Daniel Sofer

Homegrown virtuoso: Young Palos Verdes native arpeggiates to international acclaim

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Adam Coleman. Photo by Brian Chin

Adam Coleman. Photo by Brian Chin

A plastic toy keyboard he received from his parents on his sixth birthday sealed Adam Coleman’s fate.

“Apparently, I would just sit there for hours at a time plucking at the keys that lit up,” said the now  21-year-old Coleman. “I learned some classic pieces that way.”

The following year, his parents took him to Maria Demina, a talented Russia pianist who studied at St. Petersburg Conservatory. Over the following decade, Coleman’s musical career blossomed.

At 9, he began competing in piano performances around the world, winning the Southern California Bach Festival, Cypress College Piano Competition and the MTAC State Solo and Concerto Competition. In 2012, he was named a finalist in the 2012 Schlern International Music Festival Competition in Italy. He also earned multiple scholarships from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Alice Frazier Kitchen Memorial.

Despite his competitive successes, the Peninsula native considers them a “necessary evil.” Coleman is in his fourth year at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he is studying Piano Performance under esteemed professor Evelyne Brancart.

“I don’t like putting musicians and the music up against each other,” he said. “I think it defeats the whole purpose of the art. Especially the way a lot of these competitions score and the way they decide, it’s very subjective and there’s a lot of politics involved.”

Photo by Rachel Rodgers

Photo by Rachel Rodgers

Performing for people who come to enjoy the music rather than to judge — that’s the “best feeling in the world,” he said.

“For me, it started more as a relationship with the instrument rather than with the music,” he said. “I fell in love with the instrument before I fell in love with classical music. I always felt safe there and felt like I had something to say when I was making music.”

“Later came the love of the music, once I started hearing about classical composers and really diving into their genius, why they’re so well-known now and why it is so important to listen to them.” Beyond the classical repertoire of Bach, Mozart and Chopin, Coleman said he is drawn toward 20th century “new music” and the late romantics. “Why has their music lasted hundreds of years,” he said, “and other people’s music died out instantly?”

At Palos Verdes Intermediate School, he played saxophone in the school concert band (and gave piano lessons to the director). At Palos Verdes High School, he played the snare drum, quads and bass drum and served as battery captain, front ensemble captain, and eventually drum major in the marching band. He also delved into mallet percussions, including the marimba and vibraphone.

In 2011, when the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Coleman teamed up with a friend and decided to put his musical chops to use. It was his first ever attempt at organizing a concert for the community.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but I just went around to random churches and asked if I could play a concert there,” he recalls. “Finally, someone said yes.”

The benefit concert at St. Francis Church, curated and performed by Coleman, raised $2,500 for Direct Relief International. Since, he has organized an annual benefit chamber concert at the Palos Verdes Golf Club to benefit the San Pedro-based SHAWL House (Support for Harbor Area Women’s Lives), which helps battered and addicted women. The concerts have raised $50,000 over the years for the organization. The next one is scheduled for next spring.

Coleman, who this summer spent an immersive six weeks at the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina, keeps his engine revving. Next fall he will be applying for master’s programs in classical piano performance across the country (his top choice is Indiana University). He hopes to make a living by performing — what he does best.

“By sitting through a performance, you experience it, and I think in some ways it makes you a better person, and it makes you grow,” he says. “I’m really fascinated by how people can react to music and how it can change your mental state.”  PEN