ADAMS -- Connor Wotkowicz grew up in a family of athletes, not musicians. This fall, however, the recent Hoosac Valley High School graduate and salutatorian will go on to study music composition at Boston University, with support from the Daniel Pearl Berkshire Scholarship.
Pearl began his journalism career at the former North Adams Transcript and The Berkshire Eagle. He was working in Pakistan as the south Asia news bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when, on Jan. 23, 2002, he was kidnapped by terrorists and later murdered.
The Daniel Pearl Foundation (danielpearl.org) was established by Pearl's family and friends to continue his life's work of promoting cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music and dialogue. The Berkshire Pearl Scholarship program -- established in 2003 with contributions from the Transcript, The Eagle and friends of Pearl -- annually provides an award to a local student who intends to follow one of Pearl's twin passions, music and journalism. Pearl played electric violin, fiddle and mandolin.
Program coordinator Martin Langeveld, former publisher for the Transcript and The Eagle, said this year's award, in the amount of $1,000, is the 12th, and the third awarded to a Hoosac Valley student.
Applicants were asked to submit an essay explaining how they might be able to change the world for the better. In his response, Wotkowicz told The Eagle he was inspired by a quote by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who said, "Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.
In his essay, Wotkowicz wrote: "As I aspire to build a career as a composer, I hope to be able to attain a status much like a musical architect and to have an opportunity to leave a positive and enduring mark on many, much like that of an architect and his marbled legacies. Theirs is of a frozen music, and mine will be of liquid architecture. As an artist, I recognize that I have a limited amount of time to make my mark upon the world, and I truly believe that that mark, whatever it may be, will change it for the better.
Wotkowicz, 18, the son of Holly and Frank Field of Adams and Chad Wotkowicz of New Hampshire, is a mostly self-taught musician who primarily plays piano. He also has learned and experimented with playing French horn, cello, flute and clarinet, and served as editor-in-chief of the school paper, Eye of the Hurricane.
While most of his family was into sports, Wotkowicz said his grandfather noticed his interest in music and began helping him form a small collection of instruments.
Over the years, he received support from Wavelyn Hine of Cheshire. "I was there for piano lessons, but a lot of times we would sit at the piano and chat about music philosophy and theory. I liked that," he said.
He also credited the Stockbridge Sinfonia and his band teacher, Jacob Keplinger, for giving him guidance and opportunities to explore his musical interests.
"One of my goals is to try as hard as I can to bridge the gaps between classical and popular music," said Wotkowicz.
He said growing up in Adams, there have been few opportunities to see and hear classical music. Wotkowicz tries to integrate a few classically influenced tunes into his repertoire when performing at the Haflinger Haus, a restaurant where he plays piano on Friday and Saturday nights.
Wotkowicz said he hopes his community and area schools consider supporting, versus cutting, funds from music education initiatives from the early childhood level on up.
"A lot of my friends started music in grade school, but other children may not have that opportunity," he said, noting those early classes helped students find their talents. "If a child's not exposed to it, how will he or she know if they don't get a chance to hear it?"
At his graduation ceremony, while performing a medley of songs from the musical "Rent" -- which was inspired by Puccini's opera "La Bohème" -- he was surprised to see that classmates he didn't know well responding positively and clapping and singing along. "I think I helped them to understand" my passion for music, Wotkowicz said.
When applying for the Pearl scholarship, Wotkowicz said he began to research Pearl's life and found he related to Pearl's "want to communicate through music and writing, and the fact that he felt he had to."
"I'd never be able to do what he did, but I relate to his want to communicate," he said.