Crowd­fund­ing Juil­liard

T.O. trum­pet prodigy raises tu­ition on­line

The Kids Post - - Extracurriculars - — Ju­dith Muster

Wil­liam Leathers had 10 min­utes to prove him­self. That’s the length of a Juil­liard au­di­tion for mu­sic per­for­mance, and there could hardly be a more de­ci­sive wisp of time in an as­pir­ing mu­si­cian’s life.

Af­ter his pre-screen­ing es­says and au­dio sam­ples were ac­cepted, Leathers flew from his Toron­toarea home to the pres­ti­gious Man­hat­tan in­sti­tu­tion this February and played trum­pet for four judges who scarcely moved a mus­cle. The 17-year-old was un­fazed.

“I said thank you and I left. It felt re­ally good, and I think I sounded good,” Leathers says. “So long as I was 100 per cent pre­pared, which I was, there was no need to be ner­vous.”

He was right — there was no need to be ner­vous. Af­ter devot­ing much of his post–high school gap year to au­di­tion prep (up to five hours of trum­pet daily), Leathers was one of only three trum­peters ad­mit­ted into Juil­liard’s un­der­grad per­for­mance pro­gram. Ad­mis­sion is the hard part. Very few have to face the mas­sive tu­ition bill that fol­lows. Four years at Juil­liard (in­clud­ing hous­ing) costs $394,000 Cana­dian dol­lars, and the Leathers fam­ily had not yet de­ter­mined how they would pay, be­yond the $25,500 they had ready. Thank­fully, a close fam­ily friend started an on­line YouCar­ing fundraiser in April.

Within the first week, the goal of $65,500 for the first year of tu­ition was met, and by Au­gust, over $100,000 had been raised.

“We are some­what sur­prised how peo­ple have re­sponded in sup­port­ing him,” says Leathers’ mom Donna. “I think 90 per cent of the peo­ple who donated on­line don’t know him. They’ve never met him, and they’ve never re­ally heard him play. It just goes to show that peo­ple are good and like to see oth­ers do good as well.”

Prob­a­bly if they were to hear him play, his donors would re­dou­ble their ef­forts to sup­port him. Leathers is ev­ery inch the prodigy you’ve al­ready guessed he might be. He started pi­ano at age four, want­ing to im­i­tate Oswald the pi­ano-play­ing car­toon oc­to­pus. (In it­self, this was an early sign of Leathers’ am­bi­tion, what with the eight hands.) And trum­pet was soon to fol­low, given that Leathers’ fa­ther is a pro­fes­sional trum­pet player and teacher.

“As soon as I had enough adult teeth to be able to buzz, so at age six or seven, I started learn­ing trum­pet,” Leathers says. “I just worked with my dad un­til I was 12, and he taught me most of the fun­da­men­tals. It was teach­ing but it was all fa­ther-son mo­ments at the same time.”

This might con­jure up the im­age of a de­mand­ing taskmas­ter par­ent push­ing his only child to ex­cel in ac­cor­dance with his own ex­per­tise. But that is not the Leathers fam­ily story. As the younger trum­peter tells it, the only de­mand ever placed on him was that he play a duet with his dad, Howard.

“All he wanted mu­si­cally was just to be able to play a tune to­gether, and he got that when I was four or five. I was play­ing pi­ano and he was play­ing trum­pet,” says Leathers. “He wouldn’t care less if I be­came a den­tist, and my mom just wants me to be suc­cess­ful. They’re pretty much just proud of me.”

Driven by his own pas­sion for mu­sic, Leathers plans to pur­sue a master’s and a PhD.

The on­line fundraiser, now hosted by GoFundMe, con­tin­ues — but with a twist. Seek­ing to raise an­other $160,000, Leathers came up with a way to share the gen­eros­ity he’s been shown: he’ll use 10 per cent of the fi­nal amount raised to start a foun­da­tion for other artists who are in need of fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for their ed­u­ca­tion. And if enough is raised to cover all four years of school, ev­ery ex­tra dol­lar be­yond that amount will also go to the foun­da­tion.

But for now, with his first year cov­ered, Leathers is off to Juil­liard. Doubt­less he will make his sup­port­ers proud.

Leathers has played pi­ano since he was four and trum­pet since he was seven

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