From student to teacher, Mustapha now a true professional

August 2, 2018   ·   0 Comments


When natural inclination and talent are matched with passionate and intelligent support from others, it is entirely possible that there will be wondrous results. This is the good news from Nicolas Mustapha, who was the accompanist for Theatre Orangeville’s production of Secret Garden last weekend. This was his second year accompanying Young Company’s musical production for he was brought, more or less last minute, to play the music for last year’s performance of Les Miserables. The path to this happy time came about by a series of links and coincidences.

“I was born in Toronto but we were living in Caledon East. So, I went to Palgrave Public School and, later to Robert F Hall CSS,” he told us during a recent telephone interview.

However, public school was a poor fit for himself and his twin brother. Both the brothers suffered to some extent from attention deficit, which made it difficult for Nicolas to settle down for any length of time on any one subject. That may not work well in a classroom full of other children but their mother could see that home schooling them would work. She is herself an educator and saw all the possibilities and the benefits of such an arrangement.

Nicolas began his piano lessons at the age of five with Music for Young Children, for which his mother was his parent partner, as Music for Young Children includes parents and children learning simple duets together. The parent sits in on the lessons and, sometimes, has some “homework” too. It is a fun and interesting approach to getting youngsters to play.

“Arts were a big part of our lives,” said Nicolas. He started with the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) but took no exams until three years ago when he was working on RCM grades eight and nine.

At such times as he thought he had gone as far as he wanted to in music, his mother stepped in, telling him, “No, you have to carry on.”

“I had reached a certain level when I wanted to stop when I was 12 years old,” he related. “I was playing [in a concert] and I played River Flowing In You by Yiruma. After I finished playing, the audience was all in tears – everyone felt what I was feeling and I knew I should keep on with my music.”

He began attending Robert F. Hall CSS in Grade 10 and had expressed his wish to attend Humber College to study music. The staff told him he should meet Frank Adriano, a teacher of English literature, a musician also helping to run the drama club.

He tells the story of meeting Mr. Adriano who would become his mentor: “I was playing the piano [in the music room] and he came and said, ‘So, you’re the one who wants to go Humber?’ He invited me to come and join him at the Bucatini Restaurant, where he was playing with his jazz band.”

Mr Adriano was music director for the show, Swinging at the Savoy, at the Pearson Theatre in Brampton Civic Centre, which he co-authored with fellow teacher and drama coach, Rob Ciccotelli, as their last production together. The show was an extravaganza that invited several alumni to participate, one of whom was Pam Demetriou, director of the Young Company musicals.

Into  this fray, Mr. Adriano invited Nicolas to be his right hand man, as assistant music director.

“So, that’s how I met Pam,” Nicolas commented.

This is why Pam Demetriou knew about Nicolas when, last year, Joy Bell broke her arm and could not accompany the cast for Les Mis.

It was quite the experience and test of his determination, when he was handed the almost 400 pages of music to the grand musical. “I only had two months before we got into rehearsals,” he recalled. “That was my first professional position. I had to learn to turn my pages [while playing] for myself. And Joy Bell was there to coach us – we had to keep up with her very high standards.”

So satisfying the experience was: “Last year was a great step. I went on to do more gigs with Pam and began to teach private students with her.

“I started off from playing for fun to going into the professional world [with Les Mis]. After Les Mis, I felt as though, ‘now, I can do music…’”

He plays with “Frank” now, too, at the Wendell Clark restaurant, standing at the corner of Hurontario and Queen Streets, Brampton, as part of the House Band for their Friday “open jazz nights.”

Nicolas’ appreciation of Frank Adriano’s mentorship and inclusion is very important to him for many reasons, among which, “Without him, I would never have made these connections here in Orangeville.”

Recently, Nicolas ihas become interested in teaching.

“This year, I was certified to do Music Together, a program for teaching music to babies and up. There are three stages: babies and then three to five years old and the Rhythm Kids for kids, four to eight years – a drumming circle. It is pretty much designed for kids to reach their competence with singing and rhythm.”

Although he has not written all his theory exams as yet, he plans to do so, as grade nine (RCM) theory is required by Humber College for entrance. He needs to prepare for his auditions and, so, plans for the next year to work on his application to Humber and to teach.

In addition to all this, he and his twin brother are very involved, for the last 12 years, in Martial Arts, both of them having earned their Black Belts in Karate.

“We got our Black Belts in Orangeville but then we wanted to compete, so we needed to get that high quality of training. My brother is on Team Canada. Karate is now an  Olympic sport.”

There has been much to learn for this very talented young musician and he has learned a great deal of that from playing for these last two Young Company musical productions.  He talked about playing for Secret Garden.

He told us, “There’s difference between solo playing and accompanying singers – you have to support one another. With a solo, it’s just you – there’s a lot more notes.

“When you’re accompanying, you have to become one with the vocalist; support them when they’re going down and if they make a mistake, you have to bring them back.”

About the cast, he commented, “We had younger cast [members] this year than in Les Mis. Most of the older kids, they knew what they where doing. Maybe someone with experience understands better when it comes to learn what the objective of the scene or the character is all about.”

He continued, “Musically, they knew what they were doing. When you’re working with high calibre vocalists, sometimes they ask for [nuances] in the music, to slow down or soften the playing. Some really know what they want out of a song.”

To any young musician, “…who isn’t sure about it all, there’s a big stigma about becoming a musician. Follow what you love doing. My mother always says, as soon as you do what you love, the money will follow.

“I’m grateful for everyone who’s given me the opportunity to work with Theatre Orangeville and Young Company.”



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