Pushing Boundaries: MH Student Performs TED Talk


Akhila Annadanam

Whenever we think of TED talks, we think of presentations given by wise, well-spoken adults discussing their experiences and lessons that they have gathered throughout the years. However, it is rare that we come across a TED talk presented by a young fourteen year old. And what’s even more exciting – the young fourteen-year-old is a student here at Morris Hills..

Leonieke Scheuble, a freshman, is a professional jazz musician gifted with the ability to play without the assistance of sheet music. She simply improvises, which is against the conventions of most people her age. She presented her TED talk on May 10, 2016, when she was merely an eighth grader. Entitled “No Boundaries,” her discussion highlighted her background, style of music, and offered valuable advice to people trying to reach their goals just like she was. Beginning her presentation with a short performance on the piano, Leonieke dazzled the entire audience with her extraordinary talents.

Leonieke’s musical accomplishments did not come out of anywhere; they were a result of hard work, determination, and perseverance. Encouraged by her drummer father, Nicholas Scheuble, Leonieke has worked towards this stage ever since the tender age of five. She recalls her father asking her to play a “train” or “waves,” and then she would come up with a tune on the piano that expressed that sound or emotion. This activity was a helpful practice for Leonieke as she fully developed her unique skill of playing spontaneously.

Though these memories were about ten years ago, Leonieke’s family is still one of her biggest supporters today. Her mother, a medical engineer at Johnson & Johnson, eagerly listens to her practice (three hours a day!) and is a significant motivation for Leonieke to keep pursuing her dreams. Her friends at a jazz program in NJPAC greatly inspire her as well.

In addition to her family and friends, Leonieke receives support from multiple mentors, such as Barry Harris and Steve Ash, renowned jazz musicians of today. With them, Leonieke is continuously improving her skills and working to be the best she can be. As part of the freshmen band and the music theory/composition class, Leonieke keeps herself engaged in the musical field during the school day as well. Mr. Hartsuiker, director of bands at Morris Hills, is astonished by Leonieke’s gifts. He describes her as “extremely intuitive and hard-working” and appreciates her passion for music. He explains that she has a “deep understanding and appreciation of musical harmonies” and is impressed by her rare abilities at such a young age.

As a result of her tremendous efforts, Leonieke has received many awards, from the International Women in Jazz “Youth in Action” Award in 2013 to the “Best Up and Coming Young Artist Award” in the Hothouse Fan Award Ceremony in 2015. Leonieke’s future undoubtedly holds more awards and recognition as she continues her musical endeavors.

For Leonieke, jazz is her escape from the world. A magical feeling rushes through her when she touches a piano. She is truly in her happy place when she’s playing. Leonieke suggests that everyone find the same: one special thing that they want to achieve more than anything else, one special thing that will make them feel accomplished. Her main advice is: “Don’t let boundaries control you; the only boundary is yourself. Anything is achievable if you just stay determined.”

Utilizing the skills she has developed in her childhood, Leonieke aims to focus on music in her future, though she also expresses an interest in endocrinology. As of now, she has her own album out on iTunes called “Debut.” This album vividly illustrates Leonieke’s passion for the art of jazz and will forever remain a milestone in her musical journey.