published Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

8-year-old violin prodigy follows family tradition

  • photo
    Joseph Piresson II practices the violin in his Collegedale home. The 8-year-old also plays piano and has recently begun taking classical guitar lessons.
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston

It didn't take Joseph Piresson II long to become leader of the pack.

Just one year after taking up the violin and piano, Joseph, 8, had already secured the top spot as the concertmaster of the etude orchestra, the second level of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Orchestra program.

Leading up to his blind audition last June, Joseph's sister, Ambrosee, 15, said they weren't aiming quite that high.

"Our violin teacher told us to do the etude, and if he got prelude [a lower-level orchestra], he would have a higher standing," she said. "We were expecting that if he got into etude, maybe he'd get second violin, but then he was named concertmaster."

That level of skill hasn't come without effort. Ever since he began taking lessons on violin and piano 18 months ago, Joseph said, he spends at least an hour a day practicing on both instruments.

Although he is driven by an innate love of music — particularly faster pieces — Joseph said he is also motivated by the responsibility he feels to the rest of the orchestra.

"I have to do well because if I do any mistake, the whole orchestra is following me," he said. "Everyone watches me."

Joseph was born into a musical family. His father, Joseph Piresson Sr., a minister within the Seventh-day Adventist church, plays guitar and leads the family's gospel vocal group, in which his mother, Fatima, also sings. Ambrosee this year earned a spot as a first-chair violinist in the philharmonic orchestra, the level above the etude orchestra.

Joseph said he felt inspired by his sister to take up music, but she said he quickly passed her pace of improvement.

ABOUT HIM

* Name: Joseph Piresson II.

* Age: 8.

* Grade: Home-schooled third-grader.

* Favorite subject: history.

* Least favorite subject: Math.

* Hobbies: Carpentry, swimming and biking.

* Favorite songs: "Concerto No. 2, 3rd Movement" by Fritz Seitz (violin).

* Musical hero: His sister, Ambrosee, 15.

CLAIM TO FAME

After taking up the violin and piano just 18 months ago, Joseph Piresson II has already progressed through three books of material. He auditioned for the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Orchestra program last June, after a year of study, and was named the concertmaster of the second orchestra, the etude orchestra.

"I started at the same age he did, and to be where he is on violin and piano, I had already taken for four years," Ambrosee said. "I've written one [song] in the entire time I've played piano, but every day, he's always coming up with new songs."

Part-time Lee University violin instructor Weiyi-Cai Yu is Joseph's violin instructor. For someone of his age and experience to have already advanced through three books of material in the Suzuki music instruction method is astonishing, Yu said.

"He is quite young, but he definitely has potential," she said. "He is doing wonderfully. For his age, it usually takes two or three years to get to [Suzuki] Book 4."

Late last year, Joseph also began studying classical guitar with his father and said he would eventually like to learn to play the ukulele, too.

Joseph Piresson Sr. said his son's musical abilities have always been apparent, from the enthusiasm with which he played a harmonica he was given when he was nine months old to how, at age 5, he could help tune a guitar using only his internal pitch.

Growing up in Brazil, Joseph's father's family couldn't afford to send him to music lessons, and it wasn't until he was 14 that he first started playing guitar. Watching how easily music has come to his son and the other areas it has benefited him has been rewarding, he said.

"He has developed a discipline for learning and reading and the serious things in life," he said. "Sometimes, I think he wants to learn everything as fast as he learns music, and that makes him frustrated.

"I tell him you're not doing as well as in music because music is your side in life, your talent."

NEXT UP

The CSO Youth Orchestra program's etude orchestra, which is led by Joseph Piresson II, will perform its winter concert at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences at 7:30 p.m., March 14.

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child 12 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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