You can’t fool me. Your parents might accept the ivory-pounding enthusiasm you paint on your face while playing Bach’s 9th movement concerto in D-minor. With decades of practice you may even manage to trick your professors into thinking that your dream is to perform in the classical obscurity of elite tuxedoed crowds.
I know better. You don’t want to be Gary Menzies ? Gary who? You want to be Tori Amos.
I haven’t spent much time wandering the halls outside of practice rooms, but I have heard frustrating sessions with Rachmaninoff deteriorate into esteem-boosting renditions of “Silent All These Years.” It’s so easy to play, you tell yourself. You can do it. You can be popular. Well, I’m here to help.
I’ve done a painstaking statistical analysis of popular musicians, dedicating myself to thousands ? give or take a few thousand ? of individual case-studies, and I’ve come up with a simple and exciting solution. Drop out of school. Or better yet, find a way to get kicked out and then blame the dismissal on some radically non-traditional style you’ve developed that the dean just would not tolerate.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s examine the facts. Case number one: Tori Amos. The erotic queen of emotional outburst studied classical piano at the prestigious Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in her hometown of Baltimore.
She didn’t last long. Shortly after her first recital before faculty, in which she played original compositions as well as an apparently disturbing ad-libbed John Lennon cover, she was expelled. As a going-away present, she received the gift of a hatred toward conservatism, which she has used in practically every song she’s written since. Her rise to that mythic “popularity” began in dimly-lit Washington, D.C. bars and worked its way west, where she was noticed while headlining the band “Y Kant Tori Read.” Another recommendation ? if you want to be the one noticed in a band, try to work part of your name into its name.
Case number two: ephemeral “Magnolia” diva Aimee Mann. Mann is another emotionally naked pianist/songwriter and another music school reject. Unlike Tori, Miss Mann dropped out of the Berklee School of Music on her own volition ? so she claims ? to lend her vocal stylings to the unforgettable get-that-80s-song-out-of-my-head tune “Voices Carry.” She rode then-new MTV to stardom along with fellow Berklee dropouts in the band “‘Til Tuesday.”
Case number three: Jim Brickman. Probably the purest pianist in the group, Brickman enrolled in the Cleveland Institute of Music to develop classical skills. The lure of popularity and mainstream money got the best of him, and at 19 he began writing commercial jingles. I don’t know much about him, but sources tell me he’s the Justin Timberlake heartthrob for mothers around the country.
Add to that list the majority of popular musicians who have no classical training at all ? Alanis Morissette, Beth Hart and the list goes on. Are you convinced yet?
Well, before you start flooding Dean Undercofler’s office with withdrawal forms, I should warn you ? unless you’re a freshman, it might already be too late. When they left school, Brickman was 19, Mann was 18 and Amos was a mature 12 ? she had been the youngest student ever accepted to Peabody.
Does that mean that upperclassmen are doomed to play Gershwin before muted and murmuring crowds? Have your parents won, thrusting you headlong into the pit of tradition and pinning a sign that says “unpopular” to your back? Will you be forced to live your entire life without having outlandish, stock adverbs placed before your name?
Not necessarily. The one artist conspicuously absent from this list is the glowing anomaly, your beacon of hope.
Case number four: the Fumblingly Ecstatic Sarah MacLachlan. Not only did the soothingly complex founder of Lilith Fair graduate from the Nova Scotia Royal Conservatory of Music ? she did so with 12 years of classical guitar training, eight of piano and five of voice to her credit.
Opera-singing band-geek turned superstar, she is your prom queen of popularity. She is your idol. Follow her lead and you could become popular too.
Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.