Neil says it all started before he was born, with a book his dad picked up at the library. "He just chose one book randomly which mentioned, ‘If you give Mozart music to the womb, then the child will become a musician,’" Neil said. With no musicians in the family, his Dad put the theory to the test, regularly playing Mozart on a little speaker on his wife’s pregnant belly.
When Neil was two years old, he refused the drums his parents bought. They tried again when he was six and after just one lesson, he was practically playing like a pro. So they gave him a guitar, and so on.
At age 12, he had nearly doubled the world record for being able to play 44 musical instruments. The following year, he shattered his own record twice, mastering 107 sound machines from all across the globe — many mainstream, others widely unknown.
"There are around 4,000 instruments that are extinct by the way, so I’m still researching," Neil laughed.
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He uses his $100,000 collection of instruments as an opportunity to teach other kids about different cultures. "When we speak to another person in a different language they might not understand, but when we play the music, it breaks all the barriers of the language," Neil said. "Music connects with people. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, it still connects."
Meanwhile, the Northern California teenager has already authored his own children’s book, created the musical score for two upcoming films and he’s releasing an album with a collection of more than 100 instruments all on the same track. Neil’s even been in a Honda commercial and was the first to play "Star Spangled Banner" in a U.S. stadium on sitar, a stringed instrument that dates back to medieval India.
He visited Los Angeles to fine-tune his skills at the Grammy Museum’s Grammy Camp, where aspiring musicians can learn the business side of the industry and identify their strengths and weaknesses.
"How much they’re willing to work, how hard they’re willing to work to attain those additional skills that they need to give themselves the best chance at having a successful career," says Grammy Museum Education Vice President David R. Sears.
Whether or not it had anything to do with that library book way back, Neil is well on his way.