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    Piano prodigy from Ghana soaring in S. F.

    by sfgate.com
    posted Monday, 08 June 2009 12:01| 1 Comments

    Kofi, the son of a music teacher in Ghana, was introduced by singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder. As the strong-looking boy with the delicate hands began to play, the crowd went silent.

    Sitting in the audience was a pastor and former politician from San Francisco, a man who pledged to bring the prodigy from Ghana to the United States.

    Today, Kofi lives with the Rev. Amos Brown and his family in San Francisco. Now 16, he attends a private high school and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Since his arrival, he has composed six sonatas, four symphonies, two string quartets and eight piano pieces.

    His limited repertoire went from predictable 18th century pieces to complex works, including Beethoven sonatas and Bach fugues and preludes.

    To Brown, who is head of the local chapter of the NAACP, Kofi represents the largely untapped potential of Africa.

    "Africa has been woefully mischaracterized as having no culture, no language, no music and no arts," said Brown, who runs the Third Baptist Church in the Western Addition. "But here's this kid out of Africa who has such an excellent ear for music, who has such a mastery of music."

    With Brown's help and the blessing of Kofi's mother and father, the young man left Ghana in early June 2007.

    "I was at first scared of coming to San Francisco," said Kofi, who is soft-spoken, composed and watchful. "I had never been to the West Coast, and all I had heard about San Francisco was about the cold weather and the Castro. I didn't know what to expect."

    He was accepted on scholarship at Stuart Hall High School, an all-boys Catholic school, and was set to audition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

    "It was unusual to have someone come in from Ghana," recalled John McCarthy, the conservatory's director of preparatory and extension divisions. "I remember he played some conservative 18th century-style pieces that are not untypical of young students. He performed well, but there was something he said during the audition that told me how special his talent was."

    Kofi was asked by a teacher who had traveled with him from Ghana to play a piece he had composed on the plane.

    "Kofi didn't want to play it," McCarthy said. "When I asked him why, he said, 'Because it's orchestral.' I thought that was a remarkable answer. He didn't feel he could do justice to what he was imagining on the piano since in his mind it was for orchestra. It showed how vividly clear he hears tonal color. It showed me how authentic his hearing and imagination are."

    He was offered a scholarship at the conservatory, and has just completed his second year of classes. "Our collegiate division just performed a string quartet written by Kofi," McCarthy said. "Kofi has grown legions."

    Kofi's piano teacher at the conservatory is McCarthy's wife, Annamarie, who says that what is unusual about Kofi is his natural charisma onstage.

    "Sometimes students have a lot of skill but do not really know how to perform," she said. "Kofi pulls people in."

    Kofi, who first played the piano at age 8 and began composing when he was 9, shrugs off compliments.

    "I kind of just play for fun," he says. "Although I'm taking it a little more seriously now." He is studying musicianship and delving into topics such as time signatures and solfege, which involves reading music and singing the melody. On his own time, he likes to learn about the lives of composers he is practicing. His favorite is Ludwig van Beethoven.

    "You can really tell from his music how he felt while writing," Kofi said.

    In mid-June, he will go home to Accra, which is Ghana's capital and where his family lives.

    He will return to San Francisco in time for his third year at the conservatory. He is only beginning to think about college and has an interest in pursuing medicine.

    For his 16th birthday, which was Thursday, the prodigy from Ghana had but one wish. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, the teenager dreamed of something beyond fugues and sonatas. He dreamed of a different type of movement.

    "I wish I were taller," he said, "so I could dunk."

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