I've always been fascinated by child prodigies. And 16-year-old Joshua Moncino, of Scotts Valley, is no exception. Last May he did something that many musicians probably dream about, but few actually do: he played at Carnegie Hall.
Moncino started playing the piano at the tender age of 3 1/2. His parents, Daniel and Dorothee Moncino, saw a natural talent in their son. He sat on the piano bench with his two older siblings and made up melodies, using all of his fingers, even though he couldn't reach the pedals.
Born in Alfaretta, Georgia, Moncino was the youngest of three. When he was five, he and his family moved to Atlanta. The children began a formal study of music in the form of classical piano lessons with Ping Xiu.
“Ping was a very strict teacher from Shanghai,” said Moncino. “She sometimes frightened us with her 'old school' style, but she was a good teacher, and I developed a passion for Chopin's pieces from the Romantic Era.”
Two years later, the Moncino family moved to Scotts Valley. He continued piano lessons, along with playing hockey and soccer. Their new teacher was the renowned Dr. Irina Morgan of San Jose. She noticed right away that Moncino showed a precocious interest in the piano and was highly gifted.
“My teacher thought I had a special talent and signed me up for many competitions,” he said. “I started to participate in the Certificate of Merit — a series of 10 tests organized by the Music Teachers' Association of California. Fortunately I was able to skip ahead several levels.”
Moncino entered his first serious competition when he was in eighth grade and ended up winning the “Double Grand Champion” award. This was followed by an international competition, The United States Open Music Competition, which took place in Oakland last year. He played two duets with Chris Correa — a junior at Bellarmine High School. They won their category in this event.
Next, Moncino and Correa were asked to play in a second international competition, the American Fine Arts Festival. They auditioned in Palo Alto last March. The winners would be invited to four to five different venues in New York City. The best performers went to Carnegie Hall.
“When I received the call that we had made it into Carnegie Hall, I was blown away!” said Moncino. “It was totally unexpected. I knew that we'd done well but hadn't even seen our scores. This was our reward.”
On May 3 the Moncino family flew to New York City to watch their son perform with Correa. The boys were fairly relaxed as they sat at the piano and played a contemporary classical piece by Gavrilin.
“Playing at Carnegie Hall was totally worth it,” Moncino said. “I knew these competitions were good for me, but it took a lot of time and effort. I'm very involved in sports, besides taking full International Bacculaureate classes. I probably would've quit if it weren't for all the encouragement I received from my parents and Dr. Morgan.”
During our interview I realized that Joshua was a humble, sensitive young man who wasn't about to boast. So I also called Dr. Morgan and asked her to share a few words.
“Joshua is extremely talented and has great stage presence,” she said. “He puts such brightness and life into his performances. When he sits down to play, his enthusiasm speaks for itself. Thousands apply for this highly coveted position every year, but only the best of the best are chosen. He could go on and have a successful career as a concert pianist.”
But Moncino has other plans.
“After graduating from Scotts Valley High next year, my goal is to study aerospace engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and eventually work for NASA or a private company like Space X,” he said. “I go after what I want and just do my personal best.”
I asked him the secret to getting into Carnegie Hall. His reply: “Practice, practice, practice.”
I have no doubt that Josh Moncino will be highly successful in whatever the future has in store for him.
- Sandi Olson of Scotts Valley is a writer, speaker and teacher. She writes about interesting people in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.