A child's small hands danced smoothly across the black and white piano keys, stringing together a harmony of rich musical notes that wafted from the foyer throughout his family's Northern Virginia home.

The hands, fingers curved, belonged to Michael Joseph Greenway, who took up the piano in the early 1990s. Back then he was a pint-size kindergartner who amazed his family and friends with an exceptional gift for music.

"The thing is -- Michael loved music," said his father, Wes Greenway, as he rubbed his chin and paced back and forth across a hardwood floor in the living room of his McLean home. "Chopin was his favorite. He was big into opera. Music was his passion."

With instruction from private tutors and support from his parents, the child prodigy with large brown eyes grew into a promising virtuoso. His talents took him to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he was an honors student in the prestigious college of fine arts.

Michael, who was a junior at the school, returned often to Washington to spend the weekend with family and friends.

He loved the pace of the District's urban life, visiting museums, having lunch downtown, hanging out with friends and going to clubs.

During one such visit home Oct. 14, before leaving for an evening out with friends, Michael sat at a baby grand piano in the corner of the family music room and played Bach's Fugue VIII. The songbook remains open to that page.

The next morning, about 8 o'clock, two police officers and a chaplain arrived at the Greenway home with news that Michael, 20, had died in a car accident a few hours earlier.

The car he had been driving crashed into a creek after failing to negotiate a curve on Kirby Road, north of Claiborne Drive, in McLean. A police investigation into the cause of the accident is ongoing.

"There had always been music in the house," said his mother, Linda Greenway. "I don't think I can ever accept that he's gone."

Growing up in the suburbs of Washington, he performed in dozens of recitals, often accompanied by his slightly older sister, Catherine, on the violin. He also had three older brothers, Chris, George and Wesley.

But Michael and Catherine, a year apart in age, were closest in companionship. In fact, it was Catherine who gave Michael his first piano lessons. She was only 5 years old when she began tutoring Michael on the scales she had learned from her piano instructor.

His musical ability soon overtook hers. She switched to different instruments, but Michael, as younger siblings tend to do, was there shadowing her new interests. That stopped when she took up ballet.

By the time he was a student at Langley High School in McLean, Michael had outpaced his piano instructors in music theory and composition. He enrolled in the Levine School of Music in Washington, which he attended after a full day at Langley. He also found time for an after-school program at Fairfax High School for gifted music students.

He worked, too, earning walk-around money from a part-time job at a real estate firm, greeting patrons at P.F. Chang's restaurant at the Tysons II mall and helping at his father's car dealership, Greenway Alexandria Volkswagen.

At Langley, Michael drew praise as an integral part of the school's productions of the musicals "Grease" and "The Wizard of Oz." He played piano for the shows and put in long hours for rehearsals.

"We've had musicians help in the past, but Michael really became one of the family of the cast and crew," said Phyliss Jaffe, Langley's drama teacher.

"When he played the piano, he would sound more like a whole orchestra. He added so much to the final productions," Jaffe said.

He wowed parents of his classmates when he performed Debussy's "Claire de Lune" at Langley's 2003 graduation at DAR Constitution Hall.

In addition to playing the piano, Michael showed a natural talent for composition. It took him less than a week to write "Concerto Under Fire," which won first place in the Virginia State Reflections Competition for Music Composition in 2003.

The theme of the competition was courage, in light of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Michael generated his musical ideas without the intervention of his teachers," said Sergey Schepkin, Michael's piano instructor at Carnegie Mellon. "He would be very well suited for a professional career in music."

"He was extremely charming, sometimes mischievous, slightly irreverent," Schepkin said. "He had a very good heart, always interested in others and putting them in a good mood."

One of Michael Greenway's teachers at Langley High School said that "when he played the piano, he would sound more like a whole orchestra."Even a young Michael Greenway made it clear, his father said, that "music was his passion."