Barbara Kooman of Altoona remembers when her son was just a little boy and had a small role onstage as one of several townspeople in a local production of "The Sound of Music.''
The director told the other little boys that if they lost their place in the music, to just keep their eyes on Michael Kooman.
"I thought to myself, he never misses a beat,'' said Barbara, who along with her husband, Marty, recently had the proud distinction of watching their son, now 29, accept a prestigious award for his musical talent in New York City.
Michael, who writes music, has won the ninth annual Fred Ebb award along with lyricist Christopher Dimond, whom he met when they were both students at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Christopher writes the lyrics for the songs that Michael creates, as well as the "music books '' or stories that serve as the plots of the musicals they write. Michael and Christopher have also produced an album together that features artists such as Chris Mann, who has appeared on the TV show "Glee,'' and Patina Miller, who won a Tony award for the Broadway show "Pippin,'' and will star in the next two installments of the "Hunger Games'' films in 2014 and 2015.
The Fred Ebb award is given to aspiring songwriters to help them create new works, according to the award foundation's website. The award includes $50,000, plus a one-night concert that features the winner's work.
If you go
What: "Judge Jackie Justice,'' Cabaret at Theater Square, Pittsburgh CLO
Where: 719 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 to April 27; consult Pittsburgh CLO website listed below for exact show dates and times
Cost: Cost varies according to date
For more information, call 412-456-6666 or go to www.pittsburghclo.org
Michael, who graduated from Altoona Area High School in 2002 and now lives in New York City, said about 230 songwriters competed for the prize this year. It's the fourth time he and Christopher have tried to win the award, he said. They've been finalists in past years, but never won until this year, he said.
"It's truly an honor for us to finally win,'' he said. "It's something we've certainly set our sights on for a long time. We're just on cloud nine. It's phenomenal.''
Ebb wrote the lyrics for such classic Broadway shows as "Cabaret'' and "Chicago,'' both of which were later turned into films. He worked with legendary actors including Judy Garland, her daughter Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Joel Gray, who presented the award to Michael and Christopher earlier this month.
Michael said meeting Gray and getting the award that is based on the legacy of Ebb's work, which both he and Christopher have studied, is the highlight of their career to date.
"It was one of the best nights of my life,'' he said.
As a parent, Barbara said she was equally thrilled not only to meet Gray but to see her son and Christopher recognized for their years of hard work. She recalled how Michael had started out playing the drums at an early age, and then progressed to the electric keyboard, picking out songs from the radio after just hearing them once or twice.
"I always knew he'd be doing something musical,'' Barbara said. "He was so interested in playing the keyboard, making up little things. Michael was always good at arranging things, singing songs.''
Michael and Christopher have collaborated on several projects, their latest a production in New York City that was extended to sold-out performances after they won the Fred Ebb award, Michael said. Next month, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera will perform "Judge Jackie Justice,'' a musical comedy that spoofs all the courtroom TV reality shows, Michael said. Following the Pittsburgh run, they will be at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with another original show, he said.
Michael will return to Altoona this summer when he and Christopher help stage a production of their musical, "Dani Girl,'' which is about a girl who battles cancer. The performance will be done by the Altoona Community Theatre as a fundraiser for the Brian Morden Foundation, Barbara said. Morden was a childhood friend of Michael who died of cancer, she said. More information about the performance will be released when the plans are finalized, Barbara said.