Andrea Granieri spent a lot of her time as a teenager sitting in the dark.
But she wasn't simply resting in a chair.
She was seated at a piano in a small room near the garage of her family's home, creating music. The only audience for her piano and vocal harmonies was the darkness around her.
Granieri preferred for the lights to be turned off. She was playing music that was solely for her and that she did not dare share with anyone else.
"If I was playing in the dark, I could think easier and it would come out easier," Granieri said.
The secrecy made for peculiar encounters with family members who would investigate and find her seated in a dark room. It's also in contrast to the Granieri who now openly performs for others and has had her music appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
The watershed change for Granieri came late in her teenage years at a music performance held at the Gateway Theater in Somers Point when, in a selfless rescue, she stepped in for a friend who panicked before going on stage.
"It was for the love of my friend," said Granieri, who had been there to watch.
To this day, she remembers what she was wearing and the enthusiastic response from the audience - but not how to play the first original song she unveiled to others, a piece about a girl at school who had recently revealed she was gay.
Still, the performance stands as a moment of revolution.
"It's the song that changed everything," said Granieri, 27.
She began pursing any opportunity to perform, starting at open mikes and coffee houses, just to feel the reaction of audiences to the collection of her personal songs.
"I was so into 'I play and people like it,'" said Granieri, who uses the name "Anj" when performing. "I'm communicating with them and they're communicating with me."
It was also the first time she stepped out alone to show off skills she began accumulating years earlier.
Granieri grew up in Linwood.
Her father, Carl, is a jazz musician with his own music business and orchestra. An aunt and Carl's sister, Nancy Orlando, gives piano and vocal lessons.
That made it all but a family tradition for the children to learn to play the piano. Granieri was taught just like her siblings and cousins when she reached about age 5.
"I just don't remember not always playing," she said.
But the family roots did not make her a prodigy.
Granieri said of the six family children who took piano lessons, she struggled the most. A box of tissues was a constant presence atop the piano as she coped with frustration.
Orlando remembers Granieri's grief.
"She cried for about four years - and then did very well," said Orlando, of Linwood.
Granieri's improvement in ability led her to begin giving lessons of her own to children at age 14. She still gives private instruction and also works as a general music teacher at the Fernwood Avenue and Alder Avenue middle schools in Egg Harbor Township.
But besides a source of income as a youth, music became an outlet for her to express herself and overcome being bullied in school.
"I connected with it as a way to have a voice," Granieri said.
After she stood in for her friend, Granieri's musical growth included many feats.
She received a degree in music from Rowan University, independently recorded two albums, began to play in casino venues and moved to New York for a time to perform.
"She has just grown beyond what I thought she would in my dreams when she started," Orlando said.
Another breakthrough came a year ago, when at a convention in Los Angeles, she signed a contract with a company that provides music for Harpo Productions, which produces "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
It was an unexpected opportunity for Granieri, who impressed a music rep during an open mic show in what she said now stands as the "best weekend of my life."
She composes songs of different genres for the company, which submits them among a library of music to Harpo, so it's never initially clear what will happen to her songs. But each of the 11 songs created by Granieri has eventually appeared during portions of the show.
While continuing to play the occasional local show, Granieri is preparing a one-woman musical theater show for the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival in September. The show is about the trials of her teenage years and will draw upon her theater experience as a student at Holy Spirit High School.
Granieri said it will be an opportunity to combine several passions and further share her story.
It will also be one step further from sitting in the dark.
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For information on performances by Andrea Granieri and to listen to her music, visit www.