By Susie Bramhall
Photography Credit: Heather Schneider
If you don’t know the name Winston Schneider yet, it’s only a matter of time before this young musical prodigy will be a successful staple in the musical world…sharing the spotlight with some of the world’s most accomplished composers. Starting when many kids are just entering Kindergarten, Winston’s natural ability and talent for writing and composing original pieces began at an early age and has already allowed him to achieve many successes at only 14 years old. Snowy the Mouse had the opportunity to chat with Winston to gain more insight into his musical passion, how he spends the holidays with family and friends…and he even shares a delicious pumpkin pie recipe his mom makes for his family each Christmas. Trust us…it’s delicious so you’ll definitely will want to read on!
So…join us on this inspiring journey as we introduce you to musical genius, Winston Schneider.
STM: Winston, let’s start from the beginning…where did you grow up?
SCHNEIDER: I grew up in the great city of Omaha in the wonderful state of Nebraska.
STM: Knowing this talent and passion began at an early age, when did you know that composing was something you wanted to pursue?
SCHNEIDER: I started piano lessons 29 days after my fifth birthday. It was fun for me to play the pieces I was learning in all different keys with different articulations and rhythms. I would also come up with different endings for my pieces that I liked better. This led to the beginning of my compositional journey.
STM: Did your parents know from an early age that you possessed this wonderful talent?
SCHNEIDER: My parents didn’t realize it was unusual that I was playing the piano in all different keys, and I was their first child. It was when they discovered I had absolute pitch that they realized it was unusual.
(Pictured below: Winston recording piano.)
STM: What was the very first piece you wrote and what was the inspiration?
SCHNEIDER: The first two pieces I ever composed were, “Snowman, Snowman, Don’t You Melt,” and “A Cicada named Fada.” I always loved the outdoors and I enjoy studying and observing insects as a hobby. I’ve been writing about them ever since I started composing. To me they’re like little aliens and are fascinating to observe.
STM: Do insects play a large part in creating the inspiration to write new pieces?
SCHNEIDER: My chief musical inspirations are insects, the music of the great composers and books. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve caught, studied, and released over 100 different species of insects, arachnids, and other arthropods. I have many pieces inspired by insects. One is a solo flute piece called, “Trying to Catch a Cloudless Sulphur.” This piece was about my childhood memories of when I would go butterfly catching across the street to a place my family calls “Dandelion Park,” because it’s filled with dandelions in the spring. I would catch Cloudless Sulphur butterflies, take them home, observe them and then release them. A Cloudless Sulphur is mostly yellow, and looks like a corn chip. I actually would name them Corn Chip I, Corn Chip II, and so on and so forth. This piece was specifically about the first time I didn’t catch any. This was very distressing to my six-year old self.
(Pictured: A younger Winston holding a cloudless sulphur butterfly, which he wrote a piece about.)
STM: Tell me about a unique performance the stands out.
SCHNEIDER: The most unusual performance I’ve had was at the MTNA state piano competition in 2019. I walked onto the stage ready to perform, but when I sat down, I saw there was blood smeared across the white keys of the grand piano. What I found out later was that the person who played before me had a cut that had bled. I decided to start playing anyway, and after my performance, I notified the competition staff. I’ll always remember the sound of one of the officials cleaning off the keys. I ended up winning the competition, but I was happiest that I didn’t let the blood on the keys distract me from my performance.
STM: Yes, that definitely would make for an interesting performance! What about composers…who are some of your favorites?
SCHNEIDER: Whenever I make my breakfast each morning, I always listen to my favorite pieces by my favorite composers, such as Bruckner, Brahms, Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky.
STM: Is it easy to come up with new ideas for your music?
SCHNEIDER: I hear musical ideas in my head. I sometimes will hum such ideas as I write them down. One time, I had been waiting for an inspiration for the Covid-19 piece that was a commission. I finally had an inspiration on the way home from swim team practice, and I told my mom not to talk all the way home, so I could work on it and develop it in my head.
STM: Well, that was nice of your mom! Tell us, how long does it usually take for you to write something new?
SCHNEIDER: It takes anywhere from an afternoon to several months to write a piece.
STM: So, on average, how does that equate to the time spent each day to work on your projects?
SCHNEIDER: How much time I can spend composing varies. This week, I have to spend time recording some piano pieces for a competition. I also have a deadline for a viola and marimba piece on December 1st, and I’m working toward that deadline. I’m also working on a new symphony in B-flat minor.
Pictured above: Following along with the score during the recording.
STM: It all sounds amazing! In addition to writing for several instruments, which ones do you play?
SCHNEIDER: I’ve played the piano since I was five, and the cello since I was seven. I played hockey for a couple of years when I was little, but my mom liked piano because she didn’t have to worry about me getting hurt. But in one of my early lessons, I actually fell off the bench backwards and hit my head on the concrete floor. I guess it is possible to injure yourself while playing the piano.
(Pictured: Winston with his piano teacher, Anne Madison, after winning the state MTNA piano competition.)
STM: So, we know you like to write music…let’s talk about reading. Do you have any favorite books you enjoy during your downtime?
SCHNEIDER: In regards to books, I really enjoy J.R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. These have been the inspirations for some of my pieces, such as, “The Battle of Five Armies” for winds, brass, and percussion, and “Festival in Hobbiton,” a string octet.
STM: What about the past year…how did the changes play into your schedule?
SCHNEIDER: The 2020 summer of COVID-19 was a great time in my life. I’d compose for most of the day and then go play outside with my cousins at an open field next to the grave-site of my grandfather. Then I’d come home, have dinner, and then compose until really late at night. The next morning, I’d wake up and do it all again. Six months later, I had three completed symphonies. Sometimes I long for those days… no homework and no other activities…
STM: What do your friends think of all of your accomplishments?
SCHNEIDER: Right now, my friends and cousins and I love to play poker. When we get together, we play poker, football, then poker again. We don’t really talk much about things that aren’t related to whatever game we’re playing at the time.
(Pictured below: Winston after hearing the premiere of one of his compositions.)
STM: What about new projects…what do you have coming up?
SCHNEIDER: I’m currently working on a commission for KVNO, Omaha’s classical music station, for their 50th anniversary. It’s a 20 minute full-orchestra piece.
STM: Do you work on commissions often?
SCHNEIDER: I value commissions. I believe they present unique challenges and opportunities because commissions often have boundaries that other pieces that I compose for fun don’t have. When It comes to commissions, I spend a lot of time thinking about ideas for a new piece, and once an idea comes, the piece usually comes together.
STM: I heard about your Christmas duet with composer, Jackson Berkey, the co-founder of Mannheim Steamroller. How did this project come about?
SCHNEIDER: Jackson’s been a friend for a long time. We have the same sense of humor. Whenever I say, “well,” he’ll always respond by saying, “that’s a deep subject.” He’ll also sometimes say that he just got out of the hospital with a “hemiola,” which is actually a sophisticated rhythmic device. I find those things really funny. One time, he had told me a funny story about his aunt, grandfather, and the folk song “Turkey and the Straw.” During that same occasion, I had to perform a Beethoven Sonata. In the middle of the piece, I started to think about the story, and I actually laughed while I was playing one section of the piece. For the duet, he re-worked “Christmas Day in the Morning,” his arrangement of “I Saw Three Ships” to be for four hands. We had a fun time recording it that day.
STM: So now that we know a little bit more about this holiday duet, what about some of your own favorite Christmas activities with your family?
SCHNEIDER: Christmastime is one of my favorite times of year. There are a few things I really enjoy. Last year, my cousins Luke and Clover, my sister Giselle, and I, who all are taught piano by the same teacher, performed an eight-hands arrangement of “Silent Night” for an all-piano chamber music Christmas Recital. This year, we’re playing, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” It’s fun to play Christmas songs with my sister and cousins. In addition, last year was also the first year my family went to a Christmas tree farm and picked out a real tree for Christmas. We’re doing that again this year, and I’m personally hoping we select a Douglas Fir.
(Pictured: 8 Hands Holiday Piano Piece with Winston, his sister Giselle, and cousins Luke and Clover.)
STM: Is there a gift that you are really hoping for this year?
SCHNEIDER: There are two ways I like listening to music. One way is playing YouTube videos on my iPad of symphonies, where you can watch the players and the conductor, and also I like playing CDs of my favorite composers in my room. This Christmas I’m asking for a CD of Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies no 4, 5, & 6, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan, my favorite conductor.
STM: Treats are always a big part of the holidays. Is there a special recipe that your family makes each Christmas?
SCHNEIDER: This is my family’s favorite…a gluten-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie. My mom makes a lot of these this time of year, and they are almost always gone in a day.
STM: That sounds delicious!
What about your favorite Christmas movie?
Santa Claus is Coming to Town is my favorite Christmas movie.
And your favorite Christmas song?
My favorite Christmas song is, “Oh Holy Night.”
STM: Snow days are always fun in the winter. What is your favorite thing to do on a day off?
SCHNEIDER: I love going sledding with my sister, cousins, and friends when the conditions are adequate. Dandelion Park is my family’s optimal sledding location. When snowplows clear the nearby parking lot, there are some very high mounds of snow that are ripe terrain for a snowball fight.
STM: And finally, Winston, what is it about Christmas that inspires you?
SCHNEIDER: Five years ago I would have said Santa Claus, but now I say the birth of Jesus.
Looking for a an easy and delicious dessert for the holidays? Try this easy pumpkin pie recipe, straight from the kitchen of Winston’s mom, Heather. Made using gluten-free and dairy-free ingredients, it is sure to add some cheer to all of your celebrations with family and friends.
Heather’s Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie
1 unbaked gluten-free pie crust (homemade or store-bought)
15 ounces unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/2 cup almond milk (or another dairy-free milk)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1.Whisk the unsweetened pumpkin puree, almond milk, pure maple syrup, eggs, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, sea salt, and ground cloves in a medium-size mixing bowl until well blended.
2.Pour filling into the prepared unbaked pie shell and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes. The pie is completely cooked through when a toothpick inserted int he center of the pie comes out clean.
3.Allow to cool completely before serving. Top with almond or coconut whipped cream, if desired.