Trey Pernell Overcomes Obstacles and Receives Scholarship

17-year-old composer Trey Pernell says that for him, “not achieving is not an option.” Despite some significant challenges in his home life, the high school senior from Denver, Colorado, has worked hard to succeed as a pianist and composer, as well as in wrestling, breakdancing, and singing in his high school choir.


Listen to Trey’s story in his own words.






Trey says he always felt an innate drive to create music. Even before he began taking piano lessons in elementary school, he was inspired to compose music when he first heard Mozart's Requiem. Now, he often uses staff paper to write down his musical ideas at school before trying them at the piano.

Trey has diverse interests that go beyond classical music. He writes music for and performs with his band, Atticus Rex. He sings and raps, as well as plays drums, guitar, and bass. He learned breakdancing from watching tutorials online and practicing in his basement and has competed for celebrity judges.

While Trey’s family has been through some difficult times, he is fortunate to share a very special relationship with his younger sister and mother, who is an important source of inspiration for Trey. “She is hard-working, dedicated, and compassionate. She wants nothing more than to see her children succeed, and she’ll do anything to keep us on the right path. She’s never pushed me to do my homework, she just tells me that I’m capable of achieving straight A’s and doing great things.” When his father was incarcerated in 2010, Trey remembers it as a very surreal experience that he describes as a “mental landscape of disbelief.” He knew he could not use that hardship as an excuse not to achieve his goals.

Trey’s determination and talent were recognized when he was selected for From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award and appeared on Show 269 in Mesa, Arizona, in February 2013, where the Phoenix Children’s Chorus performed his work “O Captain! My Captain!”, a musical setting of the poem by Walt Whitman.

He’ll use the $10,000 scholarship to attend a summer music festival this year, as well as purchase a keyboard and the composition software program Finale. Trey looks forward to continuing his music studies when he attends college in the fall.

“Through From the Top I was able to spread my music and my story to a massive audience, and I thank you as well for the forthcoming opportunities to participate in an outreach activity in my community.”