PENSACOLA — A once-homeless Florida college student is now realizing his dreams after placing in a piano competition that will allow him to perform at Carnegie Hall.
James Matthews, 24, sometimes slept in his instructor's piano studio while he was a student at Florida Southern College. The professor found Matthews a temporary home and helped him enroll at Chipola College in Marianna, where Matthews could afford to stay in a dorm.
After earning his associate's degree, Matthews transferred to the University of West Florida. In January, one of his instructors there suggested he submit a video of himself performing Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 7 for the 2014 American Protege International Piano and Strings Competition.
The Pensacola News Journal reports Matthews was given an honorable mention. As a prize, he will play the Weill Recital Hall at the renowned New York City concert venue on April 20.
"When we entered the competition, it was just taking a risk to see what would happen. (Instructor Heidi Salanki) was really happy for me, but she made sure I started practicing even more," he said.
Matthews' father started teaching him jazz and blues music when he was just 3 years old. In middle school, he worked with a professional piano teacher and started accompanying the school choir.
Matthews was homeless for nearly a year and a half after high school, but he kept up his piano studies. He practices several hours a day and credits his love of music with getting him through his darkest times.
"I always had my piano, and it's always been my escape," he said. "I decided if I never gave up it would get me through life, and it has. I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for music."