When Daniel Skandera was only 2 years old, he would climb up on the stool of his family's Hammond organ and press the keys, gently swaying and singing to himself. While other parents might have looked at such activities as merely "cute," the Skanderas thought it was close to miraculous -- Daniel, who has Down syndrome, had been diagnosed as being severely hearing-impaired. "It was kind of hard to convince doctors," said his father, Daniel Sr. "It was difficult to diagnose this type of thing, but he would listen to {music} with his ears to the speakers."

After several operations restored part of Daniel's hearing, the Skanderas bought him a drum set at the age of 6, which he quickly took to. By the time he was in middle school in Norcross, Ga., Daniel was playing orchestra bells in the school band. He went on to become a member of the Meadowcreek High School's marching and concert bands, playing the xylophone and grand concert marimba, and gathering 17 superior performance awards along the way.

Now Skandera is getting some national recognition as well: Tomorrow he will receive the 1991 Very Special Arts Itzhak Perlman Award in Sarasota, Fla., at a reception following a Perlman concert. The award, which carries a $3,000 gift to further his music education, is given out annually to an outstanding performing artist under the age of 21 who is physically or mentally challenged. Skandera, now 19, will be honored again on Feb. 23 at a reception following Perlman's performance at the Kennedy Center. Skandera will perform at both receptions.

"We've always had our eyes on a goal of having him support himself to some degree," said his mother Marie. "So we see music as not only an avocation but a vocation."

Instant Information

The Smithsonian Institution doesn't normally undertake a new program without a lot of planning. But Roger Kennedy, director of the National Museum of American History, is trying one with no planning -- a free-for-all.

"It's purely an experiment," says Kennedy of the Smithsonian's hastily produced series "The Instant Media and Coping With War in the Middle East," which began Friday and will continue indefinitely each Thursday at noon. "We have a subject, and we have a hall. So we'll talk about it with whoever wants to come by."

Each week, in the theater located at the end of the Information Age exhibit, Kennedy hopes to bring in several print and/or television journalists to discuss the responsibilities of disseminating "instant" information during the Gulf War.

The first session, held Friday, featured Tara Connell, deputy managing editor for news at USA Today, and Michael Zuckerman, editor of the special projects branch at USA Today, with William L. Withuhn of the museum's division of transportation, who acted as moderator. More than 140 people showed up.

While Kennedy said he hopes to put the guests in the hot seat, the program is not intended to be a media-bashing session. "All of us who are in this kind of business {of providing information}, we know the deficencies of our trade. But we're interested in providing an examination on a process ... not how did Dan Rather do last night or how big should the Post headlines be."

This Thursday's program will feature Francisco Ginesta of Univision's Washington bureau, with other guests to be announced.

Smithsonian Acquisitions

More Smithsonian news: The institution's acquisition list for 1990 includes more than 1 million artifacts from the Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation in New York City. The objects will form the collection for the National Museum of the American Indian, scheduled to open on the Mall by the end of the decade.

Among the other items on the acquisition list are a Soviet SS-20 nuclear missile and a U.S. Pershing II nuclear missile, now on display at the National Air and Space Museum; First Lady Barbara Bush's inaugural gown, which was obtained by the National Museum of American History; and a Sumatran tiger acquired by the National Zoo from the Jakarta Zoo in Indonesia. Of the approximate 139 million objects in the Smithsonian collection, only a small portion are on display. The rest are used for research or are lent to other museums for study and display.

War Paint

John Charles Roach's view of military life in the Persian Gulf goes on display today in the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building. The Alexandria artist and Navy reservist spent 41 days in the region using watercolors and oils to depict Operation Desert Shield -- now Desert Storm. Included in the exhibit, which is on display until Feb. 15, are Roach's depictions of air exercises aboard the USS Kennedy, Marines taking a water break in the desert, and an oil portrait of the war's poster boy, a Marine named Kurt, reading a letter from home.