Brandon Schmor practises on the grand piano in his collection for the B.C. Winter Games opening ceremonies.

Brandon Schmor practises on the grand piano in his collection for the B.C. Winter Games opening ceremonies.

Vernon pianist strikes opening ceremonies chord

Vernon pianist Brandon Schmor, who has 23 pianos in his collection, will be among the B.C. Winter Games opening ceremonies performers...

You’d think you were in some juke joint down in New Orleans as Brandon Schmor applies his fingers to the keys of one of the 23 pianos in his collection.

Playing a fast arpeggio in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis, Schmor pounds away at his Challen of London upright, which gives off that tinny, percussive sound best known as honky tonk.

Fascinated by the history of the music genre, and the vast collection of his instruments, Schmor goes on to explain how the honkytonk sound is achieved. It’s an obvious passion that he has shared with his family, and to anyone who will listen.

And many have, as the 17-year-old Vernon resident makes a name for himself as an up-and-coming musician on the local scene.  On Thursday, many more will be introduced into Schmor’s world as he steps up to a piano and sings at the opening ceremonies to the B.C. Winter Games at the Wesbild Centre.

“I love performing,” said Schmor, adding he isn’t feeling any twinge of nerves, and hints that he will perform a certain song from a ‘70s-’80s piano-singer duo at the ceremonies. “Most of the songs I play, I like to completely improvise. I don’t read a note of music. I listen to music, and play it back as it goes along.”

Schmor’s musical abilities were noticed by his mom, Melissa, and his grandparents, Harvey and Deltha Schmor, at a young age.

“It started with a blue little tykes piano when a daughter of a friend taught him how to playTwinkle Twinkle Little Star –– one time, and he had it down pat,” said Melissa.

His primary teachers also noticed Schmor’s aptitude for singing. He would often belt out a song in class, but when asked to join in group play, his social interaction was stilted,

In Grade 1, Schmor’s behaviour was diagnosed as Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of spectral autism disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. (Asperger’s differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development.)

“It was definitely not his intelligence that was a problem, it was his ability to socialize with other kids,” said Melissa.

Schmor’s need for a structured, organized environment has not only come from music, but in that of a rotating blade which circulates air, namely fans. His attention has also turned to collecting clocks, road grade vents, vacuums, windows –– anything with a history, as his grandfather, Harvey, will attest pointing out a workshop and an attached room on his property where some of the objects are stored.

“I love artistic engineering, from the Art Deco, and Victorian era, anything retro. It’s not boring to look at, and I love that it’s functional,” said Schmor.

It was while he was a student at Ellison Elementary School, that then vice principal Bob Oldfield helped Schmor develop his musical interests. He arranged for Brandon to have his first upright piano, a Heintzman, which would be the start of his significant collection. (Schmor has since restored numerous  pianos including one he found in a ditch.)

Convinced by his grandma Deltha to take piano lessons, Schmor started with former Vernon instructor Peter Nahirny, who owned a private studio in town.

“He taught me the 12-bar blues, and we started listening to various songs,” said Schmor.

“He would reward Brandon if he did well at lessons by teaching him a special song at the end of the lesson. He was a real jazz man, and he helped Brandon stay focussed on his lesson,” added Melissa.

Although he experienced challenges in high school, namely from bullying, Schmor says he really found a home in his school’s drama department and even helped write a part for a musical, where he played a hopeless romantic with a penchant for Captain and Tenille songs.

In 2009, again under his family’s encouragement, Schmor also decided to enter the inaugural Our Kids Have Talent competition. At first discouraged because he didn’t place in the top 10, he was contacted by the show’s organizer Kath Raeber, who asked him if would perform during that year’s awards gala at the Performing Arts Centre.

“Apparently she thought I was quite good,” said Schmor, adding hew was especially excited to playing the Performing Arts Centre’s Hamburg Steinway grand piano. “Near the end of the night, I started to run out of songs, so I just started improvising, and it went over quite well. “

Smitten with his first taste of fame, Schmor decided to enter the contest again in 2010, and this time he made it into the top 10.

“I performed in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis,” he said, adding his efforts were awarded with a special prize, and $300, which he put towards, what else, another keyboard.

Last year, Schmor finally reached the top three in the contest, playing Lucille by Little Richard, and he has since enjoyed a number of public performances for various fundraisers and gigs, more recently at the Vernon Jazz Club opening for local acts such as Kath and the TomKats and Sherman “Tank” Doucette.

The opportunity for Schmor to perform at the B.C. Winter Games also came through Raeber, and the future is looking even more promising.

Schmor, who has also been learning to tune pianos, has a number of events on his agenda, including the JCI’s hospital gala in April.

“If I don’t become an antiques dealer, I’ll have a few things to fall back on,” he said.

Schmor joins the official ceremony of the B.C. Winter Games at Wesbild starting at 7 p.m. Other performers include The Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastic and Cirque Theatre Company, Accentz Dance Studio, The WLC-Tones Choir (WL Seaton Secondary),  and local singer Melina Moore and her son, Justin Moore, who will perform O Canada. Vernon native Randene Neill Global B.C. news anchor, will be the master of ceremonies, and the song written for the B.C. Winter Games by Vernon’s Andrew Allen, Your Time to Shine, will be featured.