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Composing? Child’s Work

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you hear about child prodigies, it brings to mind stories such as one about Shostakovich’s mother taking her son to a famous Russian piano teacher.

“Every mother thinks her child is a genius,” the teacher told her sourly.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Mar. 01, 2000 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 1, 2000 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Piano tutor--Seven-year-old composer Kit Armstrong of Anaheim has been studying piano privately with Mark Sullivan of Garden Grove since August 1997. The source of Armstrong’s instruction was misidentified in a story Tuesday.

But when he heard the youngster play, he changed his tune. Radically. This Shostakovich kid was something special.

At 7, Kit Armstrong of Anaheim may be special, too.

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You can judge for yourself when the Orange County High School of the Arts Chamber Orchestra, led by department head Christopher Russell, plays the premiere of Kit’s “The Joy of Birth,” the first movement of the boy’s projected First Symphony, on March 8 at the Los Alamitos High School campus.

Kit comes with some unusual credentials. He’s already enrolled in the High School of the Arts, the first 7-year-old to matriculate there, which is extraordinary. He also has been studying piano and composition at Chapman University in Orange for two years.

His mother refuses to let the press talk to or photograph Kit or herself, which argues well in favor of letting a talent mature naturally and out of the glare of publicity.

Russell said that admitting such a young student--his composition was inspired by his affection for his pet chicken, Hydrogen--was unprecedented.

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“But Kit went through the same process that all other students go though,” Russell said in a recent telephone interview. “Since piano was his main instrument, his audition was on piano. He was asked to play a piece by Bach, a solo piece of his choice, and he was given some sight-reading as well.

“I was very impressed. He has a very natural talent and a very natural style in the Mozart that he played and the Bach that you really can’t teach.”

But there was another hurdle to overcome. Los Alamitos High School--the arts school is a school within a school--had to deem Kit capable of studying all subjects at the high school level.

“Having someone that young with 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders had to be cleared through the main high school first,” Russell said. “They reviewed the application and were very agreeable. Then they cleared the way for him.”

Kit had to take the same music theory exam all incoming music students take.

“He passed right out of the first two levels,” Russell said. “He’s in my class now, a third-year course [where] we do some advanced analysis and also look at the history of orchestral music and the composers’ lives, digging deep into a particular piece.”

The class is now studying the first movement of Mahler’s monumental Sixth Symphony.

“Kit is doing very, very well,” said Russell. “He’s not only got my class, he’s also got physics and some advanced math courses. Tough stuff. But he’s doing very well in them.”

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Russell feels it’s important to showcase the talents of students at the high school. On the March 8 concert program will also be soloists who won the school’s concerto competition. So Kit’s music will be sharing the stage with works by Mozart (Kit’s idol), Weber and Copland.

“I’m not worried,” said Russell. “The work shows harmonically how savvy he is. He’s very well versed in the language of Haydn or middle-period Mozart to early-period Beethoven. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

* Christopher Russell will conduct the Orange County High School of the Arts Chamber Orchestra in Kit Armstrong’s “The Joy of Birth” on March 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Margaret A. Webb Performing Arts Center, Orange County High School of the Arts, 3591 Cerritos Ave., Los Alamitos. Music by Mozart, Weber and Copland will complete the program. $5. (562) 596-1435.

Chris Pasles can be reached at (714) 966-5602 or by e-mail at chris.pasles@latimes.com.


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