An accomplished scholar and award-winning educator, Tull Professor of Computer Information Systems Veda C. Storey is also a skilled musician whose seven children are following in her footsteps with a popular YouTube channel dedicated to their music.
Written by Michael Davis (B.A. ’03)
Written by Michael Davis (B.A. ’03)
AFTER THREE TAKES, IT'S TIME TO CHANGE THE BATTERIES.
During the break, to ensure the two black-lacquer Yamaha grand pianos look their best on screen, Veda C. Storey removes her pink blazer and uses it to polish off the handprints left behind by her children.
The pianos are on loan. With their lids removed, they’re aligned so the player at the keyboard of one can look across both instruments to face the person playing the other.
When shooting is about to begin again, in front of the 24-inch-thick acrylic wall of the Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium, one of four whale sharks in the 6.3 million-gallon tank begins to approach. It’s coming up on Ivy Catherine’s right and Keenan’s left. They don’t have long if they want to catch the animal in the shot.
Keenan checks with the cameraman.
“Are you recording?”
He gets the nod. With his hands on the keys, he looks across the pianos to face his sister. The music begins.
For four more hours, the seven children of the Rogers-Storey family have the exhibit, with its 61-by-23-foot viewing window, to themselves to film their latest YouTube video. Set to the music of “The Little Mermaid,” green sea turtles, blue tang surgeonfish, banded butterfly fish and, of course, mammoth whale sharks provide an aquatic backdrop while the kids perform with their mom and dad watching — and sometimes filming with their cellphones — from behind a railing a few feet away.
Shoots like this one in October combine the children’s myriad interests — film, theater and performance — but start with their enduring relationship with music, which Storey fostered from a young age.
She began her own training later than many, but that hasn’t stopped Storey from excelling as a musician and making practice and performance an integral part of her and her children’s lives. To stay in top form, she maintains a strict daily practice schedule.
She holds a degree from Canada’s prestigious Royal Conservatory of Music at the University of Toronto and has performed for audiences of thousands. But Storey is also an award-winning professor in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business with a record of academic success dating back more than two decades.
A Key Performance
Growing up on Prince Edward Island, Canada, Storey studied piano, but by her freshman year of high school she joined the school band as a percussionist.
It was during one of those band practices, when she was 15, that a classmate’s flute performance changed her course.
“It was an instant decision,” Storey says. “She had the most beautiful tone on her flute, and I thought, ‘I just have to learn to play that instrument.’ I remember it to this day.”
Before long, Storey was taking private lessons from a professional flautist who had just moved to Prince Edward Island. As her skills developed, the teacher encouraged Storey to pursue a degree in flute performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music. And while she had a desire to make music her profession, she didn’t believe she had enough talent to succeed, so she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and computer science at the same time.
Finishing her degree from the conservatory, a thousand miles from her hometown, took its own brand of creativity.
“When it was time to take my final exam, there was no local location for me to go to for an exam at that level, so I had to fly myself and my accompanist to Toronto,” Storey says. “I did some final rehearsing in a bathroom and then went up before the adjudicators.”
With a bachelor’s degree also in hand, followed by an MBA, Storey began working in Montreal for Canadian National Railway, where she met her husband, Gordon Rogers. She later earned a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia.
She and her family moved to Atlanta in 1996, and Storey took a position at Georgia State, where she’s now the Tull Professor in Computer Information Systems in the Robinson College and a professor of computer science.
“Georgia State had the largest department in the world in my area,” Storey says of the decision to come to what was then known as the College of Business Administration. “A lot of good things were happening, and it’s been great.”
In 2018, Storey received a hat trick of academic accolades, including Georgia State’s Instructional Innovation Award and the Peter C. Chen Award for outstanding contributions to the field of conceptual modeling. She also received an Association for Information Systems Fellow Award.
But for all of her professional accomplishments, music has remained a steady presence in Storey’s life.
“I still practice every day, first thing in the morning when no one is up,” she says. “I learned very early that if I practiced before everyone got up, I would get my practicing done and no one could take that away from me. Over the years, I have practiced in very odd places, including basements, bathrooms and closets so I don’t disturb anyone.”
As her family grew, Storey made sure each of her children found their way to the piano bench by age 3 or 4. She wanted them to have a firm foundation in music at an early age, having always felt she lagged behind her peers who began studying years before she did.
“Our children all had piano lessons and voice lessons,” Storey says, “and they all had a woodwind instrument as well as some other instruments that arrived in our house, like guitars and drums. They studied all the instruments. They didn’t just play them in band at school.
“To learn it right, I needed a teacher, so what I really tried to do for them was get them good teachers.”
Of the seven children, there is a set of triplets and a set of twins. Keenan and Devon are 27. Aidan, Brydan and Corin are 25. Leith is 22 years old, and Ivy Catherine, the only girl, is the youngest at 19. They each attended Chamblee Charter High School, and each has graduated from or is studying at a public university.
A pair of the triplets, Corin and Brydan, have what is referred to as perfect pitch — the ability to hear a musical note, discern what it is and replicate it. It is far more rare than relative pitch, which is being able to distinguish and reproduce a given note with the aid of a known reference note.
His gifted ear is a talent Corin has put to use earning degrees in composition and music business and in his work as a producer, audio engineer and composer.
“I am just very grateful that they would do something together as siblings and take it through to completion on their own. And I’m grateful that other people seem to enjoy it.” — Veda Storey
Channeling Their Interests
Four years ago, the children approached Storey with an idea for a video showcasing their score of talents. Along with Corin’s work in music, Keenan, Leith and Brydan have worked as professional photographers and videographers. Keenan is also an actor in Atlanta’s film industry. They found inspiration in a popular series of videos featuring piano and cello performances set in unexpected places, like deserts and on rooftops.
“We were sitting around watching the Piano Guys’ videos one day,” Leith says. “And I was like, ‘Guys, why don’t we do this?’”
With a piano arrangement of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” by Corin and Brydan and Aidan holding down the percussion section, the siblings set out to capture a performance around a grand piano in the middle of a family friend’s living room. But because all of them would be in front of the camera, they enlisted their mother to help operate it.
Brydan edited the footage into what became their first post to the “RogersFamily” YouTube channel in January 2016. The video now has more than 1.8 million views.
After starting with a simple track for moving the camera, each successive video has gotten more polished and complex. For their second video, the siblings employed a drone to record some of the footage. They now also hire a camera operator, relieving their mom of the duty.
“I still just do what I can,” Storey jokes. “I usually make a lot of sandwiches for the shoots. I sometimes run lights or whatever else needs to be done. I still get to touch the camera’s on/off button sometimes.
“I am just very grateful that they would do something together as siblings and take it through to completion on their own. And I’m grateful that other people seem to enjoy it.”
Though the siblings have only posted five performance videos in four years, their channel has more than 45,000 subscribers and more than 5 million views. It has also earned them multiple invitations to perform live.
“We’ve got a lot more videos in the works but finding time and having everyone together is a challenge,” Devon says. “And having a venue that will let us shoot there, or that we can rent, has been really holding us up. But the near-term goal is to grow the number of videos we get out. Having Ivy Catherine home from the University of Toronto this year, due to COVID-19, helps.”
Storey says she’s been exploring the possibility of one day using a venue at Georgia State for a video.
“I think it would be wonderful to shoot something there,” she says.
For their latest video, they pulled out all the stops to rent space at the Georgia Aquarium in front of the Ocean Voyager attraction and secured sponsorship from Yamaha, which supplied the two grand pianos. And they worked under more intense time constraints than they’d previously faced.
“For reference, I think it took us 12 hours to shoot our ‘Castle on the Hill’ video,” Brydan says. “And for this one, we had five hours, including setup and teardown time.”
On top of the invitations they’ve gotten to perform around the world (they were flown to L.A. to appear on “The World’s Best” two years ago, but their segment was left out of the final edit of the show), the siblings are grateful for the positive reactions their channel receives.
“We have people all over the world contacting us saying how much they enjoy our videos,” Keenan says. “That’s an incredible thing that I did not expect to happen. And getting to perform with your family — who could ask for something better?”
A Natural Progression
For Storey, the bridge from music to computer science — from her passion to her profession — is a short distance. And her pursuit of a mathematics degree was a logical choice since, she says, she “didn’t like anything that had to do with reading or writing.”
But math and music have a well-documented and intimate association.
“There is a lot of information processing that has to be done in a musical performance. They are very similar in the sense that in computer systems, you have very precise algorithms and there’s very specific problem-solving going on, and both of those hold to music,” Storey says.
But she also finds pleasure in the emotional side of music, in the unquantifiable qualities of a performance that can’t be represented on a five-line staff or timed out by a metronome. It’s why she continues to perform publicly when invited to do so.
“Both in mathematics and music, we have representation and the need to process a great deal of information. But where music is much more complicated is the emotional part, which is an entirely different dimension,” Storey says. “Once you master the precision of the notes and rhythm, in order to make a piece musical, you need to know when to break the rules.
“One of my most vivid memories after a performance is someone telling me that my playing made them cry. What more could one ask for?”
Photos by Meg Buscema