Piano prodigy's goal is to play 'around the world'

Eric Fodor

When he first started taking piano lessons, Nicolas Cofield’s piano teacher suggested his parents get him a keyboard at Wal-Mart for learning.

Three weeks later the teacher, Cody Sandusky, told Cofield’s parents the keyboard had to go. He was progressing much too fast and was about to outgrow the little keyboard.

Just three and-a-half years later, Cofield is entering fifth grade and has played for large audiences in Paducah, Ky., and at numerous churches. The long-forgotten beginners’ keyboard has been replaced by a Roland electric grand piano that sits in the living room of his parents’ Carrier Mills home.

Cofield has been playing in public more than a year. He was a hit at the annual Carrier Mills-Stonefort schools Veterans Day salute to veterans, where he played an excerpt from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Cofield has played at a concert at Southeastern Illinois College and at the 2007 and 2008 Paducah Human Rights Commission events at the Carson Center.

“He spent 30 minutes signing autographs before we got out of the place,” Harley Cofield, Nicolas’ father, said.

Cofield is a regular pianist at the Apostolic church in Harrisburg and has played Baber Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Carrier Mills First United Methodist Church and several other churches.

The owner of the Hideout restaurant in Marion wants to audition Cofield to play there, Harley Cofield said.

Young Cofield, like all pianists, is working on his repertoire and trying to broaden his horizons.

“I play church, I play classical. I play some pop, but I only have one pop song,” Cofield said, referring to “Imagine” by John Lennon.

His new teacher, Melinda Tolley, has talked about learning a little jazz, but for now Cofield enjoys classical, church and pop, he said. Tolley took on Cofield this summer because Sandusky is now going to the University of Illinois.

He has one lesson per week with Tolley. In addition to the lesson, Cofield practices one hour each day and 30 minutes on Sunday.

Cofield is a quick study. For instance, he was able to learn “Fur Elise” in a week.

“Cody said he knows adults who took two years to learn it,” Harley Cofield said.

Cofield has ambitions for the future. When asked where he wants to take his piano playing, he said, “Around the world.”

Some of the desire to see the world is on hold, at least until he gets older.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn sent down paperwork for a John Kent Foundation Scholarship, but Cofield was turned down because he was too young, Harley Cofield said. The scholarship calls for lots of traveling without parents along, so he was asked to re-submit the scholarship application in a few years.

Cofield is a confident player who displays a great deal of showmanship. He always wears a tuxedo when he plays out in public. The tuxedo and turtleneck have become something of a trademark.

“I just like it,” Cofield said.

Cofield has extraordinary strength in his hands for his age, but still displays a sense of dynamics when he plays — he doesn’t just display physical strength on the piano.

But for all the talent and ambition, Cofield is still a regular kid. After he was interviewed, he wandered off into the next room to finish watching cartoons.

Eric Fodor can be reached at