Samuel Primack was an 11-year-old student at Vinewood Elementary School when he picked up a flute for the first time.
It was the last year that the elementary school offered orchestra lessons, but it was just the beginning of an intense passion for the instrument that has taken Primack to Moscow, Tanglewood in Lenox and Stockbridge, Mass., and Carnegie Hall.
Today, he is 15 and preparing for a tour of the United Kingdom with the Sacramento Youth Symphony, and another season of attending the Boston University's Tanglewood Institute, a prestigious program for high school musicians in Massachusetts.
The practice hours are long, but Primack is determined to become one of the best.
"I don't feel like I've missed out on being a kid. If anything, I have to be torn away from practicing to do my homework," he said.
His mother, Dina Primack, often played "Swan Lake" on VHS when Primack was four years old. The toddler stopped his games every time, mesmerized by the classical music. He took piano and guitar lessons as a little boy, but his musical obsession took hold when he discovered the flute.
"The music for (the flute) is a lot of fun," he said.
It's a social instrument, so Primack can play a solo, in small groups or in huge orchestras.
"There's so many different things to do with it," he said.
Primack practices for four hours a day on his own, between his online classes. Twice a week, he travels to Sacramento to rehearse with the Youth Symphony Premiere and Academy Orchestras. Plus, he has flute and string bass lessons three times a week.
"You don't realize how many hours of non-stop work it takes to play something effortlessly," he said. "I'll play something a thousand times before I perform it."
His family is supportive, even though Primack's brother and sister followed very different roads. Stephen Primack works in finance in San Francisco, while Sarah Primack is in college studying biology. His father, Daren Primack, is a cardiac surgeon in Stockton.
As the youngest child, Primack has taken over the house for rehearsal space to study the flute, the piano and the string bass. The hard work is leading him down some prestigious roads.
In the last two years, Primack has won four concerto competitions, one international flute competition, and more. That success has led him to play solos at Carnegie Hall, perform with Kostroma Symphony Orchestra in Moscow, and study at the Tanglewood Institute for two years in row.
Last year he was accepted into the flute program, but this year Primack will return to join the Young Artist Wind Ensemble and perform on the Tanglewood stage.
He played for three years with the Lodi Community Band. For two years, Primack has played his flute in the California All State Honor Band and the All Northern Honor Band.
How do you get to his level?
You break down every single piece of music, playing it slowly against the beat of a metronome, over and over and over again.
"It takes patience. I can't let anything slide. I'm always questioning my tone, always wanting more from it. I never assume I'm getting better," Primack said.
It doesn't leave a lot of time for loafing around. But Primack says he doesn't mind.
"This is what I know I want to do," he said. "I know how I have to get there."
Primack wants to attend a conservatory after high school, then play with a major symphony orchestra and do solo work on the side.
"I'm shooting for Julliard or Curtis School of Music," he said. "That's my dream, to go right for the top."
Right now, he just wants to keep playing. Dina Primack said her son thrives on working his way through a new piece.
"You know it's the right path when they put in that kind of work," she said.
She has never had to remind him to practice, she said. Sometimes she'll just watch him.
Primack pulled his golden flute from its velvet-lined box, and assembled the three pieces reverently. He slid on a pair of boxy, black-rimmed glasses and ruffled through a tall stack of sheet music to find the piece he was working on.
Music on the stand, he started with a few long low tones, stretching his neck and checking the flute was aligned properly. A few scales up and down to warm up, and he was ready to tackle Albert Franz Doppler's "Fantaisie Pastorale Hongroise."
Taking rapid breaths between runs, with fingers flying on the flute body, Primack was frowning over his glasses as he concentrated. His whole body swayed forward and back to the music, his left foot forward to brace himself and help keep rhythm.
Dina Primack watched her youngest son rehearse with a smile. She knows every hour he has sacrificed to get to his level, and is so proud of him, she said.
"You have to find what your kids love to do. You can't force it," she said. "We just try to support him."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.