"In the halls of Meek Professional Technical High School in Northeast Portland, well before the first bell rings, the music of long-dead white men—Frédéric Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt—cuts through the early-morning quiet."
So began a September 2005 WW profile of self-taught pianist Stanley Waters, a high-school junior born to a recently recovered crack-addicted mother, who spent his formative years jumping between relatives and 11 public schools.
Until this fall, Stanley had never received a piano lesson or attended a music concert; his talent and plight prompted an overwhelming response from WW readers.
Though Stanley's playing can still be heard echoing through the halls of his high school, reader response means it can also be heard at the Sherman Clay Piano store in the Pearl District, where he now practices the works of classical greats on a 9-foot Steinway concert grand—arguably the best piano in the world.
Much has changed in the four months since Stanley's story hit the newsstands. The Stanley Waters Music Fund, created by WW, raised more than $5,000, money that's paying for lessons with distinguished teacher Gloria Wiley.
And local musician Anne Weiss set up a Stanley Waters benefit concert, planned for Sunday, Feb. 5, at the Mississippi Pizza Pub (5-6:30 pm, all proceeds will go into the fund).
"It's been really challenging," says Stanley of the music lessons, "which is what I wanted." He says he is learning things he hadn't anticipated—scales and tone and how to listen more closely. And he also says he's been focusing more on school and will graduate at the end of 2006.
I first heard Stanley, turned 18 in December, play at the Matt Dishman Community Center near his Northeast home, and I had been floored by the young man's ability—not a single lesson to his name—on the clunky old upright. When I slipped into the Sherman Clay recently to observe a lesson, I could barely speak.
Wiley sat to Stanley's right, instructing him to play one, then two, then three and four octaves of scales. She moved to the back and center of the small concert room as Stanley played, and called out to him to close his eyes and listen to his sound, focusing alternately on tone, then volume, then togetherness, then all three.
Stanley kept tinkering away, and I remembered how he hadn't really known what I meant before when I asked if he could play scales.
"He's a better listener," says Wiley with a smile, adding that she is very encouraged by his progress and, after hearing him sing, is also eager to find Stanley a voice teacher.
The details of securing a piano of his own are still being ironed out.
But because of reader help, Wiley's instruction, Sherman Clay general manager Mitchell Taola's generosity ("We're happy to open the store for him to be able to play on the piano," Taola says) and, most important, his own eagerness and determination, Stanley is coming into his own as a pianist at a pace that has all who care about his development watching, grins on their faces, in awe.
If you would like to contribute to Stanley's music education, make contributions at any Umpqua location or mail Umpqua Bank, One SW Columbia St., Suite 150, Portland, OR 97258. Please make checks and money orders payable to Stanley Waters Music Fund.