10-year-old pianist, composer makes parents proud

Summer Villaverde rehearses her first original composition, “Stars in the Galaxy,” ahead of her February 19 concert at Good Shepard Lutheran Church. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

On Sunday, February 19, 10-year-old artist, pianist and composer Summer Villaverde dazzled an audience of 35 people at Good Shepard Lutheran Church, 1700 N. Towne Ave., Claremont.

The virtuosa performed a 45-minute concert, the sixth in the church’s mid-month adventures in music series, that featured Yuhki Kuramoto’s “Forest” and “Lake Louise,” as well as 11 original works including “Sparkly Gems,” “Funky in E minor,” and “Stars in the Galaxy.” Summer played the entire concert entirely by memory, without sheet music to guide her.

Summer, a fourth grader at Henry Dalton Elementary School in Azusa, has been writing her own music over the last three years. “Stars in the Galaxy” was her first. She’s only been playing piano for four years. She draws inspiration from famed composers Kuramoto, Friedrich Burgmüller, and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach to name a few.

She has no particular method to making music, “I just do it,” she said. She writes in a bright pink notebook filled with composition and piano tips as well as annotations of important musical moments in her life.

In mid-2019, Summer got behind a piano for the first time when Anne Bader, a piano teacher at the Yamaha School of Music in Diamond Bar, hosted a free instruction day. Summer took to the instrument and her parents, Richard and Regina Villaverde, enrolled her.

“I think at first she liked that there was a lot of kids, because she’s the only one at home,” Ms. Villaverde said.

Piano and composing came easily. Edward Zeliff, Good Shepard’s music director and Summer’s composition coach for the last year, says the 10-year old’s music knowledge rivals that of his Claremont Graduate University students, where he’s an adjunct professor of composition. During their Saturday lessons at the church, Zeliff helps Summer play piano and understand Finale, a collegiate-level music notation software.

Summer’s parents never imagined their child would develop such an affinity for music. Early on she much preferred dancing.

“We didn’t know before that she likes to play piano,” Mr. Villaverde said. “We just tried enrolling her in piano school and then …” “Bam!” Summer interjected. “Bam, yea,” Mr. Villaverde said.

Richard and Regina met while living in the Philippines and married in 2000 shortly after graduating college. They immigrated to the United States in 2008, landing in Azusa. Summer was born in 2012.

The couple always wanted a baby but waited until they felt they were ready.

“We wanted to have a backup plan. If I was going to stop working, is this money enough to pay all the bills?” Ms. Villaverde said. “Before her, I worked six days a week and sometimes seven days because we wanted to save money.”

For over a decade, the couple have provided services to clients at Golden Haven Guest Home in Azusa and Sunnyside Guest Home in El Monte, both residential care centers for seniors suffering with mental challenges such as dementia. Mr. Villaverde is the administrator for both facilities while his wife is his assistant.


Summer Villaverde, a 10-year-old pianist and composer, plays without sheet music during her February 19 concert at Good Shepard Lutheran Church. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo


Ms. Villaverde left in June 2012 to give birth to Summer. After nearly eight years she returned to the office. The couple are back to saving to cover Summer’s college tuition, as their parents did for them.

The Villaverdes grew up in the Philippines and say raising a child today is different. Mr. Villaverde remembers going out with friends day or night. Now, as a 43-year-old father in the United States, he’s much more wary about his daughter’s whereabouts.

Ms. Villaverde, also 43, spoke about today’s tech.

“Before, we don’t own a computer. We don’t have cell phones. [Devices] like that,” she said. “Now when you have kids, you have to buy them each and every one of them gadgets. And that gadget is not that safe.

“The internet is dangerous so we make sure that the iPad is in the living or in the kitchen,” she said, for supervision purposes.

Asked about life lessons they teach Summer, the parents said they want her to look beyond the words or numbers in her studies.

“We always tell her that when you study, ‘Put it in your mind and in your heart,’” Ms. Villaverde said. “Anywhere you go, even though papa and I will be gone — we’re not here forever — those are your … tools in life.”


The Villaverde family, Regina and Richard Villaverde and daughter Summer. Summer gave a February 19 concert at good Shepard Lutheran Church. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo


The last 10 years of parenting have been a grand journey for the Villaverdes. Mr. Villaverde said the house is constantly filled with music, thanks to Summer, and the future holds much of the same. They hope Summer can finish college and appreciate her musical gift.

“She plans for herself and we’re just here to guide her and support her,” Ms. Villaverde said. “We just go with her flow.”

Outside of music, Summer expresses herself with bright paint and colored pencils.

“I really like to draw,” she said. Indeed, her Sunday concert program featured 22 of her works. Her favorite color is “rainbow,” but pink or gold will suffice.

As an adult, she strives to be a Disney animator. She also hopes to profit off her music as either a musical artist or virtual instructor. On February 19, she got a taste of the second dream as Good Shepard concert attendees donated $410 at the 10-year-old’s concert.

Good Shepard Lutheran Church, 1700 N. Towne Ave., Claremont, showcases talented local musicians in hourlong 6 p.m. concerts on select Sundays. Visit egoodshepherd.org for details.


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