By John Joyce
Published in News on May 30, 2014 1:46 PM
Brianna Buss first learned to play piano by ear, but with proper instruction began to read music, as she does here, in just a few short years. The next few years of instruction will be pivotal for Brianna, as she hopes to study music therapy in college then go on to perform classical piano professionally.
Every time Brianna Buss places her fingers on ivory keys, she touches the hearts of her biggest fans and most fierce supporters -- the members of a family that has fought through adversity ever since she was a little girl.
Caitlin Buss, 3, loves the camera. She smiles big for photos, knowing just when to say "cheese." Caitlin's passion for photography mirrors her big sister Brianna's love of music.
Caitlin, 3, pushes her walker through the door of her big sister's bedroom.
She finds Brianna, 14, sitting on her bed in what used to be the Buss family living room.
"B.B., play," she says.
Brianna scoops Caitlin up in one arm, carries her to the Story Clark upright piano -- a gift on her 10th birthday -- and begins to play with her free hand.
Jennifer Buss and her husband, Brian, who is a recently retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, have three children, Brianna, Caitlin and Ethan, 2.
Raising three kids in a two-bedroom house on a retired master sergeant's pension is not easy.
"We're not rich," Jennifer said.
Caitlin, who has cerebral palsy, recently needed a wheelchair and a walker. Funds had to be raised to ensure the inquisitive toddler would be able to get around the house and yard.
The family collected cans and scrap metal, sold off furniture and received a hand from Brian's parents to help meet the costs.
Jennifer doesn't like to say her family has sacrificed.
She prefers to think they have invested in one another.
Moved by her sister's affliction, Brianna developed the desire to study musical therapy and to go on to help children with disabilities cope and find happiness. She also sees another possibility for her life -- a chance at being a pianist on a concert stage.
Now she has the chance to start the journey to that dream -- at a two-week intensive music course on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
So far, however, her family has only been able to raise a portion of the money needed to send Brianna on her way. The cost of the competitive program is $2,000.
"We made the down payment, $300," Jennifer said.
For the rest, the Busses -- devout members of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Goldsboro -- are depending on faith, and the community.
The Busses initially thought Brianna, the only surviving triplet from Jennifer's first pregnancy, was going to be a "Brian Jr."
"Actually, the doctors told us we would never have kids," Jennifer said.
Proving "authority figures" wrong seems to be in the Buss family genes.
Brianna's first piano teacher did not think the 7-year-old had potential.
"She said Brianna didn't have the aptitude for it," Jennifer said.
Her second teacher, Amy Breindel, saw something more.
During their four years together, Brianna zipped through the five-stage tutorial booklets used to teach piano.
But then Mrs. Breindel felt Brianna needed more of a challenge -- one she could not provide.
"It takes a lot for a person to be able to say, 'This is as far as I can take you,'" Jennifer said.
Brianna has been under the tutelage of Marshall Foster at the Arts Council of Wayne County for more than a year and a half now.
"She is so enthusiastic, so eager to learn," Foster said.
He said he knew she had had some training, but he was impressed at how far she had come.
"She is already playing at a college level," Foster said.
He thinks the intensive course at University of North Carolina School of the Arts just might be the start Brianna needs to make her dream come true.
When Foster first told Brian and Jennifer about the course, they thought it was a great idea.
They just weren't sure how she was going to get there.
The first hurdle was the audition.
Once Brianna performed and was accepted, there was a new challenge -- how to raise the tuition.
But the Busses were determined -- Brianna was going to get the chance to pursue her dream.
"I've taught my children to never accept the word, 'no.' There is always a silver lining. There is always a way," Jennifer said.
Brianna arrives early at the Arts Council of Wayne County.
She takes a seat at the grand piano in the open gallery and places her fingers over the keys.
Chopin follows Bach, then Hayden as the notes mingle with the strokes and colors in the paintings on the walls of the gallery.
Sarah Merritt, director of the Arts Council of Wayne County, sits in her office weeding through a stack of paperwork.
As music begins to fill the gallery, Mrs. Merritt is reminded that it's Wednesday.
She knows without looking up that the impromptu medley of classical, rock and roll and improvised music she hears is coming from Brianna.
"She's got a passion," Mrs. Merritt said.
Mrs. Merritt is part of the team joining forces to send Brianna to Wilmington. She helped create a web-based campaign to raise the money.
There is a Facebook page, a Pinterest account, a Fundrazr.com and a TheCrowdFundingCenter.com campaign under way.
Foster hopes the community is encouraged to lend a hand.
"I can honestly say I cannot think of anyone more deserving and worthy of all the support she can get," Foster said.