A Shorewood Superstar

Makai Torres and his perfect pitch

by Jade Doerksen, Editor in Chief

You’re in B Major right now” is not something you think you’ll be writing down on a Wednesday afternoon. But when you’re talking to senior Makai Torres, it’s definitely possible. He’s self described as “the kid who loves music” and the evidence is most certainly there.

Torres plays numerous instruments including ukulele, guitar, bass, and drums. He began on the ukulele, or uke, at age 4 when his grandmother began teaching him. “My grandma just locked me in a room and said ‘you’re Hawaiian, you’re going to learn this’ and she shoved it in my hands,” he said.

Music is very important to his family, so “there has never been a family gathering where guitars and ukes haven’t been busted out.” The lineage of musicians is quite strong. “My grandparents met in choir. Everybody has played music. My grandpa was in Vietnam and he led a band when he was in the army there,” said Torres. But the genetic element may play more of a role than some realize.

Torres has a rare ability called absolute pitch, often called perfect pitch, in which he can identify music notes without a reference. Even in sounds that to some may not seem particularly musical. Scientists tend to think people are born with it, but it was quite a while before Torres realized he had it.

Senior David Lin realized he had it. “Lin played a note on an instrument and I said ‘oh that’s an F sharp’ and he was like,‘oh do you have perfect pitch?’ and I was like ‘what’s that?’” Torres continued, “he played other notes and I would name them while turned around and I would be right.”

This revelation explained a lot. For starters, Torres can’t read music. “I can’t read music at all. I can fake it. I never learned how because I never had to. It’s easier for me to just say ‘can you play it’ and I’ll figure it out,” he said. Other than being a top notch party trick, it’s helped on his music journey. “I really enjoy having perfect pitch. It makes things a lot of fun and makes music easier. It’s a gift and I’m very thankful,” he said.

And that gift is used by others than himself. According to Torres, choir teacher Marilee Clobes and band teacher Dan Baker sometimes have him check notes and keys of various pieces in the four music classes Torres is taking this year.

He’s played music in other classes too. Oddly enough, he may be most famous for a couple of songs produced during his marketing class and shared over the NEST (News and Events for Students and Teachers). It came about while thinking of advertising opportunities.

“We split up into departments. I’m the coffee department head and we were talking about ‘what are ways we can advertise. I suggested ‘let’s make a song and dance.’ They were all like, ‘no I don’t want to do that,’” he said. So like you do, Torres took it upon himself to create the video.

It was written from the song “In the Heights’’ based on the musical and film (which had just dropped on HBO Max) of the same name. Ishan Hamal, fellow senior, helped Torres create the video. It was a great success. So much so that he changed his Instagram biography to “yes I’m the student store guy.” One experience in particular stands out to him. “I handed this freshman girl her coffee…she just looks at me and goes ‘you’re the guy from the video!’ and I was like ‘yup’. That was the first time I’d been recognized that enthusiastically…It’s trippy because I don’t know them and they know who I am.”

His marketing and music skills will come in handy for his future career. “I want to start a record label and then manage artists, find people and make the music dream come true for others as cheesy as that sounds,” Torres said. In March of 2020, he joked with a friend about it, but soon a dream was born. “It started as a joke, but I see so many people around me that have gifts for music…I want to make something happen for people like them.” Torres continued, “everybody needs the right people, the right team. I want to help make those teams.”

To further this goal, he will be attending Washington State University on their Distinguished Regents Scholarship in pursuit of a four year business related degree. This scholarship will allow Torres to be tuition free for the next years of his life. Though he may be busy with schoolwork, he hopes to keep creating.

“I want to dip my feet into everything. I want to perform, I want to produce, I want to manage, I just want to do it all,” he said. He’s currently writing an album and plans to have something streamable by the end of 2022. “I want to have something out there. Even if it doesn’t work, just to say that it’s out there,” Torres said.

Having something out there to critique can be difficult however. He knows this from personal experience. In 2021, he posted a song he wrote on Instagram which caused some commotion. “The chorus of it was ‘I feel like I’ve fallen in love’ and the rest of the song was reminiscing on the good times in one relationship that I had had and how I had fallen in love and then fell out of love,” he said.

People who thought the song was about them began to reach out, for better or worse. “It was specific to one relationship, but nothing in there was obviously specific to one person so I got a bunch of people in my DMs, girls that I’d had things with in the past, and they were like ‘is this about me?’ and some of them were like ‘I hate you. I don’t like you, why are you posting songs about me?’ and some of them were nicer, and some of them were like ‘Oh my God I still love you, let’s get back together,’” Torres explained. He ended up taking the song down as people kept DMing him about it.

Just like Torres’ song, my time with him came to an end. As the school bell rang, in his usual fashion, Torres added, “That’s a C.”