Elias Phoenix appears to be a typical kid until his little fingers touch the keys on a piano.
Then, orchestral music rises from the piano and the 7-year-old belies his age by playing like a classically-trained adult.
"I know it's not from my teaching," said his mom, Bree Phoenix. "He's got a lot of talent."
Phoenix started giving Elias and his twin brother, Zion, piano lessons when the boys were about 3. As a child and teen, Phoenix had received lessons on the French horn. But she taught herself to play the piano.
The twins instantly took to the piano. So, Phoenix got not one but two baby grand pianos. In no time, the boys moved from Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star to more difficult compositions.
Phoenix thought the boys possessed some talent, but she did not really have anyone to compare them with. She didn't know if they were average or really good.
One morning, Elias said he dreamed about playing at Carnegie Hall in New York City, one of the most famous concert venues in the world. Phoenix subsequently learned about the American Protégé International Music Talent Competition and that winners got to play at Carnegie Hall. Zion wasn't interested, but Elias begged to submit video footage of him on the piano.
Phoenix sent it in, not sure his piano skills would match children who play hours a day with costly and often highly rated teachers. But Elias' performance won second place in the American Protégé competition and he earned the right to go to New York City. He will play at Carnegie Hall on Saturday.
Phoenix beams about her son's opportunity, and Elias expressed excitement about performing in the "big, gigantic, golden place" and visiting New York.
"I've always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty," Elias said. "It's famous."
Elias adds he is not scared to perform at the famous hall or to play in front of a big crowd.
His mom will worry for him.
"I get to be the nervous wreck," Phoenix said. "They never get scared to perform."
Phoenix, who grew up in Clearwater, gave birth to Elias and Zion in Nebraska. Phoenix moved back to the area when the twins were 1, settling in Brandon.
The boys' waist-length golden locks are rooted in the tough times following their birth. They were born at 30 weeks, each just under 3 pounds, and stayed in the hospital about five weeks. Nurses poked and prodded the boys, often shaving their hair to insert IVs.
When they left the hospital, Phoenix pledged she wouldn't cut their hair and she hasn't. The boys say they like their long hair, even though peers occasionally tease them.
Elias is the oldest of the fraternal twins, by one minute. Right now, Zion is the tallest. The boys are best buddies and proud of each other's accomplishments, but they are competitive.
"When one gets it, the other one is right behind," Phoenix said, shaking her head and laughing. "They love to figure things out."
Elias likes the piano because he says it sounds "magical." He likes to play classical music the best and calls Mozart his favorite pianist. He also loves to sing and play the cello.
Zion likes the piano, violin and singing. He also loves to draw. He recently earned a first-place award at the Center Place Fine Arts & Civic Association in Brandon. He drew a colorful picture of a pirate ship.
"I like to draw things that look realistic," Zion explained.
Elias and Zion generally play classical music, but also are fond of pop music. They love to rap, citing Macklemore as one of their favorite artists.
Recognizing the boys' love of music and performing, Phoenix suggested they do a show at their great-grandmother's nursing home in Clearwater. They loved it, so she found nursing homes closer to home where they can perform. It's fun for the boys and the residents.
The twins recently performed at the Alafia Village Assisted Living & Memory Care Community in Brandon. They moved from classical pieces on the piano to singing Katy Perry's Roar to rapping every line of Macklemore's Thrift Shop. The residents beamed as the twins performed. Afterward, Elias and Zion chatted with the residents and gave hugs.
"I like this time," Zion said. "They're my friends."
They have a lot of fans at Alafia Village.
"I enjoyed that so much," resident Laura Cooper said. "These kids are wonderful."
Alafia Village's activities director Elaine DeVoe said staff and residents enjoy the twins' visits and are thrilled about Elias' trip to Carnegie Hall.
"I'm so excited for him," she said. "We've got a celebrity now."
Monica Bennett can be reached at [email protected]