When Seba Stephens was 2 years old, he loved The Police and banging on pots and pans. By 3, he was asking for a drum set and his parents agreed to a junior drum kit.
“He didn’t come up for air after that,” his dad, Everett, said. “Absolutely stayed hunkered down on his drum kit.”
Now 10-year-old Seba, plays at clubs and is the youngest student on record to earn a general music studies professional certificate from Berklee Online.
“We had no idea it would lead to where it led in as quickly as it led down that path,” he said.
Seba’s father remembers him practicing constantly, even when he was only 3 years old. He didn’t realize at the time but Seba was trying to imitate the sounds of Stewart Copeland, the drummer of The Police.
“He would just sit there morning, noon and night,” Everett said. “I knew he just loved playing so we did our best to feed him however we could with with music and instruments.”
Everett and his wife aren’t musicians, so it was a bit of a shock for both of them when Seba discovered his passion.
“My wife was hoping for a soccer star,” he said, adding that he was hoping for marine. “We didn’t get either.”
But Everett wouldn’t trade it now.
“I’ve had to watch my buddies go out on baseball fields for six hours on a hot Saturday sweating it out,” he said. “And I thought I might miss that. But I came to find that I actually enjoy hanging out on Saturday nights at a club watching my kid play rock and roll and earn a paycheck.”
Seba and his family, who live in Memphis, Tennessee, changed from traditional schooling to homeschooling in the third grade to focus more on music. The family typically spends between around 8:30 am to 12:30 pm working on school assignments, then they eat lunch and focus on music from 1 pm to 5 pm
“And in the evening, it’s typically more music,” Everett said.
Seba also has auditions for acting roles and spends his weekends playing with adult bands at clubs or developing original music with his own band.
Seba said he gets a few weird looks as the 10-year-old approaches the stage to play but mostly people are curious, thinking “this little kid” is going to “tinker around a little bit.”
“Then I just play and everyone’s like, ‘Whoa,'” he said laughing.
Everett, who has a full view of the audience, confirmed this.
“It’s typically like, ‘Oh, here comes this cute kid about to come on stage.’ And then he starts dropping hammers and it goes from this cute curiosity perspective from the audience to every cell phone is out and everyone’s taking pictures,” he said. “And everyone wants to meet the kid and everyone wants to offer advice or get an autograph.”
To Seba, it’s great.
“I enjoy making people happy and making them listen to my music and enjoying it,” he said.
But for his dad, it’s all about Seba and seeing that his hard work pays off.
“To really be able to connect the dots, that his passion is making these people happy. It has the chance to produce a long-term career for him as well. And it’s special to be able to watch your kid’s heart and soul come alive through music and to be able to enjoy it as much as he does,” he said.
That, Everett said, is every parent’s dream.
“My goal is not to raise a great musician. My goal is not to raise a great actor. My goal is to raise a great person. And whether you choose to become that great musician or actor, that’s up to you and we will support it with everything we have. But first and foremost, it’s important to become a great person,” his dad said. “And I get to witness him becoming a great person.”
But the 10-year-old has proved that he’s also a great musician.
The Stephens family had a difficult time finding a music teacher that would take a 3-year-old. When they finally did it only took about six months before the teacher told Everett, “I don’t know how to teach kids like Sebastian.”
“He told us that Sebastian outpaces anything he can teach and he doesn’t understand how to teach potentially truly gifted percussionist,” Everett recalled.
The teacher suggested finding “top pro mentorship” for the then 4-year-old but Everett was hesitant. Still, he knew his child was special.
“Most kids love going into toy stores or video game stores. Every day after pre-K he was beginning me to take him to Guitar Center,” he said.
Around this time Seba also started learning piano and bass.
“By the time he was 5, he was actually playing bass and drums on Beale Street here in Memphis,” Everett said.
While looking around for summer music programs for Seba, Everett found Berklee’s Summer Programs in Massachusetts. Although there’s a requirement to be 14 years old for the program, the school waived the requirement for Seba.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and university classes all over the world were forced to move from in-person to online.
Berklee College of Music was no exception.
“The first online Berkeley bass class that he took was an online bass workshop. The bass workshop exposed Seba to a level of peers and mentorship, the likes of which we could have never envisioned without Berkeley,” he said. “He got to work with Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey on a weekly basis, just absolutely legendary bass players, the best bass players in the world and several other Grammy Award-winning superstars.”
But it wasn’t easy. Some of the classes required Seba to practice for up to seven hours per day and learning to take college level notes.
“But he stepped up. We had to put in a lot of extra hours, four to six hours a day, six days a week to get to that first course,” Everett said. “But I got to watch his musicianship and his bass playing ability accelerate exponentially.”
And at the end, Seba “looked up to me and said, ‘Daddy, I loved it,'” Everett recalled, with Seba adding that he then asked to do it again.
The family decided to continue Seba’s music education through online courses at the Massachusetts school, but keep him focused on grade level academics.
“We didn’t want 24 hours of his day to be consumed with academic and music pressure at the college level,” his dad said.
However, that might be his future as the 10-year-old hopes to also go to college and graduate from Berklee College of Music — when the time is right.
Seba also likes to do normal 10-year-old activities, such as play video games with friends. And his friends support his music career and think it’s “pretty cool.”
Everett also encourages other parents to consider Berklee’s programs, even if they might be intimidating.
“Pay attention to your kid’s cues at an early age. And as crazy as it may sound, and if you’re in a position to do so, don’t be afraid to over-invest in your child’s interests to the point where it might not make sense,” he said. “Because to most, buying a 3-year-old a drum kit doesn’t make sense, right? But don’t be afraid to invest in your kid’s interest at a very early age. And investing doesn’t mean you know tons of money. It means interest and support.”
Soon fans will see Seba in Wes Anderson’s next movie, which will be released in 2023. He also recently performed in Broadway’s “School of Rock the Musical.” And one day he hopes to be playing at a halftime show at a “giant football arena” — maybe something like the Super Bowl.