Barry Harris — The Young Barry Manilow from Pennsylvania.

by Kees Boer

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I had the distinct privilege of talking to a child prodigy a while back. His name is Barry Harris and he's perhaps one of the best musicians in the country. When he was just 11 years old, he wrote his first musical. He was also chosen to be one of only 60 kids in the entire United States to attend Grammy Camp in the summer of 2007 and he was chosen to attend Grammy Camp again this summer in 2008. Barry is a producer and he's written over 100 songs. He's truly an amazing musician.

Barry's parents were avid fans of Barry Manilow and he was named after him. So, it was no surprise that he grew up listening to a lot of Barry Manilow and when he was just toddler, he became interested in music. His dad played piano every day when he got home from work. At one point, he thought: "Wow, I'd like to do that." So, when Barry turned 4 years old, he wanted to take piano lessons. He took lessons for 5 years and learned quite a bit of classical music, which ended up being a great foundation to the music he does right now.

While he was taking piano lessons, he also started learning to compose his own music. Barry recalls: "What happened was that I was studying classical with my first teacher. I was given Fur Elise, which is classical 101 for those who want to play the piano and I was reading it and I got to this bridge that didn't make much sense. So, I thought, I'll skip to the next bar. And I did a couple of performances. My teacher thought it was pretty well, but just different. Then he noticed that I had omitted an entire section of Fur Elise! It was then that I found out that classical is not the type of music where you do your own experimentation and put your own feel to it. I was supposed to be reading and playing exactly what it said. It was at the point that I thought that classical is nice to know, but I really don't think it is for me."

Shortly thereafter he wrote a musical to an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Through this process, he ended up bringing out a whole new theme in the story, which is that people are sometimes looking for things in other places, when it really is within them already. The musical was staged in various places, including an off-Broadway-theater and it sold out during its entire life.

Barry found that being able to play the piano through synthesizer technology opened up the door for him to being able to play almost any instrument. He did feel though that the technology wasn't quite there yet with the electric guitar and with the horn section, but that most other instruments were able to be played on a synthesizer."

We spoke a little about what it was like to be involved with Grammy Camp. "Grammy camp was the best experience I could imagine. I really had never gotten to connect with people, who had such a passion for music. And here I am surrounded by 60 people, who had the same exact desires and passions for music as me. The social aspect of it, after all was over, the discussions about music, band and careers were amazing. It was an interesting experience to connect with other people, who appreciate the same things that you do."

Barry is also very interested in journalism. "I anchor my High School's television program. I do it for the experience in communication. I think that's extremely important, when you're always in television or print interviews to be able to effectively answer the questions and communicate properly."

When I asked him, who his biggest hero was, he said with no hesitation: "My biggest hero in life is Barry Manilow. He was the original inspiration and I see the kind of career he has and it's something that I would like to strive for what he's done. Over the years, he has gotten better and better."

I believe that Barry is a young man to keep your eyes upon, because like Barry Manilow, we will be seeing a lot more of him.

For more information about Barry Harris, check out Barry Harris' Website.