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PIANO SOLO FOR SMALL HANDS Boy, 11, to play for farm agents


The only thing holding Jeremy Withnell back from being an exceptional pianist is the size of his hands.

The Westminster 11-year-old's fingers fly through Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Solfeggietto, which he will play for the National Association of County Agricultural Agents next month in Baltimore. But when it comes to a piece that requires a stretch to reach the notes, Jeremy says he can fall a little short.

"Just recently, I can do an octave, and that's on the tips of my fingers," he said, demonstrating on his family's upright piano.

After 3 1/2 years of lessons, Jeremy is one of 13 people chosen from several states to perform for the association's convention. The three-day event Aug. 22-25 will draw agents from across the United States.

Taneytown resident Jenell Rinehart, the 1990 Maryland Farm Queen, was also chosen from the 60 entrants. She will sing.

Jeremy, who will be a sixth-grader at Westminster West Middle School in the fall, said, "It's going to be one of the best experiences of my life, I bet."

After he won last year's county 4-H talent show, local extension agents thought he should audition for the convention show, said Jeremy, who is president of the Westminster Eagles 4-H Club. But he didn't really think he'd be chosen, he said. Then the letter arrived.

"When I opened it up, I expected it to say, 'Yes, we liked your piece, but it wasn't good enough.' But when I saw it said 'Congratulations,' I knew I had won."

His second surprise was when he realized that the association was paying for him to stay in Baltimore for three days, attend an Orioles baseball game, be part of a professional photo session during dress rehearsal and be videotaped during his performance.

"It was really neat when I found out I wasn't just going down for one night," Jeremy said. He said he was also surprised at the likely size of his audience.

"I knew I was playing in the [Baltimore] Convention Center, but then Mom found out that 1,500 people were going to be there," said Jeremy, who has played for 60 people at most during a recital. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do when I walk up there."

Jeremy's love affair with the piano began when he was very young and visiting his great-grandmother's house.

"She had the piano, and I liked to fool around on it," he said. "She said that when she died, she would give us the piano so I could start taking lessons."

After a short span of home tutoring, Jeremy began taking private lessons. His teacher is now Deborah Long of Westminster.

"When I started out, Mom was teaching me a little because she knew notes from playing the flute," he said. "Then I started taking lessons and went through about four books in a year."

The budding musician also plays the clarinet -- found on one of his frequent excursions in the basement -- and the xylophone. But Jeremy says he likes his piano best.

"I like the sound better than other instruments," he said. "I like to see my fingers and hear the sound. It's not like you really can see what you're playing with other instruments."

In addition to considering a career in music, Jeremy said he might like to be a marine mammalogist or an archaeologist.

"Marine mammalogy is not really known, and I like manatees and whales and all kinds of things in the sea," he said. "For archaeology, I like to find things about olden times and old civilizations."

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