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Tori talks about the Peabody

My mother says I was playing at two-and-a-half. In fact, my earliest memories of life are of me playing. There was an incredible sense of pull and draw. That was my friend. That was my best friend in the world. That was the only thing that understood me and that I understood. I remember having an incredible understanding of the universe. I didn't have fears. I believed that there were monsters. It didn't bother me. They were just part of the room. They weren't a bad thing. I believed in other dimensions. And it wasn't just a Christian world to me. I felt good vibes from Jesus, but I also felt good vibes from Robert Plant. When you're young, you're being told what to think. But I'd go to the piano and that's where I was comforted. It was my protector, the protector of my thoughts.

I entered Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory when I was five, and the idea was to become a classical pianist because what are you going to do when you can play like that? So the conservatory was downtown where there were real musicians. ‘Wouldn't it be great for her to be around real musicians instead of just going to first grade?' You're five, and you think you're going to be around older people. It's a very exciting prospect. I knew I was different. I knew I did things that other kids didn't do. But, you know, you don't have an ego when you're five. I didn't want them to treat me like I was weird or special. It would be really great if other people did what I did and we could just hang out. You just want to have friends and play and eat popcorn together. And life is very simple. You get inspired, it's very exciting. It's not about, "When Debbie was your age, she was three months ahead of you."

I was an ear person. And it was the way they taught me that was the mistake. They started me with "Hot Cross Buns." When you go from Gershwin to "Hot Cross Buns" it's a bit of a shock. You don't understand that this is for your good. "How could it possibly be for my good?" There's nothing that you could have said to that girl to convince her. She had no desire to do that. "I play because I love to play." You think you're being punished. What I really learned from the Peabody came from my classmates. I got the music through them. I understood that there was a Jim Morrison and I understood that there was a John Lennon. They spoke to me like I was an adult. Here I was with my little curls, my feet that didn't touch the floor, and we're all sitting in theory class. And I'm turning around going, "Wow, he's really cute, and he's black, and he has long hair. Can I go home with him?" [Laughs] [Keyboard - September 1992]

All the kids [at the Peabody] were over 16, one was nine and I was the youngest. I didn't fit in. My mother was reading me Edgar Allen Poe at night to help me go to sleep, then you go and read Dick and Jane and Spot and practice Mozart and Bartok in the afternoon. I was always writing music at my desk. It's not that I was that smart, but I was real creative. [Deluxe - May 1998]

By eight, the bottom started falling out. They were looking for improvement and I wasn't improving. "What's she doing?" I was going home and listening to Beatles records and anything else I could get my hands on. I studied 30 minutes during the whole week of what I was supposed to. It was, "I'm here, and they don't get it, and that's the way it is." You just do that as a kid. You can't say, "Hey, let's have a conference." I was out by the time I was 11, because I was developing my own music all this time.

At 13, my father saw me wasting away, some of my friends were getting pregnant, and he didn't want that to happen to me. So he tried to find a special interest to keep my hands busy, I guess. He said, "Your music was so much a part of your life. Why don't you go back to the Peabody?" So I actually auditioned to get back in. These girls were auditioning for the voice school, singing Ave Maria. Me, I sang "I've Been Cheated." [Laughs] They didn't clap, and they certainly didn't let me back in. So I started playing clubs and turning in my songs. I heard something a few months ago from a period when I was 13 to 17, and some of it was so exciting. I'd forgotten. They're a bit more progressive, honestly, than what I do now. I hadn't been diluted yet. I'd be proud to play you some of that stuff, especially when I was 16. Real exciting changes, no traditional choruses like you hear today out of my work. At that time it was completely about self-expression. It wasn't about, "What will they think?" What happens to a musician is that you either become a teacher, you become a church organist, you do your own music, or you play somebody else's in a lobby somewhere... Oh yeah, I wasn't going to be a teacher. [Keyboard - September 1992]


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