The Musical Mungai Family
Originally published by The Pamplin Media Group: http://publications.pmgnews.com/fpubs/portrait-our-families-2015/
By GAIL PARK
Pamplin Media Group
Two energetic young boys sit al side-by-side pianos. When they strike the keys, it’s apparent they are skilled beyond their years.
Encouraged to master the piano by their parents, Segeni and Melissa Mungai. Benjamin and Njenga take piano playing seriously. Benjamin, 13, has achieved distinctions with his commanding competitive solo performances. For three consecutive years, he has earned a superior rating. This past April, he was awarded the Gold Cup by the National Federation of Music Clubs.
Njenga, 7, finds playing fun and enjoys the challenge of memorizing the notes and tunes. “Njenga is near a perfectionist, so he likes to play music to the exact standards,” says his father. “He gets a little bothered when it doesn’t work out.”
“I’m on book three,” quips the Ridgewood Elementary School student.
Nearly every day, the Cedar Hills family gingerly balances academics, competitive sports and piano, the boys honing their skills through lessons at Westside Music School in Beaverton. With guidance from Claudia Reinsch, the owner or the school, and teacher Aron Bernstein, these young pianists are mastering the black and white keys. Reinsch includes singing – “a natural way to learn a song” – during her school’s group piano experience. The lessons are preparing her students for a lifetime, and for competitions.
Developing a meaningful relationship with music and taking home trophies motivates Ben, who works hard at improving this performance ability.
“I love music. I’ve been playing the piano since kindergarten,” he says.
Harnessing his emotions and exhilaration. Ben focuses on finger control when he touches the ivories. During a weekly group class, he evaluates his sheet music. He plays out a tune before striking the keys. He attentively listens for his instructor’s command to “begin.” The music came easily this evening.
As a family, some days are a challenge. While the peppy boys passionately strive to excel. there are still occasional bouts of frustration. Certain notes can be troublesome. When playing becomes work, it is difficult, but Segeni and Melissa push to help their sons stick with it.
Mom and dad are proud of their sons’ diligence. They appreciate the soothing sounds the boys create, yet sometimes, the music is so loud that they can’t carry on a conversation. Young energy is put to constructive use.
“We want the boys lo learn a life skill,” Melissa says. “They are very active in sports and we wanted to introduce them to music to counterbalance that activity. Something to use as a relaxation tool. We considered violin lessons, but didn’t want to listen lo the practices.
“It has to do with talent. Just having the skills to entertain,” explains the 18-year Nike employee, who played flute in her high school band. “We hope they will constantly play.”
Memorization seems to come easily to the boys. Ben practices 10 minutes in the morning. Njenga takes his 1O-minute turn in the evening. Relaxed and focused, they figure out the keyboard and how each key sounds.
“Ben is starting to explore,” says his Kenyan-born father, who primarily listens to blues and jazz music. “Naturally, he makes up songs.”
Segeni, who works for the City of Portland on sustainability and recycling matters, also listens to the boys’ uncle. He is Dariush Dolat-Shahi, a professional musician and composer. The songwriter’s combination or traditional and contemporary music is influenced by many different types of music. He gave Ben his first keyboard.
Next up, Ben, a Cedar Park Middle School student, will compete at the local National Federation of Music Clubs competition. Njenga, though young, will compete there ror the first time. Both of them will try to make an impression. The local event only considers pianists ages 8 to 19 unless recommended by a NFMC member.
While the boys may someday aspire to careers as pianists, Segeni and Melissa strive for balance in their ramily, like the balance between while keys and black on their boys’ piano.
Westside Music School
1800 NW 167th Place, Suite 110
Beaverton, Oregon 97006