Mike Picker of St. Charles, Missouri, immediately recognized the famous joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
“Practice, practice, practice,” went Picker’s punchline to a reporter. “That’s not how Liam got there, though. He didn’t like to practice.”
Liam is Mike Picker’s son, a talented pianist who was composing music as a teenager, talent that amazed his mother Lisa Picker.
“I was incredibly proud of my son. I was proud of his talent. I was thankful for his talent because it brought me so much joy. It brought life to the house,” said Lisa Picker. “I would watch his hands. I loved to watch his hands.”
Whatever joy Liam felt from playing the piano and composing music wasn’t enough to make up for his torment from mental illness.
“Liam was well enough to know how sick he was,” said Lisa Picker. “Liam wanted more than anyone to feel normal, to feel well, to be happy.”
According to his parents, Liam struggled with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety. Liam waged a private war against his mental illnesses and eventually died trying, taking his own life two years ago at the age of 18.
“He went through a number of antidepressants and other types of drugs to help him and they never seemed to work,” said Mike Picker. “When he had several instances where he had tried to take his life, I think after that it sort of became harder to see a positive outcome.”
Lisa Steele, Liam’s piano teacher, recognized his immense talent as well as his struggles.
“The pain of living was too great and that’s why he left,” said Steele. “My vision for him and his talent would be to compose music for soundtracks and movies, television or commercials. He could look at something and read a passage of poetry and take the words for the picture and distill it down into music you could feel.”
Lisa Picker began an internet search for a non-profit music foundation the family could support in Liam’s name, eventually landing on the website for Harmony for Peace Foundation based in Pennsylvania.
“It’s a foundation that supports the arts, especially music for gifted children,” said Lisa Picker.
Liam’s mother began email correspondence with Tomoko Torri, the founder of Harmony for Peace.
“About 4 or 5 months ago, she sent me an email and said ‘If you have any of Liam’s original compositions, we would love to have someone play they at our Christmas concert at Carnegie Hall,’” said Picker.
The Pickers had video of Liam performing a composition titled “Winter” and had it transcribed into sheet music. Pianist Gohei Nishikawa was chosen to perform Liam’s “Winter” Dec. 19, 2016, at Carnegie Hall. One week before the concert, Nishikawa asked for a meeting with the Picker family and traveled from New York to St. Charles. The Pickers learned they had something in common with Nishikawa.
“I lost my father last year. He committed suicide from depression,” said Nishikawa. “I planning on performing his (Liam’s) music everywhere I go in Japan and introduce his music and his story so he can travel with me in spirit.”
Six days before Christmas, Mike and Lisa Picker were in New York with 14 other family members to attend Carnegie Hall and hear Nishikawa perform their son’s music. For the teenage composer who struggled with depression, the question “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” was answered on a bittersweet Monday night in December.
After introducing Liam’s song, Nishikawa placed an 8x10 photo of Liam Picker on his piano before sitting down to play.
“Incredibly touching to us that Gohei played the piece so beautifully,” said Mike Picker after Nishikawa’s performance.
“The piano, it was part of Liam. Liam was part of the piano,” said Lisa Picker. “When he was sad, when he was frustrated, it all came out through his fingers.”
The Picker’s hope to use their family tragedy to continue the conversation about teenage depression.
“If we want our children, our society to be the generation going forward in leading this crusade and this battle,” said Lisa Picker, “we as parents and adults now have to not only start the conversation, but we have to start the movement.”
For more information about the Harmony for Peace Foundation, click here.
For more information and resources about childhood depression, visit the sites below: