Meet Griffin Kramer, a senior at Amherst High School and pianist for MusicalFare's production of "My Fair Lady" this past summer. Griffin's fingers began skirting the length of the instrument when he was about 3 or 4 years old. Since then, he has had an eclectic host of teachers, from a drummer who knew little about piano playing to Donna Sylvester, wife of Buffalo Sabres broadcaster Kevin Sylvester.
Now Griffin is one of only a few American musicians at various Canadian competitions, including some in Niagara Falls, Ont., and Toronto. Just last spring he snagged first place in the Open Romantic Period Piano Class at the Toronto Music Festival in March with his performance of Liszt's Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody. NeXt spoke with him recently to talk about his talent and his hopes for the future.
>NeXt: Why Canada?
G.K.: My current teacher (Mary Handley) was born there, so her students do these competitions. There are these exams in Canada where you have to play hours of music and all these scales, and there's just one person in this huge room who watches everything you're doing and takes meticulous notes. It's kind of cool -- I'm like the American representative at all the Canadian competitions.
>NeXt: How do you deal with the pressure of all that?
G.K.: That's actually my favorite part about playing -- when you're playing for other people. But I think that's also why it's better that I didn't have her [my current teacher] when I was younger, because my earlier teachers just made it fun and not as structured as it is now.
>NeXt: What do you think you'll do in college?
G.K.: I'll probably major in piano performance, but I can't really see myself being a soloist because I like to do things in groups or with other people. I couldn't really see myself sitting in a room by myself for six hours and just practicing.
NeXt: Is it hard to alternate between classical and musical theater?
G.K.: Yeah, definitely. Right now if I tried to play some big Beethoven thing, I'd be struggling. The music for "My Fair Lady" is based on an orchestra part, so if I see a chord I can kind of do my own thing with it. That's a big difference -- that I can improvise more with modern music than with old 1700s stuff. I like to play this kind of music, so I think I might strive to do more of it down the line.
>NeXt: How did you get involved with MusicalFare?
My dad [Randall Kramer] is actually the artistic director of MusicalFare Theatre, so as a kid, I was always around MusicalFare, whether I liked it or not. And the person who directed the show actually works with my mom [Lisa Ludwig Kramer] at Shakespeare in [Delaware] Park.
>NeXt: What was it like to grow up having parents who are so well-known in the community?
G.K.: I've definitely met a lot more personalities than I would've [if they weren't my parents]. The Christmas parties were always pretty interesting. But actually, I used to do a little bit of acting myself. In late elementary school, I did a few shows for the Theatre of Youth, and then I was Scut Farkus for Studio Arena Theatre's "A Christmas Story." My mom also directs the musicals at our school, so my freshman year I decided to do the musical, but she made me play the part of the front half of a cow in "Into the Woods." Since then I've kind of retired from doing any acting!
>NeXt: Is it hard to learn all that music?
G.K.: Surprisingly, yes. It's a long show -- less than three hours but pretty close to that, and an hour and a half of that is music. While the technical aspect of it isn't too hard, it's more the quantity of it that's a lot to learn. The structure of the actual music is somewhat different because there are two pianos -- me and the musical director, Jason Bravo. It's pretty cool because it gives it a full orchestra feel.
>NeXt: Are you onstage when you play?
G.K.: Yeah, I wave all this dirt on my face and I wear a hat -- we're supposed to be in a bar. A few people from the show come talk to me and give me a drink and stuff like that. If I try to get into that [acting], then sometimes I forget where I am and everything gets confused! But it's definitely fun.