home / interviews
The Observer (UK)
weekly Sunday newspaper
October 12, 2008
Guide to the Piano & Keyboard
'I really can't do anything besides music'
Tori Amos encourages budding pianists to open their minds, follow their ears and surrender to the mythical power of the piano
by Tori Amos
The piano is a multi-dimensional thing. You have to allow it to play you and you have to become malleable. You must surrender to the piano but, in the same breath, you have to be an absolute motherfucker. That way your playing can be as multi-dimensional as the piano; both thunderous and soothing. I'm not saying it's easy but I am saying the instrument will teach you how to do this. It wants us to learn how to do this and to be capable of learning how to play it. But we have to be willing to be taught.
I first learned to play the piano when I was two years old. At home I used an old upright piano as an escape route. Although I would be in clear sight of everyone, I might as well have been across the galaxy in another dimension, taken there by the tone and the sonic patterns that the piano would give me.
I've never been great at reading music -- I had an ear, but now my ear is corrupt. These days I impose my musical vocabulary on everything I hear and play, whereas at the age of five I could play it exactly -- I didn't have a developed musical dictionary so I would stay truer to what I was hearing. Now I bastardise everything, even my own work. But I do have issues with authority, I'm the first to admit that ...
My advice to beginners would be, please don't just play what your teachers tell you to play: you will hate it. Why they teach these kids the worst songs of all time just baffles me. Kids don't like Mary Had a Little Lamb and Three Blind Mice.
I had an issue with this 40 years ago. At a certain point I was listening to Handel and could play it back to you -- yet still I was forced to work on my Hot Crossed Buns. I find this approach extremely antiquated, so I encourage my daughter to play music she likes. She hears something on the radio, I'll write it out in an easy form, and she can play along.
Guitar players are my greatest inspiration. I learned a long time ago that if I wanted to develop my own style, then I would have to come up with something that no one in my field had done before. So I watched a lot of different guitar players.
I once saw Jimi Hendrix on a television show and remembered my father, a minister, referring to that kind of music as "devil music". I thought, right then, 20 years from now some minister is going to look at me playing the piano and say: "She plays like she's got the devil in her." I thought that was a good goal.
I'm fascinated with myth, and when I play I allow many mythological characters to play out through me on stage. There are nights when I can follow a sonic map that can take me through worlds, and it's incredibly humbling because I don't really understand it. I got an A in geometry but I really can't do anything besides music. The trick is not to fall off your piano stool, which I have done before. Let's hope you don't get to a performance like that.
Tori Amos's latest CD, Live at Montreux, is out now and features rare footage of two of her earliest live performances at the festival in 1991 and 1992
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos