Teen of many talents Mack Berry to perform at Flying Camel
It’s a duck. It’s a wizard. It’s. ... Mack Berry.
Berry, the winner of the 2019 Teens Have Talent competition presented by Washington County Free Library, finds that there is plenty of talent out there when it comes to playing piano. Listening to it is nice but watching can be humdrum.
The 18-year-old Smithsburg resident is carving a niche for himself not only as a standout pianist, but as one who often ups the ante on entertainment by throwing in a side of visual appeal through whimsical props and costumes.
During his semifinal performance for Teens Have Talent at The Maryland Theatre last March, Berry performed a rendition of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards in Winter” dressed in an elaborate wizard costume. Before playing, he hit center stage nearly unrecognizable under a long white beard and took a commanding and theatrical bow.
On Friday, Nov. 29, at The Flying Camel Literary Cafe and Piano Bar, Berry’s look might be toned down, but his music won’t. During his monthly gigs at the piano bar, Berry hasn’t figured out a way just yet to fully incorporate his costumes, but he keeps the keys lively playing classical tunes, jazz standards and unique arrangements of contemporary favorites. “Wizards in Winter” has become a staple, along with “Kiss the Rain” by Yiruma.
“‘Careless Whisper’ has gotten a good vibe,” Berry said. “Sometimes I vary things by mixing older songs with newer songs. Sometimes I start with slower songs then build it up. I try to vary the familiarity and speed of songs usually.”
As a young artist, Berry is learning to read the audience, sometimes chatting and telling stories.
“If people are just talking and enjoying themselves, I’ll talk less and play more background as opposed to performance,” he said.
Berry homeschooled and graduated in May through Signature Academies of Frederick, Md. He currently studies vocals with jazz artist Kerensa Gray and piano with Kirk Reese of Messiah College, concentrating on jazz and rock soloing and theory. Born in Baltimore and raised in Hagerstown, his parents Ken and Jennel Berry started him with piano lessons at age three.
“A couple times, I really didn’t want to practice. My parents made me sit down and practice. It was just something I had to do,” Berry said. “Probably when I was like 15 or 16 was when I really actually started to think it was fun. Then it was all I wanted to do.”
That was the age at which he joined a band through Frederick Rock School, started his own YouTube channel, and began to enhance his performances with costumes and props.
“The reason why I use them is because I used to watch piano covers on YouTube all the time. I learned from them but they were so boring to watch. All you see is either hands or full body, but they are kind of sitting there,” he said. “So I got this epiphany and it wouldn’t go away. I tried to make it visually pleasing as well as nice to listen to.”
For his YouTube performance of Coldplays’ “Clocks,” Berry used “a ginormous clock with a bunch of other clocks behind the piano.” For Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” he dressed in an outlandish crocodile costume.
Berry’s Teens Have Talent final round performance piece was an easy choice, as he’d been working on George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and had a costume ready. He took to the stage sporting a snorkel and rubber ducky floatie. When he sat on the piano bench, the duckie’s head hit the piano keys creating a clamor. Berry pragmatically twisted the duck’s bill to his back side and dove into his soulful jazz stylings while the audience roared with laughter.
People have responded favorably to his ensembles both in live performance and on YouTube, providing feedback that “the costumes are a lot of fun.”
The young musician works a day job, plays with two church ministries, performs his solo act, and plays keys and sings with the band Full Effect, a classic rock, soul and country band which – outside of Berry — is comprised of members who are 60 and older.
“They have been playing since they were my age,” he said. “They have so much performance knowledge, musical knowledge, life knowledge.”
Berry said he enjoys playing with the band even more than playing solo.
“I’m not solely responsible for mistakes. If I mess up, they’re there to cover me,” he said. “I learn from them. Also we can dance around together and engage the crowd that way. Oh man, it’s so much fun. I love it.”
For now, Berry plays every chance he gets, building his skills and looking forward to an ongoing career in music.
“Whether being a pianist for a big name singer, or writing my own music, or whatever. I hope to keep playing a variety, to be considered lively and entertaining, engaging and interactive,” he said.
“I would like to become a better musician, a better person, to be able to impact the world with music and use my gifts to bless other people.”
He’d also like to find ways to incorporate his costumes more into his live performances.
“Ideally, that would be really cool, to have a full show, changing props and costumes,” he said. “That would be a long way off. But that’s the dream.”