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November 26, 2013

Hills junior piano phenom to perform benefit concert this January

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER HILLS — Naomi Yamaguchi has played piano at some of the country’s most esteemed concert venues, including two performances at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

In March, the Rochester Hills resident will grace the stage at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in downtown Detroit. In January, her first solo concert will be held in Bloomfield Hills.

That is, if she can take time away from her dance classes, swim team and all the other demands that go along with being 9 years old.

Naomi, a fourth-grader at University Hills Elementary, has been playing piano since the tender age of 4. Her parents put her into music classes, and her natural talent drew her immediately to the black and ivory keys. That same year, she started composing her own pieces.

“She started with music classes and played assorted instruments. Piano is the one she chose, and she excelled at it since the beginning,” said her father, Santoru Yamaguchi.

Over the course of just a handful of years, Naomi evolved into a world-class pianist. With the support of her family — her parents and her 3-year-old brother, Roy — she enters and wins several competitions a year. That’s how she came to play at Carnegie Hall, according to her father.

“We entered her into some competitions where the winners would play at Carnegie Hall. We entered her in two, and she happened to win both of them. So we wanted her to be able to play once, but we had to take her twice,” he said.

“She’s entered four or five competitions this year and, every competition, she’s won. So we’re losing interest,” said Naomi’s mother, Yuri Yamaguchi, with a laugh. “We have to prepare some challenges for her. We have to find something every year for her.”

Naomi practices on the piano every single day. Sometimes, she puts in lots of time, especially before a competition. But, at other times, she might only practice for 10 minutes or so. And that’s OK, her mom said; it’s all about balancing Naomi’s tremendous talent with the important task of being young.

“She’s a regular kid. She loves playing with others, and she loves to go to school. She has lots of friends,” said Yuri, adding that her daughter also was honored by the Rochester Area Youth Assistance for her volunteer work in the city.

On Jan. 18, Naomi will present her first solo concert at Congregational Church of Birmingham. A member of the church, who happens to be a friend of the Yamaguchi family, asked if Naomi would mind performing as a fundraiser for the church, which badly needs roof repairs. Naomi was happy to oblige. After all, piano is her passion, and so is helping people and making them happy.

“I enjoy it because I like to make people happy through my music by playing classical music,” said Naomi. “I like it because it’s fun.”

During her coming performance, Naomi will play several selections by noted classical composers, including Frédéric Chopin, one of her personal favorites. She’ll also perform a duet with her piano instructor, Catherine Rollin. Of course, she’ll treat the audience to a few of her own compositions, as well.

Though Naomi typically has a performance of some kind each week, this one is special.

“She’s ready,” said Yuri. “She loves performing. She loves to dress like a princess.”

To say she “loves” to perform is not only accurate, but apparent. Asked how long she hopes to play piano, Naomi gave an answer that prompted her supportive parents to erupt in laughter.

“Um, until I die,” said Naomi. “I want to compose and publish my music and, like, perform on the piano.”

Tickets to the Jan. 18 3 p.m. performance are $15 and can be purchased by calling Kay Miyazaki at (248) 544-2921 or by emailing NaomiLovesPiano@gmail.com. Congregational Church of Birmingham is located at 1000 Cranbrook Road in Bloomfield Hills.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.