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RACINE — As 13-year-old Nolan Boerner played a range of pieces on his cello, — from Bach to The Beatles — in the middle of the Starving Artist Fair, many stopped to watch.

One woman pulled up a chair and sat in the shade with her dog and quietly listened. Some people dropped a dollar or some coins in his tip jar. Another person tipped him with a bag of kettle corn.

“It was delicious,” he said.

One woman stopped to watch on the sidewalk, then looked to his father, Brian Boerner of Mount Pleasant, who was starting nearby. She silently gave Brian the “OK” sign and mouthed the words: “He’s fabulous.”

“I don’t care about the tips,” said Brian. “I care about that.”

Talent and hard work

Brian and his wife, Lisa Boerner, can’t really explain where Nolan’s musical talent came from.

“I tried flute — that was rough,” said Lisa. “My sister tried clarinet and that was also rough.”

Brian has a cousin who’s a music professor in Oklahoma and Brian played violin and saxophone growing up. But no one in his immediate family plays at Nolan’s level.

“Although we went to a ton of concerts when I was pregnant,” Lisa joked.

Like many kids at Gifford School, 8332 Northwestern Ave., when he reached second grade Nolan wanted to try playing a musical instrument. He started with the violin, which hurt his neck, so he moved on to the cello.

“It was really fun,” he said. “I like the tone and the range of the notes: they’re not too high or too low. It’s right in between.”

In the spring after he started playing cello, his teacher recommended private lessons. While Martha Veto doesn’t normally take students that young, she started lessons with Nolan.

For some kids, it can be like pulling teeth to get them to practice. Not Nolan, whose parents said he would practice all night if they let him. He said he’s motivated by cellists such as Yo-Yo Ma and Luka Šulic and Stjepan Hauser, the Czech cellists who comprise the duo 2CELLOS.

“I just know that if I keep practicing I’ll keep getting better,” said Nolan. “My goal is to be like those other great cellists out there.”

More opportunities

As a result of his dedication, his skills and opportunities have continued to grow. When he was 10, a family friend involved with Downtown Racine Corp. asked if he’s be interested in playing on First Fridays.

This is his third summer playing on First Fridays in front of Photographic Design, 411 Sixth St. Nolan usually makes more than $100 in tips but he said he enjoys the reaction he gets from strangers.

“It’s always nice to get compliments and I always like to make people happy,” said Nolan. “It lifts me up and makes me want to keep improving.”

Brian said he gets a kick out of watching patrons waiting to get into Olde Madrid, 418 Sixth, cross the street to watch Nolan play.

That was how Jill Castillo from the Starving Artist Fair heard about Nolan and asked to him to perform.

Nolan performed in the 2018 Middle School Honors Performance Series at last month at Carnegie Hall in New York. Student have to recommended by a music teacher before they can even apply.

“We’re still in shock,” said Lisa.

Nolan’s not sure if he’ll pursue music as a future career, but he knows the cello will continue to be a big part of his future. Whatever he chooses to do, his family supports his music.

“He’s got something, that’s for sure,” said Brian. “It gives me goosebumps.”

Brian sprinted to where Nolan was playing to help him adjust his music stand to keep the sun out of his eyes. Brian helps with equipment and crowd control no matter where Nolan is performing.

“His father is the best roadie ever,” said Lisa.

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Christina Lieffring covers the Burlington area and the Village of Caledonia. Before moving to Racine, she lived in Nebraska, Beijing, Chicago and grew up in Kansas City.

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