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Someone You Should Know: Dennis O'Keefe

(WHAM photo)

Most musicians never get to play at the Kennedy center in Washington, D.C.

That's why the invitation to perform on its Millennium Stage was so important to Dennis O'Keefe. The Penfield High School graduate is Someone You Should Know. And to really know him, you should hear his words and his music.

O'Keefe graduated from Ithaca College, and just this month received his Master's Degree in music performance at Fredonia.

The honor of performing at the Kennedy Center came after he won a competition. VSA International Young Soloists features promising young musicians who have disabilities.

Asked about getting the invitation to play on the Center’s Millennium Stage, Dennis didn’t skip a beat.

“Holy cow,” he says. “Very exciting.”

When I asked his mother Susan about raising a son with autism, she corrected me. She prefers to call him autistic.

It is, after all, not a disease. It’s part of who he is. And music helps him share himself with others.

“Music is, in a lot of ways, a form of expression,” Dennis says. “I know I have all these wild ideas in my head. I just have trouble getting them out. And music is just another way of helping me do that.”

Dennis took up percussion when he was ten. On the Millennium Stage Wednesday, May 30, he played the marimba.

“For a while I was on the fence between being a musician or being an artist,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do the arts, I just wasn’t sure which one.”

And now that choice has led him to the Kennedy Center. And who knows where else it will take him.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” he said. “I suppose the key to playing at the Kennedy Center is to approach it like you're playing anywhere else.”

Dennis says he’d like to play in an orchestra someday. He’s already been invited to a place where many of the world’s greatest orchestras have performed.

I asked what that invitation means to him.

“Well for one thing,” he says, “it means I don't stink.”

In fact, he’s very good. Here’s a link to tonight’s performance.

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