For John and Joseph Irrera, it all started with an owl who liked to play the saxophone and a little boy who signed up to play the violin without telling his parents.
Joseph and John graduated from Batavia High School in 2000 and 2003, respectively, and since then they have had a quite successful run as a piano-violin duo. On Sunday, they will kick off the "Irrera Brothers Chamber Music Series" at GCC.
The piano is Joseph's instrument of choice. He has been playing since he was 5 years old, and his love for the piano began with, of all things, the saxophone.
"I always watched 'Sesame Street,' " he said, "and there was an owl character who played the saxophone. So I wanted to play the saxophone, too."
Joseph's parents took him to Roxy's Music Store for lessons, only to learn that he was too young for wind instrument lessons.
"(The teachers at Roxy's) suggested starting with the piano," Joseph said. "I wasn't interested. But my parents -- especially my dad -- convinced me. They said that if I started with the piano I would have a good foundation, learn how to read music and get to know rhythm. And then when I actually started to learn the saxophone, it would be much easier."
And he never looked back.
"I started to play the saxophone in fourth grade and continued through high school," he said, "but it never felt like the piano did to me."
Five years later, his little brother John, a first-grader at John Kennedy Elementary School, signed up to play a string instrument.
"(He did it) on his own," Joseph said.
After Christmas, John's mother got a surprise call from string instructor Cindy Baldwin, who said that a spot had opened up for the violin.
And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Joseph and John are both currently studying for their doctorates in Piano Performance and Violin Performance, respectively, at the Eastman School of Music.
They have an impressive repertoire as a performing piano-violin duo that includes frequent performances on the radio station WXXI 91.5 (they will be featured in a noon performance on Wednesday), two performances at Carnegie Hall in New York City (one in 2009, the other in March 2012) and a 10-day tour in Costa Rica in August.
According to Joseph, the piano and violin are "the best pair you can have."
"The great thing about the piano is that it can provide both melody and harmony underneath," he said. "And then the violin is one of the most vocal instruments. It can emote a lot. So they complement each other very nicely. It has been a very popular arrangement to compose for over the centuries and has an extensive repertoire."
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