By Paul Natinsky
The idea of a traveling musician conjures images of gaily-clad troubadours or fedora-wearing itinerant bluesmen, not 16-year-old piano prodigies. Enter Michael Najor, a sophomore at Bloomfield Hills High School.
Michael, who trains at Axis Music Academy in Birmingham, in April played a surprise birthday mini-concert at a local nursing home for 95-year-old WWII veteran Hal, a celebration arranged by his daughter Teresa Price. Hal’s “concert” featured such tunes as “Moonlight Sonata in D-Minor” and “Gymnopedie in D-Minor.”
“It was a highlight for both of us, it was very emotional, it was very well received,” said Michael’s mom, Cheri Najor. She said Michael will play almost anywhere for anyone. He has tickled the ivories at his church, Renaissance Unity, as well as various farmers markets and charities for multiple sclerosis and cancer.
“It’s a great feeling to entertain,” said Michael. “I love seeing people enjoying what I’m playing. It’s an awesome experience.”
“Michael has been identified not only as a talented musician, but as a musician with a big heart,” said Cheri. “So when things like this come up, he is often asked to play.”
Cheri played piano as a child and insisted that Michael take lessons beginning at age 5. She said there were difficult periods when he was a young child and learning the complex instrument became emotionally frustrating. Michael pushed through that with Cheri’s help. By the time he was 13, he was fully committed.
This summer, Michael will head for Interlochen, the northern Michigan camp for musicians, actors and artists that boasts scores of graduates working professionally in the arts.
In addition to performing, Michael’s interests include music theory, composing original music and original arrangements of existing tunes.
The popular television series, “Game of Thrones,” along with its now-classic theme song, proved a temptation for Michael, who rearranged it as a ragtime tune. To Cheri’s delight, the arrangement acted as a salve to lighten the blow of the less-than-spectacular final episode. Cheri, like many GOT fans, found the show’s end, widely regarded as ham-handed storytelling, disappointing. “I’m in depression along with the rest of the world,” said Cheri. “I’m hanging my head and just shuffling along the road with how the series ended.”
Cheri said Michael has perfect pitch and can play almost anything after hearing it, a trait he shares with Cheri. He is also able to identify notes by name upon hearing them, something Cheri cannot do. The pair are the only ones with musical talent in their family.
Other than music, Michael’s full focus is on academics. He maintains a 3.9 grade point average and plans to attend the University of Michigan. It is not yet clear if Michael will pursue a career in music through his college days or beyond, said Cheri. Michael dabbled in sports and enjoys playing basketball recreationally, but he always finds himself returning to music.
“He likes his dog, he likes piano, he likes basketball and he loves his mother,” said Cheri.Michael is very proud of his Chaldean heritage, said Cheri.
“He’s a kid who helps raise money and raise spirits,” she said.
Cheri is glad that she encouraged Michael to pursue playing music at an early age. She regrets not staying with it when she was a kid, although she still remembers how to play all of the songs she learned back then.“
I just wanted him to have the gift of music for a lifetime. There’s a lot of things you can give your kids, but you want to give them something that will last forever; and I truly knew that music is forever.”
She advises parents to make sure their kids stick with music. “If they have the most remote interest, have that be the one thing that you require them to fulfill because there’s never been an adult in the history of the world that has said, ‘I’m glad I quit playing.’”
“When Michael was little, I would come behind him and he would cry. He would say, ‘I can’t do it, it’s too hard, I can’t, I can’t.’ I would sit with him and I would say, ‘just so you know, it’s not about the music anymore, now it’s about your ability to stick with something and get through your feelings. So, let’s do this together.’”
Judging from the course of events after those early days, Cheri turned out to be right.