Playing by ear sets him free

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Self-taught pianist Hertzog Burger has only been playing jazz for a year but already fits the mould.

The 16-year-old Wakatipu High pupil credits a “gift” of being able to play by ear instead of reading
music as the key to his natural ability.

“Jazz is definitely one of my favourites because you can go loose – there’re no rules and you can do what you feel.

“With other styles you have to follow a pattern through sheet music. In jazz you can do whatever you want,” Hertzog says.

He’ll be putting his skill to the test at this weekend’s Jumpstart youth jazz competition, where he’ll perform two solo pieces, including an original composition.

Originally from South Africa, Hertzog was inspired to play piano by his grandfather – who also played by ear. “He taught me a few basic songs and then I just started teaching myself.

“I used to put numbers on cellotape and put them on the keys because I didn’t read the notes.

“Now I can read any hard piece of music but it just takes me a while to get it. I know I’m progressing.”

The Year 11 student skipped NCEA Level One performance and went straight to Level Two for his first year of senior music.

Inspired by former Wakatipu High pupil David Bell and music teacher Alison Price, Hertzog is the main pianist for school band Best Served Chilled, which is entering Jumpstart as a group.

Hertzog sees this weekend’s comp as a good opportunity for exposure – he eventually wants to become a full-time musician.

“I’m entering to become really confident in crowds and to get experience. I love playing in front of people and sharing what I do.”