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Musical Genius: Project AIIM Student Has Big Talent

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Kerryn Prieto, a Project AIIM student at Irvington High, plays Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Kerryn Prieto sits down at the piano and, without the aid of  sheet music, begins to play the opening chords of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by the British rock band Queen.

As his hands expertly glide over the piano keys, he starts to sing the familiar lyrics, inflecting the ballad’s words with the emotion intended by the songwriter.

Freddie Mercury would have been proud.

Kerryn, a senior at Irvington High School and a student in the Southern Westchester BOCES Project AIIM program, is something of a prodigy when it comes to music.

Although he reads music (Kerryn has taken an Advanced Placement music theory class, one of the toughest offered) and has had formal lessons for piano and violin, Kerryn largely plays by ear and has perfect vocal pitch.

He rapidly picked up the piano when he started playing at age 6, and took his first violin lessons starting in the fourth grade. He now plays in the IHS orchestra.

Around age 11, he added the guitar and the steel pan – a type of drum with origins in Trinidad, his father’s Caribbean island homeland – to his instrumental repertoire.

“He’s incredibly musically talented,” said IHS music teacher Janet Gillespie. “There’s nothing that Kerryn can’t do musically.”

A Gifted Singer

In addition to being a multi-instrumentalist at just 17, Kerryn is a gifted singer who performs in the school’s 62-member Concert Choir and smaller 14-member Chorale, both of which Ms. Gillespie directs.

As a chorus member, Kerryn has auditioned for and qualified to sing in the Area All-State Choir (Westchester County’s top choir), which performs annually at SUNY Purchase, and the All-State Choir (New York State’s top choir), which performs each year at the Eastman Kodak Theater in Rochester.

The auditions are held annually by the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA). About 6,000 students audition for the All-State performing groups, and just under 900 are selected to participate annually.

In the ninth grade, Kerryn traveled to Montreal with the IHS Chorale and band to perform in the Notre Dame Basilica, the setting for singer Celine Dion’s 1994 wedding. Lastyear, he performed with the school orchestra at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Back home, he is the school’s chief singer of the “Star Spangled Banner” at sports games because he always volunteers to sing it.

Fond of theater, Kerryn also has had singing roles in every IHS musical since the ninth grade, including “Hello Dolly”; “Shakespeare in Hollywood”; “Little Shop of Horrors”; “Seussical Junior”; “Once Upon a Mattress”; “Grease”; and “Into the Woods.”

Music is for Sharing

Influenced by such singers as Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, James Brown, George Benson, Usher and Michael Jackson, Kerryn said that music “gets me moving. It feels good. I like to share music with other people. It’s a big part of my life.”

So is songwriting, which Kerryn uses as a therapeutic way to write about life as a teenager and to vent his frustrations with the challenges of autism. Some of his lyrics have been published in the school’s literary magazine, Voices. “Songwriting is a very positive outlet for me,” he said.

With graduation not far away, Kerryn said he’d ideally like to enroll in a college music program and to one day combine music and acting in a career. “I’d really like to be an entertainer.”


Southern Westchester BOCES :: 17 Berkley Drive, Rye Brook, NY 10573 :: 914.937.3820