SPRING HILL — When he was 9 months old, Joshua McNeeley crawled over to the small grand piano his parents had just bought, pulled himself up and began to play on the keys.
"That's just always been him," said his mother, Kim, a church pianist who began giving lessons to her son when he was 3, along with his older brother, Michael. "I never had to tell Joshua to practice. He just took off."
After five years of lessons on the piano and two on the violin, 8-year-old Joshua will have the chance to share his abilities with an audience when he joins world-class concert pianist Gregor Breier for a number or two. Breier's concert is at 6 p.m. Sunday at Spring Hill Baptist Church.
Breier will visit the church as part of his 21st tour throughout the United States and Canada with the Word of Life ministry of Germany.
"It will be fun to play something with Joshua at the concert," Breier said.
Joshua, who is used to playing special numbers at services and with the church orchestra, said he is excited to be playing Sunday.
"I'm going to play To God Be the Glory with Mr. Breier," he said. "It's one of my favorites. I like the tune to it."
The Rev. Ray Rouse is also excited about Joshua's opportunity.
"I think it's great," said Rouse, who is Joshua's grandfather and the church's pastor. "I think he'll enjoy Gregor and Gregor will enjoy him."
Rouse said Joshua is a sweet-natured boy who loves music and runs to the piano as soon as he gets up in the morning.
"He can sight-read very well, or he can play by ear. He just has a natural ability."
Recently, Joshua played the violin for 45 minutes at a wedding, Rouse said.
"He can do classical, hymns, anything," Rouse said. "I've been a pastor for over 40 years, and I've never seen anything like it."
McNeeley concurs with her father that her son has a special talent.
"He has a gift to hear notes and sounds that I just don't hear," she said. "He can tell you what a note is, if you play one on the piano. I could never do that. He's always singing, always humming. He's very musically inclined."
McNeeley, who began playing piano at age 6, said Joshua will soon surpass her ability to teach him.
"I'm good at playing for church music, but he goes beyond," she said. "Two years ago, he told me he wanted to learn how to play something else, so I asked what and he said he wanted to learn how to play the violin."
The choir director at the church, Dianna Prichard, began teaching Joshua to play the violin.
"Since he already knew how to read music and already had some amount of instruction in music, all he had to learn is how it works," McNeeley said. "He also plays mandolin."
McNeeley said Joshua is looking forward to talking with Breier.
"For him, it's the opportunity to talk with someone that can understand the way he thinks and the things he likes," she said.
Breier also began his musical career at a young age. At 9, he began playing the piano with the Braunschweig Symphony Orchestra in Germany. By his mid 20s, Breier had followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps to become the third-generation conductor of the orchestra.
"I think back to the time when I was 8 years of age, that is when I did my first steps toward becoming a musician," Breier said in an interview from Germany last week. "A beginning is always difficult, and it is so important that young people have parents and teachers to back them up and stand with them. The most important thing for a young musician is to help him learn the discipline of practicing every day."
Breier's own life changed, he said, when he received Christ at age 20. After conducting the orchestra for five years, he attended a 1990 concert in Berlin given by Word of Life. He decided that he would use his musical talent as a platform to preach the Gospel.
"When I was 8, I never thought about what would become of me. I only knew that it was important for me to practice and to get better at what I was doing," Breier said. "Later, after I received Christ, I realized that God was the one who gave me this gift. God was working in me, preparing me for the future."
Joshua said his musical gift is from God as well.
"I just think I want to play for God, no matter where I am," he said, "because he gave me that ability."
So far, Joshua's most memorable public performance was when he played at his other grandfather's funeral in February.
"I played Amazing Grace," he said. "I was glad I was playing for my grandfather."
Said Breier: "It is very important for me to tell everyone, whether young or old, that our life has purpose; otherwise (God) would have taken us to heaven.
"Our goal should be to think of others that we can influence with our gifts and not to think about money, success and being well known in this world. That will never bring satisfaction. Only serving God with our gifts will bring true satisfaction."