recital he played his own version of a rap song by Black Bear. He heard it on the radio, found some sheet music for it, and thought it was a little long so he shortened it up. “The rap song, that was all him,” Ullrich said. “It’s pretty melodic.”
James said he’s composed about a handful of songs. No one musician influences him. “I use my own style.”
Ullrich said: “He still just sits down and plays on that little Casio. If he plays something new I’ve not heard before” he’ll start writing it down. James said his dad uses a program called Music Score for that part of the process.
“Jeff captures what he’s playing digitally so they can listen to it,” Anna added.
Lehman-Pearsall said James has an ear for harmony and has a “unique perspective for someone that age.” She said she doesn’t push composition on any of her students because, “I hate that part,” referring to notation, which she called, “tedious.” But James seems to enjoy it. “It’s all self-generated.”
One thing good about the contest was a composer gave James feedback on “Sinpar.” Ullrich said he was proud of how maturely his young son handled the critique.
“He incorporated some of the feedback,” Ullrich said. “He added some variations. But he didn’t incorporate every comment,” since it was just an opinion.