NORTHDALE — A nervous 13-year-old showed up to audition with a pawn shop guitar.
He played Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.
Classical arts teachers at Blake High School offered him a spot that day. He accepted, turning down an invitation to an International Baccalaureate program at another school.
"I knew right away I wanted to be there," said Luis Rosado-Bermudez, now 17.
Earlier this week, Luis took the stage at Blake for a solo at the school's annual Tapestry performance. His fingers scurried as he played Recuerdos de la Alhambra, a piece that gives the illusion of more than one instrument.
Five years earlier, he had come to Tampa from Puerto Rico with his mother after his parents divorced. She hoped for opportunities for her children and encouraged them to find a passion.
Luis' early musical tastes evolved and he fell for the beauty of classical music at Blake.
As a sophomore, he toured Florida State University, where he hopes to go next year, and talked to the director of the guitar program, Bruce Holzman, who encouraged him to practice four hours a day.
Sometimes in the summer he ups it to six hours.
His tastes grew to echo music from his heritage, which he traces to Spain.
When he plays a flamenco rhythm, his peers ask him where he learned it.
"I don't know," he says. "I feel like it comes naturally to me."
His role models are Isaac Albéniz, who started on the piano; Pepe Romero, who aims to reach the common man; and Jose Feliciano, who started on a $10 guitar his father got him.
Luis can relate.
His mother is a college student, studying to be a chemistry teacher. His stepfather is a self-employed handyman. They have three more children at home.
Luis replaced his pawn shop guitar with one borrowed from the school. He carries it with him on his 90-minute bus ride to the school, uses it for three guitar classes daily and then plays it at home from 7 to 9 p.m.
"I take it everywhere," he said.
He also keeps a 5.1 weighted grade point average.
John Parris, his guitar teacher at Blake, sometimes covers his fees to perform in competitions.
About two months ago, he ranked in the top 4 percent of competitors at the National YoungArts Foundation.
"I don't really think about it," Parris said. "He's the kind of student without a lot of support, who is determined to be successful."
Other times, the fees are covered by the school's guitar department fund, money students raise through concerts, like the one Luis recently performed in. This year, Luis' costs tally $350. His grandparents in Puerto Rico sent him some money to pay back the school.
It's a temporary sacrifice, Luis feels certain. After college, he plans to tour the world performing.
But when he graduates this year, he won't have a guitar of his own.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.