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Tori Amos: timeline
[before] [1963-1968] [1969-1974] [1975-1977] [1978-1983] [1984-1989] [1990-1992] [1993-1994] [1995-1996] [1997-1998] [1999-2000]  [2002-2003] [2004-2005] [2006-2008] [2009-2010] [2011-2013] [2014-2017] [2018-2023] [future & now]
1969 - 1974
* 5½ year old Ellen auditions and is granted a full scholarship to attend the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the youngest person to ever be accepted to the Peabody.
Click to read a story about Ellen's Peabody audition.
August 22, 1969
* Ellen turns 6 and begins 1st grade. She attends classes at the Peabody on Saturdays. At the Peabody, she is exposed to the music of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and realises they are the Mozarts and Beethovens, the visionaries, of our time. The professors at Peabody teach Ellen to read music, rather than always playing by ear.
"I entered Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory when I was five [she was five when she auditioned, but was six when she actually started], 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 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 practise Mozart and Bartok in afternoon. I was always writing music at my desk. It's not that I was that smart, but I was real creative." [Deluxe (UK) - May 1998]
What and when was your musical epiphany?
"It was very early: the [Beatles] Sgt. Pepper record. I was five years old and studying piano at the Peabody Conservatory, and when I heard that, I knew. I knew I would never be a classical pianist; I knew from that moment it was all over. Because I brought it in for my teacher to hear, I said, "This! This is it!" And they listened and they said, "No it isn't! Get it out of here! Sit back on the stool and do Mozart again." And I said, "No, no, no. This is Mozart if he were here now. They're the same!" And they said, "No they're not, get it out of here, and get back on the stool." From that day, they and I were at war. So now my enemies were my grandmother and the people at the Conservatory. I was a little Boadicea." [Request - June 1998]
"There was this African-American guy at the Peabody in 1968 [Tori is mistaken, it was 1969]. It was a funny time, 1968. He was about 17 or 16, and he was sitting there, playing some Hendrix stuff at the piano. I think he was really into McCoy Tyner also. I would just sit there, because I was kind of in love with him. But I was five and a half, and he was 17 and black in 1968. I mean, it was all going on. Even though my uncle was black - Uncle Bobby; he's dead now, but he was my father's best friend - it's a whole 'nother thing to see your five-and-a-half-year-old daughter in love with this Jimi Hendrix-like jazzer. I think his name was Reggie; I can't remember... I didn't know Reggie for long, because something happened. He went off. But he had such an influence on my life. I have no idea where Reggie is, but his sense of playing... I would watch him, with the left hand. This could be in between classes, but I was drinking it in, going, "OK, this guy is onto something here. I've never really heard a mixture of these things. I don't know who this Jimi cat is; I'm five years old." You've gotta remember, I'm getting it together in my brain. But it had an impact on me, because this guy at the piano was sort of showing me. I think that was a huge influence on why I started studying Jimmy Page. I'd go to guitar players to bring it to my need, because I didn't want to steal." [All Music zine - October 1999]
* During the week, Ellen attends public school.
"Kindergarten went O.K. The first grade was fair. The second grade was a bummer. I sat in the corner more than any other kid in the class until the ninth grade. I tried to be an inspiring force, but my teachers and I were at odds. Independent thinking was not their priority." [All These Years - 1994]
"[Music was] my total life. That was my Pokémon. It's like, 'OK, what's gonna be on Zeppelin II?' I was obsessed. My whole life was music. I was a musician first; then I realized I was a girl. It's one of those things, looking back, where music sometimes chooses you. You don't have a choice. It's your manna. I had no idea why I was going to school, except for the social aspect. There were no illusions for me, ever. I knew at six that it was ridiculous: 'I'm gonna have accountants anyway. What am I doing here? We're wasting the school system's time. I don't know this crap. I'm never gonna know this crap. Why don't you let me develop what my gift is? Who are we kidding here?'" [All Music zine - October 1999]
August 22, 1970
* Ellen turns 7 and begins 2nd grade. She auditions at the Peabody and her scholarship is renewed for a second year.
But Amos's age and temperament proved a challenge to her teachers and her parents, with Amos rebelling against mechanics when memory seemed the easier path. "They didn't know how to teach that kid," says Amos. "To try and break a kid's ear so that they'll learn how to read - and you have to read to be a classical pianist. The way that they went about it made me hate it... I was a disappointment, and at 7 it became very clear to me that we had different plans." [The Washington Post - March 22, 1992]
"I knew it was all over at the Peabody as soon as they gave me a piece called Hot Cross Buns. I wanted to play Hoagy Carmichael! You don't take away a kid's ear with rubbish like Hot Cross Buns. They lost all respect in my eyes when they made me play that." [The Sunday Times (UK) - January 16, 1994]
* Ellen decides she wants to write her own music.
"I was seven. I already knew what I was going to do. I was seven, a done deal. I was already writing. I didn't know how good or not good I could be. I knew that I could probably figure it out musically, but word-wise I was writing The Jackass and the Toad Song. But I've always been a bit of a romantic. I'd be five years old, lying in my bed, with the afghan over me, squeezing my legs together and thinking, "Something should go here one day." I wanted to run away with all those guys, with Zeppelin and Jim Morrison and John Lennon. I [recently] told Robert Plant that I really wanted to pack my peanut butter and jelly and my teddy, and my trolls and come find him." [Keyboard - November 1994]
Do you remember when you started writing?
"I think so. I think I was seven or something. But you're not even aware of it when you're little, what you're up to sometimes. You're just experimenting and you're in your own world. And you're not always analyzing your world that young, unless you're a little Jungian person [laughs]. But I think for the most part you create. Instead of sitting there thinking about what you're going to do and then doing it, you're just doing all the time."
How long were you in that state of mind before you started realizing what it was you were doing?
"Probably about eight or nine years old, I became much more aware of structure. I think as a little girl I was aware of possibilities, but when I was eight or nine I became more aware of form, and that, yes there were different forms, and what was I going to choose to experiment with."
What do you think today of the songs that you wrote from your childhood all the way to Y Kant Tori Read?
"They're not the same thing. You can't compare [Y Kant Tori Read] to what I was doing before then, because I was really - it was a different stage of my life. I was writing a lot from the piano and I had a little beat box and a synth. When I was in my teenage years, I was sending in a lot of tapes to record companies for over seven years, and they said, "the girl pianist/singer songwriter thing isn't going to happen." [Performing Songwriter - September 1998]
August 22, 1971
* Ellen turns 8 and begins 3rd grade. She auditions at the Peabody Conservatory and renews her scholarship for a third year.
"By eight, the bottom started falling out. They [the professors at Peabody] 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." [Keyboard - September 1992]
"I remember walking down the hallways of the Peabody Conservatory and hearing the same piece being played in ten rooms, pretty much all the same. Some people's chops were better than others'; usually the kids from Asia were better, because they were precise and incredibly disciplined. The Jewish kids from that part of Baltimore had a little more humor in their work; you could feel that. But you and to have such good ears to really know, because they all were playing the same piece. I knew that I couldn't play this piece better than any of these people. It would probably be very different: You'd know where the redhead was, you'd figure out which practice room I was in. But I'd never win any competitions, ever, because nobody was interested in my take on Debussy. I never won anything. I always got marked down. Always. I had big arguments with these people, that these guys were pushing the limits of music at their time, just like John Lennon in his time. To understand their music, you have to understand the time. You have to know what's going on around them, especially when there's no lyric, when it's all music. Nobody, I thought, ever got the feel right. So I knew that if I was just gonna be playing some dead guy's music for the rest of my life, I'd probably never get a hearing, because their impression of what the dead guy should sound like was not mine at all." [Keyboard - November 1994]
* The Amos family moves to Silver Spring, Maryland, where Reverend Edison Amos becomes pastor of the Good Shepherd United Methodist church.
August 22, 1972
* Ellen turns 9 and begins 4th grade at a new school in Silver Spring. She auditions at the Peabody and renews her scholarship for a fourth year. She attends the Peabody on Saturdays, as well as taking additional repertoire classes at the home of her teacher Paula Gorelkin. Ellen is awarded many trophies and honors while at the Peabody, including a certificate presented by the American College of Musicians.
"Everywhere I went, I was asked to play. I was the girl who played piano... I knew my assets. I'd go, 'God, that boy isn't noticing me much, but when I start to play this tune, he will.' So I got as manipulative as I guess Joan Collins was when she was nine years old and trying on high-cut panties." [The London Independent - January 16, 1994]
Do you remember when you wrote your first song?
"No, but it was instrumental. Not words, just music, for those first few years. Then I came up with Jackass and the Toad Song. That had words."
How old were you then?
"Don't know. Maybe nine or ten. "I'm walking down the road with a jackass and a toad. Some people say I'm crazy, the way I choose my friends" [laughs]. That's because I had a purple monkey friend named Clunky - and Timmy, who was a boy, and Mr. Spaghetti. The monkey comes up a lot for me still." [All Music zine - October 1999]
* Ellen's Poppa, Calvin Clinton Copeland, dies. Ellen plays and sings his favorite hymns at the funeral in North Carolina.
Ellen's mother, Mary, says, "she never got over his death. He was the only person she ever completely respected. She would go to his grave three times a week and sing to him until she was thirteen." [All These Years - 1994]
* Dear Peggy, Ellen Amos sings like a frog...
Let me just say... you have such an incredibly beautiful voice.
"Oh God... Kevin Craig... I went to fourth grade with... and he wrote this letter to my friend Paige... and anyway... they were having an affair behind my back [laughs] and so in the letter, it got intercepted by my fourth grade teacher named Miss Shavett, and I hope she lives in Chicago too, and she opened it and read it to the class. And I was called Ellen then and it said, 'Dear Paige, Ellen sings like a frog I hate her, I love you now.'"
"Yeah, to this day. But, you know... It's one of those things where I went home and I was pretty gutted and my brother said to me... 'So you're nine and a half, you have a few years, you could turn this around if you wanted to.' And I said, 'What do you think I should do?' And he said, 'Well, part of your problem is you're trying to sing like Robert Plant and you're only two feet tall, and so maybe you should just give it a few more years and listen to those records.' So I didn't stop listening to Robert Plant... I did it and I did it and I did it... and by twelve years old they weren't laughing as much." [The Mix, Chicago - September 15, 1999]
"I think I sounded like a tuba. But I had notes, there would be notes, I would play the piano and sing in class, you know, 'cause that's what, that's what I kinda did. And the teacher would always say, 'Could you just play and not sing?' And I would say, 'Yeah... ok. I'm sorry.' And Kevin Craig wrote this letter to Peggy Shaw, and Kevin said -- everybody called me Ellen, growing up -- 'I hate Ellen, she sings like a frog, it's so gross. I love you Peggy, I hate Ellen forever.' And the teacher read this in class, you know. And it's very difficult when you're nine and you do kinda sing like a tuba, and you're going, you know, you haven't developed -- this is an instrument that has to be developed, it's not like a piano or a guitar that's already developed when you start playing it. You have to, what do you call it, sculpt your own voice." [Alex Bennett show - February 10, 1994]
"Kevin Craig said I sang like a frog. He wrote this on a piece of paper in fourth grade to Peggy Shaw and said, 'I love you forever, Peggy. God, Ellen Amos sings like a frog.' And I was pretty devastated and I wasn't gonna sing again. And my brother said, 'You listen to Robert Plant, you sing to his records every day, and one day they'll stop laughing at you.' And that's what I did." [KSCA, Los Angeles - August 24, 1994]
August 22, 1973
* Ellen turns 10 and begins 5th grade. She auditions at the Peabody and renews her scholarship for a fifth year.
"Back in school, I would always say, "How do you know that Debussy meant this? Because I certainly don't think Jesus meant this when he said such and such." When people talk about interpretation of a piece, I completely lose it, because again, it's that intuitive place of respecting the instrument and respecting the song. Music, it has an opinion. But yet because I'm different than you, I have every right to play Claire de lune my way, as do you. Why should you play it like me? Maybe you're coming from a different background with a different edge that brings it a different perspective. I don't believe for one minute that Debussy would not want to hear your perspective! I don't believe that. I'd love to hear someone's perspective on one of my tunes... There's no doubt, though, that the classical influence has seeped into my brain, obviously. But [at the conservatory] people weren't encouraged to think for themselves. That's what we're missing. And not just in music - how to be your own thinker." [Keyboard - September 1992]
* Ellen is 10 when she has her first period. "My mother hadn't told me anything about it. I thought I was going to die. I was like: 'give me a break, mother, we look at Playgirl magazines on the weekend at Emily's in between playing The Who and Led Zeppelin. I'm old enough to know about this.' I got into trouble then for yelling." [Vox - May 1994]
"I couldn't understand all this talk of women being 'of the devil', and that only 'evil women' gave away their virginity before marriage... Yet when I was ten I heard Robert Plant and wanted to give him my virginity. I thought it was like sharing peanut butter and jelly and holding hands!" [Irish Independent - 2001]
* Ellen sings and plays piano in church services until she turns 21.
You've been singing in churches...
"Weddings and funerals. Yeah, I did weddings ummm first and then I graduated to funerals. I liked funerals better then."
No I'm talking about when you were a little girl, like...
"Yeah that's what I mean..."
"My dad had me working - see, I was cheaper than the organist - so he could pay less if he got me working than if he had to hire a pro. And um, I was about 10 - 9 or 10 - and weddings were pretty lucrative."
So your dad got you your start in music.
Got your start in the business.
"Paying yes, getting paid and then ummm again like I said funerals were the real good one."
So what were you singing? Were you singing religious material? You were singing....
"No. No People getting married in the 70s did not want religious material. But the great thing is when I did funerals I did not have to sing We've Only Just Begun, so that was good..."
That's what you were singing? We've Only Just Begun?
"For weddings, yeah."
"Yeah. Very big request, Evergreen, Big One." [Ground Zero on KCRW - September 22, 2001]
* Ellen's paternal grandmother, Addie Allen Amos, dies.
"I hated my grandmother. She'd pound into me the idea that only evil women give away their virginity before marriage. If you even thought about doing that you were 'out of the kingdom of god,' she'd say.
"And so I waited a long time before giving up my virginity, because of this feeling: 'how can I be a nice, respectable girl and want to do this?' And more than anything I wanted respect from men, my father in particular. And even at that age I felt that Jesus was a real, living presence in my life. That can be a bit of a disadvantage. It's weird when you're giving a guy head at 15 and you're thinking 'Jesus is looking at me!'" [Hot Press - 1992]
"If we met at the River Styx, I don't know if I'd give her a ride in my boat." [The London Independent - January 16, 1994]
* At the Peabody...
"I was working with musicians who were 17 or 18, which was very exciting because, through them, I'd be exposed to all the new music. So I'd spend half my time listening to gospel and the other half listening to Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. Then all of a sudden, it stopped being fun. The whole idea was for me to be a concert pianist. Something got lost and it became deadly serious. It wasn't free expression anymore. It was going to be channeled into a career. I found I couldn't live with the piano in that regimented way. It was obvious that I couldn't work within those parameters. I just didn't want to do what was expected of me." [Melody Maker - November 16, 1991]
* Ellen auditions at the Peabody to renew her full scholarship for a sixth year, but the scholarship is not renewed...
Peabody's curriculum at the time was strictly classical, and though Amos studied there for five years - "she resisted but she stayed with it," her mother notes - things came to a head at 11 when she auditioned again and swung her Beethoven with a Beatles beat. Amos's scholarship was not renewed, though she continued private instruction when her father moved his ministry, first to Silver Spring, then Rockville, and eight years ago, to Potomac. [The Washington Post - March 22, 1992]
"We were poor. They knew that. No scholarship meant no school, so it was a chicken-shit way out. I think I was feeling my father's need for me to stay in school, and that freaked me out, that made me feel like I'd failed. But there was a sense of relief, like, finally I can go make some real music. That was a part of me, but the other part was, I was eleven and trying to please my father. He wanted me to get my doctorate from the Peabody by the time I was eighteen." [All These Years - 1994]
"So much happened to me when I was a kid and, to some extent, all my songs come from there. It's as though there's a string attached between my childhood and the present. Things that happen to me now seem to be connected to what went before. It's the some pain with different names and places attached. Getting kicked out of the conservatory was so traumatic for me. It was like a bad relationship ending."
"At the end of that, my spirit was broken because I had been warring with myself for so long. That's what Silent All These Years is all about. This idea of giving up the things you love for the sake of somebody else, whether it's teacher, parent, lover, whatever. We're taught that it's a good thing to have approval from our peers. That can get addictive to the point where you always put them first. That's what happened to me. I was 11 years old and it seemed like my life was all over." [Melody Maker - November 16, 1991]
* She begins private study with Charlotte Dixon.
August 22, 1974
* Ellen turns 11 and begins 6th grade.
"I was kicked out of the conservatory when I was 11. They thought I was too much of a... up-start. I was really into John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix; in their opinion, they were "not worthy." Unless it was Chopin and Mozart, they didn't wanna know. Then I came and played John Lennon, and they said, this is unacceptable - and I said, if Mozart were alive today, he'd have listened to John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix; they totally messed up, so I got kicked out. And my father started to take me to clubs to play when I was 13 because there was nowhere else for me to go - and he got a lot of trouble from the church because they were gay bars; those were the only bars where I could play." [Elf99 - 1992]
"Right after I started writing songs, probably when I was 11, the songs came to me and said, 'Let us go do our own thing.' I decided that their relationships with people are none of my business." Distancing herself from the songs isn't always easy. "Somebody will come backstage and go, 'You saved me.' And I have to go, 'Stop right there. You saved yourself.' I have to remind them that the works [they're] talking about are windows, or a lightbulb going on. Nothing more... Or I'll hear someone's description of what a song means to them and the only thing to do is go, 'Well,' and realize that people are going to interpret things any way they want." [Philadelphia Inquirer - May 3, 1998]
"I was always the girl that had friends but did boys like me? Not the boys I liked! They'd say 'she's really nice and she plays really good piano but she's also Cindy Luhman's friend, can we get her phone number?' [laughs] I hadn't blossomed so I was seen as a rather nondescript nice girl, I guess."
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