Ajay Gupta, Saratoga, California

“I started playing piano when I was maybe three or four and had lessons once a week. Then I stopped when I joined band from seventh grade to sophomore year, and I never really played the piano then because I had marching band and private saxophone lessons. I quit band after sophomore year, and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do by time or like music-wise after. And so this last summer, I was in New York for the School of the New York Times. During the blackout, everyone was huddled in the auditorium at the Fordham University Lincoln Center dorms. There was a piano on the side of the room, and I was like, ‘how cool would it be if someone sat down and started playing?’ From that moment, I figured I should just learn a few cool songs so if I’m in that situation again or with friends and family or just see a piano randomly, I could play and make some people feel better. When I got home that summer, I started lessons like once a week just playing on my own time and it gave me flexibility. Unlike band, I could play what I wanted to — I could easily skip a lesson, I could play more, I could play less.

Just being able to play for myself and knowing I could help play for others really got me started and kept me motivated to keep playing the piano. I was at LAX for a layover, and I saw a piano and two little girls were sitting at it. They saw me waiting, and asked if I wanted to play. I didn’t want to like kick them out, and I want to get them involved if I could. At that time, I knew two songs: one from Star Wars and “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton. They were like four and six years old, so I played Star Wars and they started dancing behind me. I couldn’t see them or the rest of the terminal, but apparently there were like a few people watching and it just made me feel good knowing that I was making a difference. During Bombay in the Bay, before we started dancing, everyone was in the music room and there was a piano. I played a few songs like “Mo Bamba” and “I Don’t Care,” and people sang along, and it just made me feel good. I could get people involved and help people have a good time.”

— Ajay Gupta, Saratoga, California

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