Stanley Waters is halfway through his piano lesson on a sunny Tuesday in June when the 18-year-old student spots something new.
Gloria Wiley, his piano instructor, has led him toward the center of the Sherman Clay showroom in the Pearl, where a shiny black Kohler piano stands.
Stanley and Wiley have met here every Tuesday since last fall. They usually sit at the Steinway grand in the small recital hall, set off from the studio's main showroom. And they work straight through. But not today.
After Wiley points to the 88-key digital Kohler piano with a bench and music stand and explains that it is Stanley's, it takes a moment to register.
All Stanley can say is "Thank you!" over and over. The piano was paid for from a music education fund started by WW after publishing a cover story about the teen pianist. Thanks to the generosity of Sherman Clay and its general manager Mitchell Paola, the piano was provided at cost.
"I'll admit it," Stanley says a few days after receiving the gift. "I cried."
Nine months have passed since WW chronicled Stanley's life as an aspiring, self-taught pianist in a world where lessons were beyond his reach (see "Untapped Waters," WW, Sept. 21, 2005).
The high-school junior spent his formative years jumping between relatives and 11 public schools; he did not discover his passion for the piano until a classmate played Beethoven's "Für Elise" before choir just over three years ago.
His story prompted dozens of WW readers to contribute nearly $6,500 so far to the music education fund. One reader donated a baby grand to the Matt Dishman Community Center in North Portland, where Stanley sometimes plays. Boxes of sheet music, letters of encouragement, and even a metronome made their way to Stanley's doorstep.
He also attended a smattering of recitals with, or because of, readers. Those opportunities included a trip to the Arlene Schnitzer Hall in October to hear Chopin's First Concerto—and to shake hands with the Oregon Symphony laureate conductor James DePreist.
"I went backstage and waited for a while, and [DePreist] came up and said, 'So you're the one the article is about,'" Stanley recalls. "And I was just in awe. I said, 'So you're the guy up there conducting the orchestra.' He asked me to play, but I was too nervous."
In February, Stanley gave his first public performance when local musician Anne Weiss arranged a benefit concert for him at the Mississippi Pizza Pub.
While Stanley's musical progress continues, his attendance at Meek Professional Technical High School dwindled to a near stop by year's end.
Teacher Misty Scevola, who first nurtured Stanley's interest in classical music, says Stanley must find another school for the fall.
"When a kid isn't making any progress, we're not the best program for them," she says. "But if he's not working, he'll go play the piano in our gym-cafeteria."
Stanley says he stopped going to school because he needs a program that will challenge him in his weakest subjects, such as reading and history. His goal is to get into Portland YouthBuilders, a nonprofit high school diploma-granting organization, where he will continue to work toward graduation.
Meanwhile, he practices at least two hours a day, and his enthusiasm has yet to falter.
"He's matured a lot,'' Wiley says. "There are some subtleties that he is sharing in his playing, which means that he's ... becoming vulnerable in his expression. It's like a flood plain, and now that the water is coming back and things are sprouting, we still have all this potential that is blooming. But we still have a large flood plain."
Last week, Stanley practiced pieces from his growing repertoire on the Steinway at Sherman Clay. (To see a video clip, visit wweek.com.) While playing, he joked about the meandering time signatures of a piece by Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin. Then a woman walked in with "Steinway," her floppy-eared black-and-white dog.
The woman and Stanley fell into casual conversation about their favorite compositions. As Stanley launched into a difficult prelude, Steinway sniffed his way over to the pedals and plopped down at Stanley's feet.
Stanley's playing continued, but a smile spread slowly across his face. His concentration was so pronounced that the room seemed to dissolve into the background. For a moment the world was only the keys, the notes, the sounds. For a moment, the playing was enough.
Contributions can be made at any Umpqua Bank location, or mailed to Umpqua Bank, One SW Columbia St., Suite 150, Portland, OR 97258. Please make checks and money orders to the Stanley Waters Music Fund.
See video of Stanley Waters @ www.wweek.com/media/7708.mp4