Whenever James Gates plays a Mozart piano concerto, he imagines himself to be a musician inside an Austrian music hall, circa the late 18th century.
He undergoes a similar out-of-body transformation whenever he plays Beethoven, Chopin and Tchaikovsky.
"I love performing," Gates explained. "If I could build a time machine, I'd bring the audience back to experience what was going through the minds of such great composers."
Since the Moville, Iowa, native speaks with such confidence, it's easy to forget that he's only 13 years old.
Currently a seventh-grader at Radnor Middle School, in Wayne, Pennsylvania, Gates has earned a spot on the Philadelphia Music Teacher Association Student Recital, which will take place at 1 p.m. March 30, at the Weill Recital Hall inside New York's Carnegie Hall.
Yes, you read that right. He's going to be playing Carnegie Hall.
"I've never been to Carnegie Hall and, now, I'm going to be performing there," Gates said during a phone interview. "I'm so excited!"
According to his mom, Gates has worked hard to get to this point.
"I knew early on how serious James was about his music," Liang Gates said, noting he began taking private music lessons by age 4. "Something comes over James when he's playing piano. There is so much joy that he wants to share it with everyone."
Gates is known to practice as many as 3 to 4 hours a night.
"If I struggle on something small, it is easy to step over it," he reasoned. "If I wait until the struggle is greater, it is like leaping over a river. I prefer to take care of things right away."
Sounds pretty reasonable. But does Gates have time for anything besides music?
"I love being outside, love playing golf and read anything I can get my hands on," he said.
So, what's currently on Gates' bookshelf? "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" by award-winning journalist and activist Michael Pollan.
"It's a pretty good book," he said.
Although Gates began his schooling at Moville's Woodbury Central, his family wanted him to enroll in a more accelerated program.
Gates enjoys attending Radnor, which is one of the top-ranked middle schools; he's been accepted into the Haverford School, a well-regarded prep school for boys in Haverford, Pennsylvania, in the fall.
"Giving James the chance to attend school on the East Coast has been wonderful," Liang Gates said. "He's much more confident and much more mature now."
Even better, Gates' feet can now reach the pedals of his piano.
"Yes, James has had a growth spurt," his mom said with a laugh. "That's a good thing as well."
Indeed, Gates' music helps him to prepare for other scholastic endeavors.
"You learn how to focus when you're a musician," he explained. "You can apply that concentration on other things as well."
Would Gates like to become a classical pianist when he grows up?
"I'll always play music but I'd prefer to do other things with my life," he said. "I wouldn't mind becoming a secretary of state as long as I can become one who plays piano."
Gates said he isn't feeling any trepidation about performing inside of the legendary Carnegie Hall. Instead, he feeds off the energy of the crowd.
"When I'm at the piano, the music moves me," he said. "Then, when the audience applauds, I know the music has moved them as well."