When Isaac Barkley was born, he had noticeably long fingers. All of his uncles predicted he would be a great football player.
Not his mother.
“No, he’ll be a pianist,” she said.
Melissa Barkley first suspected her son was more likely to focus on music when she had an inkling only a mother could.
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While Isaac was still in the womb, she felt his strong reaction to the sound of the piano. He frequently started moving around a lot when the church pianist played, and his activity ceased when the music did. It was uncanny but obvious. It might sound like something people say in hindsight, she said.
“But it’s the honest truth. No joke.”
Mom was right. The Raytown South High School junior has played piano since plinking “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and violin since fourth grade. Today he takes private piano lessons, plays violin in the school’s symphonic orchestra and piano in the school jazz band. He also plays violin during congregational hymns at church and accompanies family members on piano for special music.
Isaac is an avid listener of composers who write for movies and video games, artists such as Martin O’Donnell, creator of music for the Halo video game series.
While hundreds of students excel at instrumental performance, Isaac has become a composer as well. That was a bit of a surprise, even to him. He had studied composition with a piano teacher for a short period in early middle school, but it didn’t pique his interest until near the end. He tried his hand at it, creating a piano solo composition over summer vacation and developing it for a full orchestra over Christmas break his freshman year.
“Corazon de Fuego” or “Heart of Fire,” was played during the orchestra banquet that year for about 50 students and their families. It was exhilarating, Isaac said.
“I came up with the idea for the second (composition) on the night of the first performance,” he said. He went straight home, sat down at the piano and starting working on “The Journey,” which required writing parts for two violin sections, viola, cello and double bass.
“The Journey” was not only played for the fall concert, but it was conducted by him. “It’s an amazing feeling to have something I wrote be played and liked by other people,” he said.
His talent for the complexities of arranging originated just for his own fun, Isaac said. “It’s really something I cannot explain. It just comes to me. When I get ideas I just try to put them down on paper.” He also developed an interest in composing with music software.
His are not remedial pieces, said orchestra director Suzannah Smith. “He’s quite gifted. He’s humble, but he’s quite smart and he’s quite driven.”
She didn’t teach her student how to compose music, Smith said. She was only a mentor. “He would bring it to me and say ‘What do you think of this?’”
Having his compositions performed has been a “springboard” for him, an opportunity to implement what he’s working on, she said. “This is a really great thing for Isaac to show his peers that there’s more to do in music.”