By Avani Shah-Lipman
The Baldwin School
Name any instrument, and he plays it.
Brady Santoro plays 16 instruments, from guitar to harmonica, and 14 instruments in between. And yes, this 18-year-old virtuoso from Masterman finds time between his classes to play them all.
He taught himself his current favorite instrument, piano, after his sister’s piano lessons sparked his curiosity. “I just love learning things and teaching myself things,” he said.
While Santoro is undoubtedly in tune with his mandolin and banjo, he has an ear on his community as well. He makes every effort to bring joy to those around him by using his musical involvement to connect with his local Philadelphia community.
He began with guitar lessons at the early age of seven, and from there branched out into the wide world of woodwinds and percussion, eventually reaching the remarkable tally of 16. From composing his own music (including releasing own album, B.S. 2020, available on all streaming platforms) to playing in bands, Santoro has a clear passion for “all things music.”
Santoro enjoys a range of music, and his favorite artists span from classics like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen to The Lumineers and Velvet Underground.
In between playing the organ and the ukulele, Santoro frequently volunteers at a local volunteer-run bookstore, Bindlestiff Books. Jon Bekken, a communications professor at Albright College who also volunteers at Bindlestiff Books, said Santoro is an extremely hard worker, helping to train new volunteers and always being diligent about alerting people of problems that arise.
Santoro carries music wherever he goes, adding a musical touch to the quaint shop. Bekken joked, “I often come in the day after [Santoro] and I see where he set our music player to.”
Santoro performs once a year with his band and directs volunteer outreach at West Philly Porchfest, a community music festival where bands play on neighbors’ front porches. He spends time working with the Spruce Hill neighborhood association, helping to plan the May Fair and organizing community events.
For his senior project, Santoro plans to interview older people in his Philadelphia neighborhood of Spruce Hill and collect their stories in a database, preserving the neighborhood’s vibrant history and tight-knit atmosphere.
According to Sylvia Hamerman-Brown, the executive vice president of the neighborhood association, Santoro “has a strong sense of himself, and he goes his own way…he’s a Renaissance man, in some sort of way.”
Hamerman-Brown even said that Santoro annually attends Charles Dickens’ birthday party at Clark Park.
Santoro’s work in his community doesn’t end with music. He shares his passion of creating crosswords with people by distributing them to his friends on long walks across the city. He speaks up for his fellow students as well, writing columns in the school newspaper about issues he sees at Masterman.
In January of 2023, he was awarded Philadelphia School District’s “Senior of the Month,” a testament to his passion for learning.
To Santoro, listening is everything. When asked about what qualities make a leader, he believed the most crucial aspect was to be a listener. “You can’t make change unless you know what people want to change.”
This motto is something that Santoro will surely carry on throughout his life at University of Chicago and beyond. He plans to get a PhD and become a professor. But for now, he wants to try to pick up a new language. “Maybe German,” he said with a laugh.
Although he is unsure of how exactly he will spend his days at college, Santoro knows that he will join a band or create musical ensembles with his other passionate peers. Even though he will miss his friends and family, music is something Santoro could never give up.
He strives to live his life regret-free, viewing his failures as an opportunity to move on and learn.
“All the time you spend groaning about how you should have done something, you honestly could have been doing something else and been a lot happier.”