Ruth Bass: 13-year-old pianist benefits from Danny Pearl's legacy

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RICHMOND — Berkshire Eagle people didn't know journalist and musician Danny Pearl when he was 13, but it's easy to imagine that he was already intense about his music and probably about his daily life. It's also easy to imagine that he'd be pleased to meet a 13-year-old named Pearl Bowman, a piano student at Berkshire Music School in Pittsfield.

Coincidentally linked by his last name and her first, Pearl is recipient of the first youth scholarship from the Daniel Pearl Scholarship Fund, established in 2003, a year after Danny was murdered in Pakistan.

Seventeen $1,000 scholarships have been given to high school graduates interested in careers in either journalism or music. After a recent successful fund drive, the Pearl scholarship committee decided to double the annual award for a college-bound student and add a $500 award for a talented student at Berkshire Music School.

A piano student for the past 3 1/2 years, Pearl was chosen by the school and received her award last fall. According to Berkshire Music School Director Tracy Wilson, the welcome scholarship covers about a third of the cost of a year's worth of piano lessons. The young pianist shyly says she loves the piano and the lessons "are the best part of my week."

An eighth grader at Richmond Consolidated School, she has a somewhat complicated life, splitting her time between her mother's home in Pittsfield and her father's in Richmond. In each household, she has a keyboard rather than a piano, and like everyone with two houses, she sometimes finds that what she needs is at the "other house." With a sideways glance at her teacher, Bonnie McCubbin, Pearl also confesses that she doesn't always find time to practice as much as she should.

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But McCubbin, who confesses that she "adores" Pearl, says her student is "thriving." She admires Pearl's love of piano and the fact that she also made time to be stage manager for a theatrical production at her school this year. As for Pearl's musical ability, McCubbin says she's "talented, has a good ear and a very good sense of rhythm." She's "really special," the teacher added.

In an upstairs room at the school's elegant house on Wendell Avenue, Pearl starts to play a duet with McCubbin and is soon so involved that she doesn't steal a single look at the cellphone that's taking her picture. She is intent on the music, this short teenager with glasses, her long ponytail hanging down her back and a small Mickey Mouse silhouette on her white sweatshirt.

The piano absorbs her, but she's not a Jenny-one-note. At school, she plays the trombone in the school band while admitting that she's really not fond of the instrument and has no plan to continue with it. But while she sometimes gets frustrated with practicing new piano pieces, she keeps at them.

She is obviously very interested in hearing anecdotes about Danny Pearl from his days in The Eagle newsroom. Along with others at the music school, she applied for the scholarship and started to giggle when she told how she heard she had gotten it. Her father had picked her up at school because she was feeling sick, and after she was in the car, his cellphone rang. It was Tracy Wilson, telling him that Pearl had won the award and they would be notifying her soon. But there she was, sitting beside him in the car and getting the news when he did.

As a journalist, Danny would enjoy that story. As a classical violinist who also played guitar with a bluegrass band, he'd like Pearl's intensity about the piano and the idea that he's helping her along a path that hasn't always been easy. A Pearl for Pearl.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.


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