The Prodigy

An Inspiration for His Peers

Tudor Dominik Maican, 16, started the piano at age 3 and was composing at 5. Outside music, he's working toward a black belt in kung fu.
Tudor Dominik Maican, 16, started the piano at age 3 and was composing at 5. Outside music, he's working toward a black belt in kung fu. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
Tuesday, November 8, 2005

He has composed four symphonies plus a number of piano pieces and other works. The Dumbarton Concert Society in Washington commissioned original work from him twice, and he has hopscotched around the world, winning scores of awards in tough competitions.

Yet 16-year-old Tudor Dominik Maican, an intense, engaging junior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, is so understated that many who know him have no idea that he started playing piano at age 3 and began composing two years later.

On one level, he is like other teenagers: He worries about his SAT scores, getting homework done for Advanced Placement and honors classes and working up to a black belt in kung fu -- something he's seeking, he said, only half-kidding, to make sure he isn't "the little music kid who gets picked on."

Then there's the teenager who, in September, was awarded a $25,000 scholarship by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. It embarrasses him to talk about it.

To Andrew Thomas, one of his teachers at the Juilliard School in New York, where Maican travels every Saturday for classes in the Pre-College Division, the young musician is one of the most extraordinary composers of symphonic and chamber music he has seen in his 35 years of teaching.

"He's shown a tremendous affinity for writing music that is very theatrical and gripping," Thomas said. "It's modern, but it's very involving to the audience, extremely expressive, and it shows what I call a real composer's control over the material."

Music was chosen for Maican; it was his mother who started him on the piano. (She is a well-known music teacher; his father, a conductor.) Over time, Maican said, it became a habit, then his passion. Prodigies need both -- the genes and the commitment -- said his mother, Valerica.

"Dom," as some friends call him, said he has no single method of composing. Sometimes, an idea comes to him and he sits down at the piano -- there are four in his house -- to develop it. Other times, he starts from scratch. When he was young, he composed with two cockatoos on his shoulders.

He laments that he does not have perfect pitch -- the ability to recognize by ear exact tones and chords -- but works on his ear training.

Maican used to travel with his mother to nursing homes, shelters and other places to entertain those in need. When he was 12, his mother got cancer, and he told her he was taking over the job. That's when he started an organization called Heart to Heart, through which he and other young musicians entertain those in need. It makes him feel good, he said.

His favorite composers are varied: One is Ludwig van Beethoven, another is the modern composer Milton Babbitt, whom Maican would love to meet.

He loves the group Maroon 5, though he has little patience for most other contemporary music. "My mom hates it that I don't like the Beatles," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company