Child prodigies are children under the age of ten who possess the abilities of an adult competent at a particular skill set. The classical pianist Umi Garrett certainly qualified. Nonetheless, as is well documented, being a child prodigy is a double-edged sword. For starters, the pressure of young fame can be destructive for so many reasons.
For a classical pianist, there is the further problem that a minor injury to a finger or arm can end a career. So before we present the delightful May 2009 Ellen Show performance that brought 8-year-old Umi to public attention, let me ease your mind. By all accounts, at age 22, Umi Garrett is a well-adjusted young woman with a flourishing career.
What a poised 8-year-old! Commenting on the video, Hninn Aye Thin makes two important points: “I was blown away by her personality. The best thing about this girl is that she was not forced to play the piano.”. Then there are Umi’s tricks—her ability to play the piano behind her back and from under the keys. In an adult, such tricks can be dismissed as gimmicks, but in a child, it is an astonishing achievement. It shows the extent to which Umi had internalised both the instrument and the music.
You can say it’s only a fragment of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, a mere nursery rhyme. It is said that Mozart wrote the music, but this is disputed. What is sure is that Mozart wrote a series of variations on the piece, probably in the early 1780s. Of course, the tricks are just an icebreaker for Umi’s fluent take on Liszt’s difficult Concert Études, Gnomenreigen (Dance of the Gnomes). On Liszt, she shows the potential, which can be seen in her October 2019 reading of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 4.
Umi Garret is a multi-award-winning classical pianist. In 2008, before she appeared on The Ellen Show, Umi had won first prize at both the Southwestern Youth Music Festival and the J.S. Bach Competition, with both competitions in LA. By 2012, she’d won first prize in competitions in NYC, Budapest, Hungary, and Osaka, Japan, as well as the Grand Prix in the Chopin International Competition in Hartford, C.A. More recently, Umi Garrett’s awards include the National Chopin Competition in 2020 (4th place) and Juilliard School’s concerto competition (2020, 1st prize for her G Major Concerto by Ravel). She was also a finalist in the 2020 Young Concert Artists Competition and the 2021 Canada International Piano Competition.
Due to her family heritage, Umi Garratt is fluent in both English and Japanese. Notably, in 2013, the 13-year-old Umi embarked on a concert tour of the northern areas of Japan that had been devastated by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. The Kizuna Concert Tour, which involved performances for affected children at four elementary schools in the area, was repeated in 2015. This speaks to her character and reinforces the positive impression she gave on The Ellen Show.
Umi Garrett’s first record was when she was 9, her second when she was 12, and her third at 18 years old. Her collaboration with cellist Emily Mantone—the complete Sonatas for Piano and Cello by Ludwig van Beethoven—is due for release imminently.
Umi Garrett graduated from the prestigious Juilliard Music School at the end of the 2022 academic year.
Watching the charming video of the 8-year-old Umi Garrett play her trick versions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star fragments, I find myself wondering what would happen if she switched to rock music—her showmanship would give Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Lee Lewis a run for their money! Rock’s loss is classical music’s gain. As a classical pianist, Umi Garrett is no longer a child prodigy. She is a rising star.