Welcome to the next lesson in our free English class series about Music in America! In this lesson, we’ll look at Matthew Whitaker. He’s one of today’s hottest jazz musicians, and his talents are so phenomenal that scientists are actually studying his brain!
Approximately 15 minutes
Matthew Whitaker: Jazz Prodigy Against All Odds
Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.
No one will ever say Matthew Whitaker had it easy. Born three months premature, Matthew was given less than a 50 percent chance of survival. He survived but a short time later, was diagnosed with a disease that caused him to go blind. Matthew went through eleven surgeries before he reached the age of two to correct his blindness. Nothing worked. Doctors even said that he would never learn to speak or crawl.
But Matthew overcame the odds and not only lived through his disabilities but also thrived. At an early age, he would crawl towards speakers playing music in his home, so his grandfather bought him a keyboard when he was three.
It didn’t take long for Matthew to play nursery rhymes. Not only was he playing them, he was playing them with both hands and playing full chords on the keyboard. This was rare for a 3-year-old.
Soon after, his parents sought out a piano teacher. However, the task proved to be difficult. Many teachers said he was too young or that they didn’t know how to teach someone who was blind. Finally, they found Dalia Sakas. who taught music studies at a school for the visually impaired. She found that Matthew could play literally anything he heard once. Even though his abilities have since reached an exceptional level, she is still teaching him to this day.
By the time he was 11, Matthew was playing concerts all around the world. Now, he’s played in over 200 clubs and concert halls. However, he’s not just a musical prodigy. Matthew is a trained and talented musician who can read Braille music and play both jazz and classical piano. He can also play the organ, percussion instruments, the clarinet, and the bass guitar.
Currently, Matthew is 19 years old and the sky's the limit for him. He recently released an album titled “Now Hear This” that became a huge hit in the jazz music scene. A music critic said it sounds like Matthew is playing with six hands on the album. You can hear his music on Spotify and YouTube.
Learn more about Matthew’s life in this 60 Minutes special they did on him:
Grammar Center: Modal Verbs
Read the sentence from the passage below:
Matthew is a trained and talented musician who can read Braille music and play jazz and classical piano. He can also play the organ, percussion instruments, the clarinet, and the bass guitar.
As an advanced speaker, you know what the word can means, but do you understand its function in grammar?
The auxiliary verb can is part of a set of special verbs known as modals. They’re auxiliary verbs that can only exist as a helping verb (meaning they can’t be the main verb in a sentence). They exist to indicate a mood or tense and express things like prohibition, permission, obligation, possibility, ability and a few others.
The most common modals are: can, may, must, should, would, could, might, will, and shall.
Modals never change form and have no infinitive or participle, so you’ll never add things like -s, -ing, or -ed.
As I said, modals exist to indicate expression, but more than that, they can change the meaning of the verb they help. Look at the sentences below:
Those two sentences have very different meanings, and it’s all because of the modal.
Modals are a very complex topic within English grammar, and we explained it in depth in our last blog post.
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