Age: 18Bogota, Colombia
Project Title: Recording and Outdoor Video Production of Modern Stylistic Use and Arrangement of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes
My name is Wiley Skaret. I’m an 18-year-old classical pianist and improviser. At age five, I began studying piano in the Washington, DC area. Before my 6th birthday, I gave my first solo piano concert to include an on-stage improvisation, which was soon followed by my 2009 New York City debut at Carnegie Hall. Since then, I have won dozens of awards, to include MTNA first-prize state winner in Arizona, Colorado, and Virginia, first-prize winner of the Asian American International Piano Competition, and first-prize winner of the American Protege International Concerto Competition. After a few years of this lifestyle, however, I started to wonder if the purpose of music could go further than a bit of fame and some trophies. Surely, we could use the abilities and talents we were given to make more lives better than just our own. This was when I began to change the direction of my musical career. My first international debut took place in Guatemala and the money from the ticket sales was used to fund a local down-syndrome foundation for an entire year. This demonstrated to me what I could do with my music and encouraged me to strive to help those in need instead of just working for myself. This has proved to be much more gratifying over the years as I continue to use my music to help the people I see in need.
The Davidson Fellows program has historically honored not only great artistry but also, the practical application of the artistry for the betterment of society, consistently encouraging young people to use their work and talent for a greater cause than their own self-satisfaction. For years, this has been my goal as well. Receiving an award from a program whose values are so tightly aligned with my own is an honor I am proud to have received.
Six years ago, I moved to Colombia. And when I begin working on my newest project, integrating virtuosic classical music with American Hymns and traditional Colombian music, I knew I wanted to do it in a way that would help my community at the same time. After doing some investigation, I learned that the Colombian National Police (CNP) are the tip of the sword in the world’s fight against cocaine trafficking. “Routine” seizures net 2000 kilograms of cocaine — two hits for every person in New York City. The CNP seizes 18 kilograms for every one seized by U.S. law enforcement, but these impressive statistics come at a high cost. In 1991 — in one month, in one city — Pablo Escobar’s private army killed over 400 CNP officers. The numbers tumbled with the fall of the cartels, but casualties continued: in 2013 alone, criminals killed 300 officers. While local donations assist mourning families with immediate needs, long-term safety nets don't exist. Here’s the problem: Colombian families are forgotten after the heroic sacrifice of a parent in a war driven by my country’s demand for cocaine. Meanwhile, U.S. citizens enjoy the fruits of heroic action without sharing in the burden of sacrifice. That’s not right. It’s a moral issue. And now that Colombia is my second home, it’s personal.
I created James 1 four years ago as a non-profit project that gets its name from the Bible verse, James 1:27 that says, “True religion in the eyes of God is that which takes care of orphans and widows in their distress.” James 1’s goal is to use creative music and music videos to create awareness of the problem and create a scholarship fund so the sons and daughters of fallen Colombian heroes can attend college, despite their family’s sacrifice.
As I began working on the James 1 music videos, I was met with a few big challenges. One of them was integrating classical music, traditional American hymns, and Colombian cultural music — much of which, had never been written down on a staff — and doing it all in a way that would fit the scene for what we were trying to show in the video. For example, as I worked on my last music video in La Guajira, Colombia, it was my job to fuse virtuosic piece of classical music, a traditional hymn of some sort, and do it all using a beat that local tribal Colombians could dance to. I settled on a Liszt Transcendental Etude, a Bach Prelude, and Kari Jobe’s American hymn, “I am not Alone.” When it was all said and done, it was pretty incredible to see a Wayuu tribe dancing to a Bach Predule, and to listen to Kari Jobe being played in the middle of a desert storm. As I worked through this difficulty and countless others, I could always count on the ever-present support of my piano teacher, Pilar Leyva, my video production team, Zach Ruble Productions, James 1’s awesome piano movers, and most importantly, my family, who always went above and beyond the call of duty to help.
Now, after four years of work, I am beginning to see some of the fruits of our labor. Recently, James 1 has begun receiving scholarship applications from the children of fallen Colombian Police Officers, and within the next months, will be sending tuition money to the finalists’ Universities. I’m looking forward to meeting the scholarship recipients and, in the coming years, seeing how James 1’s scholarships have changed lives.
For the past twelve years of my life, I have been homeschooled. This has opened up opportunities for me to practice the piano and develop specialized skills such as diplomacy, public speaking and leadership through charitable projects such as James 1. I graduated from high school in May of 2020, and after taking a gap year, I will be honored to be attending Stanford University beginning in September of 2021. I plan to do a double major in Piano Performance and Personal Finance.
In my spare time, I enjoy equestrian jumping, motocross/enduro adventures around Colombia on my KTM, and slalom water skiing in nearby Andean lakes.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years, I see myself either working with a start-up technology business in California, or working with movie producers to compose music for upcoming films.
If you could have dinner with the five most interesting people in the world, living or dead, who would they be?
Jesus Christ. Jesus taught in Israel for a grand total of three years, and yet in those three short years, he managed to change life’s direction for billions of people. Even now, his teachings remain relevant, powerful and life-changing.
Abraham Lincoln. During his presidency, he managed to win a war, free the slaves, and keep the United States of America together at the same time. Pretty impressive.
Socrates. Socrates was famous for convincing people not by telling them what he thought was true, but by asking the right questions and letting them come to their own conclusions about an issue. I would love to learn to do this better.
Apart from those three, I would love to meet Dave Ramsey, Ken Coleman and Chris Hogan some time.
Benjamin Franklin: “A Republic — if you can keep it.”
A long time favorite, Franklin’s quote reminds me on a daily basis that freedom and democracy in America will only be present if We the People stand up for it. Even during Franklin’s time, millions of Americans weren’t free. And it is our duty to give freedom to those who don’t have it, and to preserve our own.
In the News
TEENAGE PIANIST AWARDED $25,000 FOR MUSICAL PRJECT BRIDGING CLASSICAL PIANO, AMERICAN HYMNS AND TRADITIONAL COLOMBIAN MUSIC TO BENEFIT CHILDREN OF FALLEN COLOMBIAN POLICE OFFICERS
Wiley Skaret to be Named a 2020 Davidson Fellow Scholarship Winner
Reno, Nev. – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2020 scholarship winners. Among the honorees is 18-year-old Wiley Skaret of Bogota, Colombia. Skaret won a $25,000 scholarship for his project, Recording and Outdoor Video Production of Modern Stylistic Use and Arrangement of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes. He is one of only 20 students across the country to be recognized as a scholarship winner.
“The Davidson Fellows program has historically honored not only great artistry but also, the practical application of the artistry for the betterment of society, consistently encouraging young people to use their work and talent for a greater cause than their own self-satisfaction,” said Skaret. “Receiving an award from a program whose values are so tightly aligned with my own is an honor I am proud to have received.”
Inspired by the power of music to bring awareness and change to underprivileged populations, Skaret arranged, combined, and recorded Liszt Transcendental Etudes with traditional American hymns and cultural Colombian music, and filmed creative music videos filmed all around Colombia. Using his passion for music and culture, Skaret founded James 1, a non-profit foundation, to provide university scholarships for the sons and daughters of fallen Colombian national police officers.
Skaret will be attending Stanford University in the fall 2021 where he plans to study piano performance and personal finance.
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The following disclosure is provided pursuant to Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 598.1305:The Davidson Institute for Talent Development is a Nevada non-profit corporation which is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt private operating foundation. We are dedicated to supporting the intellectual and social development of profoundly gifted students age 18 and under through a variety of programs. Contributions are tax deductible.
Profoundly gifted students are those who score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ and achievement tests. Read more about this population in this article.