It is rewarding for all teachers to see their students succeed. But when the student also is your son, the reward is magnified many times over.
When Dr. Mario Ajero, associate professor of piano at SFA, presents one of his many faculty concerts on campus, his son, 11-year-old Antonio “Nio” Ajero, often joins him to perform a portion of the program.
Last spring, Nio was a guest soloist at his father’s faculty recital, performing the Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 414 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mario played the orchestra portion on a second piano.
“It was one of the most satisfying musical experiences both professionally and personally,” Mario said.
A few semesters ago, the two presented a unique program that showcased accompaniment by a computer-generated virtual orchestra. The pair often performs four-hand piano duets with the help of the Yamaha Disklavier Piano’s video-synchronization capabilities.
These father-son performances, some of which can be quite comical at times, have become favorites of SFA School of Music concert fans and can be experienced online through YouTube video archives. The popular Ajero piano performances translate into fun-filled events that are a win-win for father, son and audiences alike.
Mario came to SFA in 2006 after former music faculty member and collaborative pianist Shirley Watterston retired. He teaches piano pedagogy, class piano and applied piano lessons. He recently was named keyboard area coordinator. Before arriving at SFA, he taught piano in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. His degrees are from the University of Oklahoma and Temple University.
Like many musicians, it was at the insistence of his parents that he began studying music as a child.
“I don’t recall when I ever showed an interest in music by myself,” he said. “However, my parents got me into piano lessons around age 7. I had a lot of positive experiences performing in recitals that probably had the biggest influence on my musical pursuits. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without my parents’ support and making me do it.”
Likewise, Nio didn’t initially show any more interest in music than his father. But again, his parents decided to immerse him in music at an early age.
“We have videos of him just messing around at the piano at 18 months old,” Mario said. “I recall the first classical music concert we brought him to was the Chamber Music in the Pines that featured Drs. Jennifer Dalmas and Evgeni Raychev and other SFA faculty members in 2007 when he was only 3 years old. We sat in the back row because most young kids that age usually get pretty restless, and we wanted to be ready for a quick getaway.
“On the contrary, Nio was just the perfect audience member,” he said. “He sat there fully focused on the performers on stage, and never once did he act up or fall asleep. So, we continued bringing him to as many recitals and concerts as we could—every piano recital with Dr. Andrew Parr, vocal recitals, instrumental recitals, bands, orchestras, etc. I can’t help but think that those concert experiences were a major influence on him.”
A lot of fellow musicians have told Mario how they couldn’t teach their own children.
“But it has been a tremendous experience for both of us,” he said. “Since we were able to get to the piano every day, we cover more ground than the traditional once-a-week lesson. It convinced me that having the parents deeply involved in their children’s music education translates to greater success and persistence in the discipline.”
Mario also describes his son as “sort of a guinea pig” for some of the research he has done in music technology and computer-assisted-instruction integrated in piano lessons.
“I think he’s experienced benefits from that,” he said.
Nio said he enjoys performing pieces by Frédéric Chopin, like his Waltz in G-flat Major and Preludes, because they have some flashy moments but also have moments of rubato. His favorite piece is the Mozart Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 414 because it is fun, has lyrical melodies “and makes me feel like I’m playing like Mozart,” he said. Math is his favorite subject, and he is a red belt in Taekwondo at Nacogdoches Blackbelt Academy.
Mario says that it’s probably still early to pinpoint a specific dream for the young Nio, although he already has performed numerous solo recitals in the community and at SFA and won prizes in piano competitions across the state.
“His demeanor feels more as if he’s just going with the flow,” Mario said. “He has expressed an interest in teaching, and he gets a little bit of that experience at home when he accompanies, plays with and even gives lessons to his 6-year-old sister.
“I’m fine with creating those positive musical experiences to guide him to wherever he eventually settles on focusing his attention,” he said. “With all my students, but especially my kids, that’s what I want to be remembered for: helping them achieve those magical moments of music-making on stage that make them feel special.”