boy with the ‘golden ear' - Delray News

Delray News Journal
Thursday, June 21, 1979

Young organist keeps fingers on the future

The boy with the 'golden ear'

 

Chris Mascara is an accomplished organist at age 11.  At a recent recital at his alma mater, Delray Elementary School, he received a five-minute standing ovation for his solo performance.  A student of local organists Dick Blackwell and Peter Heilman, Chris has big plans for his future.

By NANCY MILLER
Women's Editor

Christopher Mascara, 11, has an ear for music and an eye on the future.

In a year and a half he has become an accomplished organist, earning a five-minute standing ovation for a recent solo performance at the Delray Beach Elementary School.

He has graduated to Carver Middle School and after high school he hopes for a scholarship so he can work toward a doctorate in music.

His 84-year-old grandfather, Frank Mascara, has promised him a white tuxedo for his first paid, professional performance; he's determined not to disappoint him.

"The organ's my best friend," says the smiling, brown-haired youngster.  "When I'm angry it's there and when I'm happy it's there.  I get carried away, I guess.  I could sit and play on that organ from breakfast until dinner."

His father, Gene Mascara, timed his longest stint at four hours and 10 minutes, and at a Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce barbecue he played for two hours without stopping.

In the Mascara home, the organ is the center of attention instead of the television set.

"When Chris starts to play, everything stops,"  Mrs. Mascara says.  "Listening is the family's major form of entertainment."

With a sensitive touch and confident manner, Chris fills the house with a repertoire ranging from bluegrass and popular tunes to classical and sacred music.  His friends like to listen and parents sometimes ask if they can bring their children to hear him.

He memorizes every piece he plays, first reading the music and then improvising, his feet as busy on the pedals as his fingers are on the keys.

"The hardest part is sticking to the written music, as I want to improvise," he admits.  "If I hear something once, I'll play it by ear."

At age 10 he wrote his first composition, "Jesus Wept," reflecting his family's strong religious faith.  He also has made an original arrangement of  "Mood Indigo."

He practices four to five hours a day but to him it's not work but what he likes to do most.

Talented and eager to learn, he's the only student taught by Dick Blackwell, noted area organist, and classical organist Peter Heilman.

"He's an exceptionally talented youngster with a keen ear and rhythmic sense," Heilman says.  "He puts all these things to use in the course of his daily practicing and this makes for a thoroughly rounded musician.  Credit for his accomplishment in such a short time goes to him for his ability to tackle a problem and stick with it until he conquers it.  At this point he has two paths he can take - as a classical musician or a popular musician, and in either case as a vocation or avocation.

"He has more God-given talent than other youngsters at his age but what's important is that he works at it.  The future is bright for him if he continues to work."

Heilman gives Chris classical instruction and Blackwell teaches him popular music.

"Chris uses good pedal technique and manual fingering from classical training and transfers that knowledge to his popular playing," Heilman adds.

The Mascaras came to the area in 1974 from Freeport, Long Island, N.Y., when Gene Mascara retired as a Brooklyn police officer.  Chris attended first grade at Plumosa Elementary in Delray and grades two through five at Delray Elementary.  He became interested in music when he heard Dick Blackwell play the organ at Expo '77 in August, 1977, at the Boca Raton Hotel and Club.  After taping Blackwell's rendition of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," and practicing it on a home organ his mother had received but never used, he played it at Blackwell's music store.

"He just flipped," Chris recalls.  "He took me into a music room and out of 37 keys, I got 35 right.  When school was over in June, he said he wanted to teach me.  He said I had a golden ear."

Since June 1978, Chris has been a dedicated student, and he describes Blackwell as "my idol and my inspiration."

Chris is the only child in the Boca Raton Organ Club.  He has performed at the Delray Elementary School twice, the Boca Raton Community Hospital, the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce barbecue, twice at the South Florida Fair, the First Presbyterian Church of Boca Raton and for two radio stations.

In addition to accumulating stacks of music, he's a collector of keys (1,000), stamps, rocks, coins, beer bottle caps, bicycle parts and baseball bats.

He's an above average student and was the recipient of many honors at Delray Elementary's end-of-the-school assembly.  These included a safety patrol merit award and good behavior award for the trip to Washington, D.C.; an award for scholarship; a good citizenship award, and a library service award for his work as a library aide.

He's also an architect of sorts, having designed a "dream home" containing six organs - one for his bedroom, living room, family room, game room, a 32-pedal model "for practicing in the study" and another for his acoustical and control room where he'll make his tapes.

Of his outgoing personality, his mother comments, "The more people he has to play for, the happier he is.  He has no stagefright at all."

He's a willing performer for the elderly and others wherever there's an organ, explaining, "I'm happiest when I play."

His many interests include baseball and other outdoor sports.

"I want to get on a Little League team as I really like baseball," he says.  "But the organ comes first."