How long have you been playing piano, and what is your preferred genre to play?
I’ve been playing piano now for about 18 years, ever since I was 6. After a few too many times banging on the keys of my grandma’s old upright, she sat me down and began teaching me classically, initially. This built a good technical foundation, but as I got older, I started getting into playing pop music. Eventually, I found my passion in jazz, specifically the old standards and swing!
I find sometimes it can be difficult to follow your artistic passion as an adult, especially with certain societal or cultural pressures to pursue something more “practical.” Did you find those around you encouraging your music pursuits?
Luckily, the stigma against following the arts as a career path doesn’t seem as prominent in my generation. The rise of the entrepreneur/side gigs among millennials has made for a relatively accepting environment for people that are pursing their own path. But I would definitely agree that culture, upbringing, and environment have a heavy impact on people actually pursuing music and the arts as a sole source of income.
You mentioned your grandma playing piano. Would you say you came from a musical family? Were there other musical role models in your family as well?
My Grandmother was really the main reason I ended up choosing piano initially. She lived about five hours away in Wyoming, and we’d go up there every summer break. She played for her church, and I always thought it was one of the coolest things seeing her up there. That was what really first sparked my interest in the instrument. It wasn’t until years later that it became more of a passion, as I saw the little joy it would bring to people’s faces to hear a familiar tune or resonate with a bluesy chord.
I was really very fortunate that I grew up in a home and with parents that really instilled confidence in me and my siblings. While my mom had played piano as a child and my dad had dabbled in saxophone in high school, I can’t say my family was musically geared, by any means. I think the biggest factor that allowed me to pursue music and have a continued passion was not exposure to the arts as much as it was the support and mindset of believing in and valuing my self. That really taught me to pursue anything that I wanted, and as long as I would try my best, I would be supported in any endeavor. I’m really grateful for that.
Beautifully put. All children should grow up with that kind of mindset and support.
I find one of the hardest parts of pursuing a passion, especially an artistic one, is being able to confidently call yourself an artist, whatever it may be. Saying I am a writer, or painter, or singer, or musician or dancer I think can be challenging. We compare ourselves to others and are not sure when it is “okay” for us to really deem ourselves worthy of the title.
When did you first consider yourself a musician? Do you have any words of wisdom about this to others wanting to pursue an artistic field?
My grandmother would play for churches and nursing homes. So virtually from my first weeks of playing, she would put me up in front of these very gracious, sweet, and, luckily for them, mostly deaf older people to play songs. So really, from the start, my grandma had helped build my confidence to play in front of others. This meant I never really saw playing piano or “pianist” as some great title to be earned. In reality, it just kind of became another part of who I was: I could catch grasshoppers, name any plane in the sky, eat fifteen cookies in a sitting, and play piano… it’s just who I was.
Haha! I love that.
For me personally, I still don’t really call myself by my professions/hobbies/passions. Instead, I’ve always viewed myself as simply, Tyler. Piano, volleyball, business banking, etc. are all things that I do. But no one of them “is” me. I don’t know that I have, or ever will, consider myself a musician. But it’s certainly something that I enjoy and do for my own pleasure and passion, which is more important, I think.
I agree. I often try to avoid asking people what they do for a living, and prefer to say, “What do you LIKE to do?” Then you learn what drives the person. What they get excited about. What makes them feel alive, without labeling them as just being that one title.
Probably the best way I’ve found to identify myself has been to see how the people that know me introduce me to others and the stories they tell about me. It is important to understand how those who matter to you perceive you. So, if you don’t like be introduced as “Gary, the guy who always passes out at parties,” then you know that you need to lay off the tequila a bit next time.
Haha! You’re hilarious.
(smiles)You should control your actions to match the image you want to have internally and externally. Don’t let others decide it for you, but you can use them to gauge where you’re at.
For me, I think what has helped me in my own confidence in playing as not a benchmark of skill, but instead, being absolutely fascinated and appreciative of those who have even more passion or skill than myself. I would say, whether in an artistic field or not, humility and willingness to get around people who have succeeded in areas you would like to, is the best way to grow in your own endeavors.
That is great advice! Definitely something I admire in others- that idea of learning from others rather than making it only about competition. Making sure the sharing and enjoyment of what you are pursuing is never lost.
I thought your singing was awesome, and it was interesting when you said that though you don’t sing a lot, you have a good ear because of your training as a musician.
Thank you! I’m glad that the Michael Bublé impression didn’t fall on deaf ears (Pun absolutely intended)!
Haha! Well, your comment was a good reminder of how each little skill that we build from one art to another can help influence and further develop another skill, or even other aspects of our lives, without us knowing it.
I completely agree, and several studies have shown the correlations between excelling in “practical” skill sets when individuals also pursue art in one form or another.
I find that really interesting. So how has music training impacted other areas of your life, or how have other areas of your life impacted your music playing?
For me, playing piano and music is therapeutic. Personally, I tend to be very extroverted and spend little time alone as I thrive in more social environments. But piano is one way that really helps me reflect and be in an almost meditative state. When I need to relax or search for a moment of clarity, I have found no better remedy than sitting down on an old woodmen bench and just beginning to play.
The profound impact piano has had just from a personally restorative place for me is beyond measure. It’s built dexterity in sports, coordination, and posture. It’s led to numerous social interactions and wonderful relationships that have blossomed far beyond the sonata or ballad that started them.
Aww… that is lovely. I am going to be reading and rereading that last line especially many times. You captured the beauty of music in a nutshell there.
If you had to describe yourself as a musical instrument, which instrument would you be and why?
I would be a tenor sax in the hands of a bluesy New Orleans style jazz band! Maybe it’s just because the last week has had me listening to a lot of upbeat jazz, mixed with rainy rhythms from Coltrane. But the versatility of a saxophone is something I strive to personify.
Seems very fitting. I can totally picture it.
Thank you so much for your witty and thoughtful responses.