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Piano phenom Caleb Spjute prevails against adversity in his quest to play music

Oct 04, 2018 02:04PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Caleb Spjute taught himself to play by age four. (Photo courtesy Caleb Spjute)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Everyone probably knows someone who is a child prodigy, whether it be in music, sports or science. And many of those prodigies would probably confess that they have had to overcome stage fright or performance anxiety. Many, however, have not had to overcome what Murray’s piano phenom Caleb Spjute has had to face by having Tourette’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and being on the autism spectrum.

A good-looking kid, Caleb fits right in as a junior at Murray High School. However, he really shines behind a keyboard and has too many accolades to enumerate. Most recently, he won first place in the junior division solo piano competition at the University of Utah.

Like a duck taking to water, Caleb taught himself to play the piano at age four. Caleb said, “When I was four years old, my brother was the one playing the piano, and I felt like I wanted to try that because it looked fun. Even though my brother didn't continue the piano, I decided to go ahead and start learning the notes, the rhythms, and the staff without having a piano teacher. Instead, I played through the method books we could find, and eventually I started wanting to play some real songs.”

His parents picked up on his talent and started downloading sheet music online, and soon thereafter, he was playing songs like “The Entertainer” and “Für Elise.” By the time he was seven, he was studying piano with a music professor at the University of Utah.

“After I started elementary school, I decided I knew my answer to the important question of ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I wanted to be a piano player. Other kids always said they wanted to be athletes or astronauts, but their answers varied from year to year. But not mine. I was starting to believe that the piano was my calling,” stated Caleb.

Becca Spjute, his mom, remarked, “I don’t want people to look at Caleb all of a sudden like he has autism and he’s got issues. In my opinion, high functioning autism is more of a gift than a disability. I believe all of Caleb’s ‘quirks,’ so to speak, have, in different ways, actually helped him develop his talents more.”

Indeed, Caleb now composes music in addition to playing it. “The first several songs I composed were for the PTA Reflections contests held at local schools. With my knowledge of music, I wrote a story down using no words, but melody. However, I later became drawn to the idea of arranging songs that were already written to give them more personal meaning.”

In addition to performing and winning at competitive music recitals, Caleb won the Audience Favorite Award and took second overall at Murray’s Got Talent. He won the talent competition at West Valley’s WestFest. He also has played with the Utah Philharmonic Orchestra and Salt Lake Symphony.

“I listen to him practice piano and see him working on music or arranging things for choir or his sisters’ violin, or enjoy how he can play me any song just by hearing it on the radio, and I don’t think too much of it,” explained Becca. “To me, it is just Caleb and what he does. But then I can be sitting in an audience watching him play with the Salt Lake Symphony or listening to him accompany the choir singing a piece he arranged, and it is in that moment that I am amazed by what he can do and how honored I am to be his mom.” 

The world is starting to take notice of Caleb, as he has participated in the Great Composer Series International Competitions where he placed in Best Liszt Performance, Best Schumann Performance, Best Rachmaninoff Performance, Best Schubert Performance, and Best Beethoven Performance.

For Caleb though, it is all about playing music. “When I play piano, I play it for the world. I feel like I'm sharing my energy with others and spreading happiness through music.”