Meet Nazareth's "Whiz Kids" Garrett and Brennen Van Helmondt

Garrett and Brennen Van Helmondt entertain local nursing home residents with classical music and jazz.

This week's "Whiz Kids" may hail from Forks Township, but it's what they do for the residents of Alexandria Manor and Gracedale that makes them Nazareth's "Whiz Kids."

It all started when Garrett and Brennen Van Helmondt visited a local nursing home with their mother, Gail-Marie Van Helmondt. The boys didn't like seeing the resident sitting around with nothing to do, Gail-Marie said, so they asked if they could play a few songs on an upright piano.

Approval was granted -- the rest is history.

“They love playing for the [senior citizens], and the feeling is reciprocal” Gail-Marie said. “They have grown so much and learned about caring, and giving time, energy and love to others.”

Garrett and Brennen now head to Manor Care in Palmer Township every week, but they also stop by Gracedale in Upper Nazareth Township and in Nazareth once a month.

“We’ve all made friends there,” Gail-Marie said. “They’re so giving.”

Garrett, 10, and Brennen, 7, both said that they look at the residents as their grandparents.

Betty Sweitezer, a resident at Manor Care, told Garrett, “I think you play beautifully.”

As Garrett plays, Brennen adds a little spice to the show by spinning the hula-hoop to three or four songs.

“It would be boring if I did it to all of them,” Brennen added.

Both boys play a variety of classical and jazz songs. Garrett has about 35 songs memorized, and Brennen has about 19 songs memorized, they said.

Gail-Marie explained that the boys learned to play the piano through the Suzuki method. Students who use this Japanese method learn to play music by ear first, and then learn to read music.

Garrett and Brennen have been taking lessons from Lori Huth in Nazareth for three years, Gail-Marie said.

“Everything they are I attribute to her,” the boys' mother said. “They were playing really very difficult pieces early.”

Although Garrett can play jazz, his love is classical music. His favorite song is “Sonatina in A Minor” by Georg Benda, because it's fast, he said.

“I really like fast songs,” Garrett said.

Brennen’s favorite song is "Toccatina" by Dmitri Kabalevsky. He said he’s still learning the song, but he really likes it.

“It’s very bouncy,” Brennen said. “You bounce your hands up and down when you play it.”

The boys practice every day for about an hour, but they love it, according to Gail-Marie, who added that Garrett has wanted to play the piano since his first birthday. When he could finally ask to learn and play, Gail-Marie and her husband bought a piano.

“That’s a really expensive piece of furniture if he doesn’t like it,” Gail-Marie joked.

In addition to playing for residents at local nursing homes, Garrett and Brennen have performed at Musikfest in 2010 and 2011, and at an honors recital for the Lehigh Valley Chapter PMTA (Pennsylvania Music Teachers Association) Achievement Awards.

At the in Nazareth -- where the boys are in fifth and second grades -- they have performed in talent shows and they participate in sports. Both have won awards in track and field events, and in May, Garrett won second place in the school's Science Fair.

But that's not all -- the boys also are members of Northampton County 4-H. One time, Gail-Marie and the boys arranged to bring in goats, lambs, llamas and chickens to both Manor Care and Gracedale, she said.

They wanted to “introduce their senior friends to their 4-H friends and animals,” she added.

To listen to Garrett play "Linus and Lucy" -- with help from an adorable Snoopy (Brennen) -- click here.

To listen to Brennen play at Musikfest, click here.


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