At first glance, it would be hard to differentiate Lucas Yao from any other local five-year-old.
The Pitt Meadows youngster is playful, and curious. He treats his living room like an obstacle course, jumping from couch to ottoman and back, chuckling and humming to himself the whole time.
But seated at the new baby grand piano the family purchased, it becomes clear there is something special about the talented boy.
Even playing the iconic theme song to the Mario video games he loves, Lucas shows a purpose and intensity one would not expect from a child twice his age.
His head bops up and down, and he presses each key deliberately, eliciting a deep, wonderful tone from the instrument.
His skills tickling the ivories have already taken him across the continent to one of the most prestigious stages in North America.
Proud mom, Cindy Liu, said Lucas was invited to play at New York City’s Carnegie Hall earlier this year after a first place finish in his category at the Crescendo International Music Competition.
His musical ability, she said, have come as something of a surprise, as there have been no professional musicians in her family. But, Liu noted, her father – Lucas’ grandfather – enjoyed carrying a tune as a young man.
“When he was younger, he wanted to be a singer,” Liu recalled, “But my grandmother refused to allow him to go down that path.”
“He would still sing a lot for us as kids.”
It is quite possible Lucas might end up as the entertainer his grandfather dreamed of being.
Liu said as a toddler, her son would often enjoy watching her play the family’s older upright piano.
“I would play some simple songs and he just loved hearing me play,” she said.
“He would sit there for an hour and wouldn’t want to go do other things.”
When Lucas turned three, his mom said he began to act moody, and seemed bored all the time. She thought he might be under-challenged, so she decided to see if she could teach him the basics on piano.
“I taught him from a beginners book but then he quickly outgrew it, and I had to find a proper teacher for him,” she said. “He was learning so fast, he outpaced my skills in no time.”
In addition to his love of music, Cindy said Lucas has always shown a keen interest in numbers.
“By one he was counting to ten already,” she said, “And by his fourth birthday he knew numbers up to centillion (which is a 1 followed by 303 zeros).
When asked whether he could count all the stars in the sky, Lucas smiled and said, “No, not all of them.”
He has learned to count to 100 in 10 different languages though.
During recent months, when options for keeping busy became limited due to COVID-19, Cindy said she was browsing the internet and saw a video on YouTube about the mathematical constant Pi.
“It was showing a method that can be used to memorize Pi to 50 or 100 digits, so I thought this looks fun, and maybe he’ll like it,” Liu said.
Shortly after showing Lucas, she said he expressed interest in trying it out.
Liu said it took about four days for him to memorize 50 digits, and then Lucas set a goal of learning 500 digits before his upcoming sixth birthday, which he was able to accomplish.
While he does not quite understand the concept of Pi – the relation of a circle’s circumfrence to its radius – the memorization skills are still extremely impressive.
Keeping Lucas challenged has been a full time job for the stay-at-home mom.
“I’m very proud of him, but there’s a lot of stress too,” Liu said.
“I think to myself, should I step back a little bit and see where we’re going with this?
“He’s so gifted, but I don’t know whether I want to push him to maximize his gifts or take it easy, so he can be more normal.”
Fear of becoming known as an overly strict or demanding parent plagues Liu.
“I’m always afraid that people will look at me as a ‘tiger mom’,” she said.
“But we’re like best friends. He’s super affectionate and we have a very close relationship.
“I think I’m giving him extra love, and when he feels loved I think he creates.”
In order to make sure Lucas is well-rounded, she also has him enrolled in tennis lessons – he said his best shot is his forehand – and horseback riding.
Lucas also loves to play any Nintendo games with Mario in them.
While his mom was being interviewed, he alternated between playing MarioKart, and watching a YouTube video of someone playing Super Mario Bros.
He wouldn’t commit to answering what he would like to be when he grows up.
“I haven’t thought about that,” he said.
It was suggested that maybe he could design Mario games.
“That would be nice,” he agreed.