Young Cancer Survivor Wows at Carnegie Hall

Picture it: New York City. Sunday, Nov. 26. The American Protégé Winners Recital is set to begin at the iconic Carnegie Hall, participants galvanized with excitement, nerves and awe. Yet, in the wings, 12 year-old Daniel Colaner is anything but scared. Set to play Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu, he has practiced hours upon hours. But Daniel’s story far exceeds ingenious talent (though he undeniably has that), but rather one of miracles, hope and God’s grace.

At six months of age, Colaner was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer typically developing in the adrenal glands and nerve tissues.

“His treatment plan outlined all of the early and late effects of the chemotherapy he would be receiving,” parents Marie and Dan said. “Among them were cognitive delays and hearing loss, in addition to nerve and organ damage. Fortunately, because of fairly recent research developments, he was spared an earlier treatment protocol which would have exposed him to whole-body radiation. Had we not agreed to his treatment, Daniel would have died within a month’s time.”

Daniel’s music studies have been an integral part of his general education and provide him with a positive outlet for goal setting and time management, skills required for success, not only in music, but for life in general

— Marie Colaner

After many months of prayer and painful treatments at Akron Children’s Hospital, Colaner entered remission and has remained healthy for 12 years. However, under doctors orders, he was homebound until his immune system strengthened– not allowed near other children. Hoping to give their son something to “sink his teeth into,” Marie and Dan considered classical music.

“My husband and I were both given piano lessons as children and were aware of the positive effects that classical music and the study of a musical instrument can have on the brain, so once Daniel was old enough, we started formal lessons,” Marie said.

His lessons began in the first grade, and at the age of eight, he started sessions with his current teacher Tatsuya Nagashuma, a world renowned concert pianist who frequently performs nationally and abroad. While his cancer did not leave Daniel with any nerve or organ damage, his hearing was slightly affected.

“The organ, in particular, can generate a tremendous amount of sound. Daniel was recently fitted with musician’s ear plugs to protect his ears while he practices and performs,” Marie said.

Today, Daniel practices both piano and organ an average of four hours a day. He previously attended St. Hilary Elementary School, but as of fifth grade, he began homeschooling to learn at his own pace, while carving out time for his music —a talent that led him all the way to Carnegie Hall.

Daniel entered the American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition via video last winter, encouraged by Nagashuma. He placed third and was invited to play at the iconic Carnegie Hall as a reward.

“During my performance, I was completely focused on making beautiful music,” Daniel said. “A lot of preparation went into this moment and I wanted to make the most of it. Although I was not permitted to rehearse at Carnegie Hall prior to my performance, my piano teacher, Mr. Nagashima, told me that the piano there would be phenomenal, and he was right! To be able to play Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromtu on such an extraordinary instrument was a real thrill.”

The honor even gave his parents a much-needed thrill.

“Our emotions were that of overwhelming gratitude to God for the gift of our son’s life, and our tears were those of pure joy for him,” they said.  “When he met us in the lobby after his performance, he declared that his performance was the best he had ever played this Chopin piece.”

12 years ago, the proud parents never dreamed this to be possible.

“Our primary reason for giving Daniel piano lessons was to help his neurodevelopment. He has continued to amaze us with his affinity for music, particularly on piano and, more recently, on the organ,” they said. “The fact that he was given this opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall can only be attributed to his teacher, Tatsuya Nagashima, and Daniel’s hard work.”

Whenever he is not practicing or studying, Daniel can be found tinkering around on his computer. He recently crafted an Arduino microcontroller which allows these components to connect to a computer program which generates pipe organ sounds from the world’s great organs, including an organ he built himself. Also, as an avid Boy Scout, he looks forward to earning his Eagle status and enjoys swimming.

Daniel’s many talents have contributed to his success. As his parents continue to observe him, their gratitude and pride in him grows everyday. While Carnegie Hall was the biggest step in his bright future, his parents are simply grateful that he is alive and well.

“Daniel’s music studies have been an integral part of his general education and provide him with a positive outlet for goal setting and time management, skills required for success, not only in music, but for life in general.”