Roy Tan Master Pianist Music Career

How does Music Theory help you in your music career?  

Watch Glory St. Germain and Special Guest Roy Tan in the Ultimate Music Interview. 

Roy shares his story of success from learning music theory and piano to becoming a master at creating arrangements, performing around the world and improvising with creativity. 

Roy Tan - UMT Interview

Roy Tan Master Pianist - How does Music Theory help you in your music career?

Performer, and arranger/composer Roy Tan Master Pianist is known for his rich orchestral-like textures, soulful melodies and imaginative improvisations on the piano. 

Throughout his career Roy has performed with a number of vocal groups such as “The Canadian Tenors” and “Destino” and later went on to found the instrumental Duo “Roy & Rosemary” with renowned violinist and fellow musician Rosemary Siemens.

He is sought after both as a performer and an arranger for his lush, sweeping and cinematic sound.

Roy Tan Master Pianist - How does Music Theory help you in your music career?

Roy Tan is Glory St. Germain's Special Guest on the Ultimate Music Interview Series.

Glory: Well, hello and good morning. I am so excited to be presenting the Ultimate Music Interview Live. I'm Glory St. Germain and I am thrilled to have my very special guest, Roy Tan, all the way from San Diego, joining me live today. Good morning, Roy.

Roy: Good morning. How are you?

Glory: Great. I am thrilled. You know, today we're talking about how music theory helps you in your music career and I know you have ... I mean, obviously you're an international pianist sensation, composer, arranger, performer. You know, I just can't wait to hear your story, because it certainly has been a great career, and you're continuing to just do, you know, new things and exciting things. I know you've got millions and millions of views on YouTube with your performances, so start us off with ...

Glory: Well, and thanks for getting up early, because I know it's like 8:00 in the morning for you and 10:00 in the morning for me, so if you're joining us, please say hello to Roy Tan. Go ahead in the chat box and just say, “Hi, Roy,” and welcome, because we're really thrilled to have him today.

Glory: So, Roy, why don't you start us off with ... Well, how did you start? 'Cause on our call today we have got ... Oh, there's a Carol Lewis, a Joy Harper. We've got a lot of people joining us today, so maybe, how did you get started? We've got some piano teachers, too, and I'm sure it's interesting, isn't it? As a piano teacher, how do you think Roy's piano teacher feels right now? Like, so proud, right? So tell us how you got started, Roy.

Roy: By the way, I apologize for the sound outside; I think there is some kind of construction across the street, so if you do hear any of that drilling.

Glory: That's okay.

Roy: So I just started when I was about four. Well, actually, no, earlier than that, about three, three and a half, four years or what. I used to live with my grandma, and she had a ... My uncle had an old piano there, and I just started fiddling with it, and I guess my parents decided, “Hey, let's just put him in piano lessons, you know, just kind of keep him out of trouble...

Roy: So, I did observance before I took some formal lessons. I started with a group, group lessons. This was in Singapore, which I, which is where I grew up for the first about 10 years of my life. And I did the system there, the ABRSM System. And then, when I moved to Canada, I moved to Vancouver with my folks, and then I got into the RCM System and completed that. I finished my ARCT, with a theory and the performance diploma, I was in high school so I was like 16 or so when I finished that.

Glory: Wow.

Roy: And then I got into EBC Music and did my undergrad there. Then after that, I guess, were gonna go from here, let's see. I started doing some, you know, some other things. And I actually tour, music touring with The Canadian Tenors, actually a friend of mine who kind of got me into that and I started playing as a piano accompanist with that, and then later I've moved on to a number of different vocal groups, and vocalists. I really enjoyed the stage, I like collaborating with other people.

Glory: Yeah.

Roy: Course that's how and where I met Rosemary, which sort of brings us to where we are today. And we started the duo in 2012.

Glory: Wow.

Roy: With Rosemary. And then we added ... I guess we've had quite a bit of success with YouTube recently especially.

Glory: Wow.

Roy: With our video of Hallelujah, sort of really kind of taken us.

Glory: Right.

Roy: Yeah.

Roy Tan Master Pianist - How does Music Theory help you in your music career?

Glory: I love the video that you did, that Hallelujah, I mean your performance is just unbelievable, Roy. I think the last time I checked it was like 18 million views on that. It was just, you know, hugely successful.

Glory: And in your travels, like, around the world, what's your favorite place that you've ever performed?

Roy: My favorite place. There's been a number of them, really, really exciting ones but I think it still has to be ... it's just got to be Carnegie Hall. As a performer, I mean, as a classical musician, you know, I like classical. I've always done classical, and I've learned to play by ear. Actually, I played by ear so I've always done it side by side, so I've always learned to improve on my own and create my own arrangements. Even when I was a kid, taking piano lessons, so that's, but still as a classical musician, I think, Carnegie Hall is still sort of one of the ... it's like a dream place to play. It is wonderful, I mean the Hall is just phenomenal, and just the history, just walking through the halls.

Glory: Yes.

Roy: Surrounding the theater, just all the pictures of all your heroes.

Glory: Right?

Roy: It's amazing so ...

Glory: And who doesn't want to say, “I have performed in Carnegie Hall.” You know, I mean I aspire to just go to Carnegie Hall and watch a performance. Imagine performing there must just be amazing to know how many people have been on that stage and you've shared the stage with all of those people.

Roy: Yeah.

Glory: And I'm sure that, you know, when you performed there perhaps some of the people that have performed on that stage where maybe even some you musical influences, I mean ...

Roy: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Glory: Who did you, who did you follow, who inspired you, who did you want to become, you know, what was your sort of, influence in your musical journey?

Roy: Okay, great question. I actually have quite a few, it depends on sort of, the discipline. I actually, I enjoy all different types of music from you know ...

Roy: I'm actually a big R&B, kind of, fan, since I liked listening to that in high school and but in terms of music piano wise, I've always loved Horowitz playing. Vladimir Horowitz.

Glory: Yes.

Roy: Just the way he, just his, just the way he sings those melodies. I think I read an interview with him where he listens for ... he tries to recreate almost an operatic, how an opera singer would sing the melodies and do it on piano. But yeah, just his sense of drama, his sense of that romantic style. So Horowitz was, and of course pictures that I saw playing at Carnegie Hall, so that was really exciting.

Glory: Yes.

Roy: As far as piano wise, composers, Rachmaninoff was a big one for me, of course. Ravel as well. Those are probably my favorite composers to play. And then, of course, on the more pop side of things I love, with R&B stuff, I grew up listening to Brian McKnight, Boyz 2 Men, those guys. So that's really kind of on the complete flip side of things, of course.

Roy: Actually, I got to meet one of my biggest musical heroes which is David Foster, fellow Canadian. Which I got to meet him a couple years ago and that was a really awesome, awesome experience as well.

Glory: Wow.

Glory: And it is so cool that you get to do that.

Glory: We have a little comment here for you from Tan and it says, “We are proud of you.” So that's pretty cool.

Roy: Hello.

Glory: Hello, yes.

Glory: One of the things that I think is ...

Glory: Oh, there yes, I just want to make sure that I had that up there and now I don't know how to get it off, but okay.

Glory: We can just leave the “I'm proud of you” up there for forever.

Roy: It's on, I see it one the side so it's ...

Glory: Yeah, I know. That's the thing about being on live, you just kind of have to figure ...

Glory: Oh, there we go. I got it fixed up.

Glory: You know, I've seen you perform too when you were performing here in Winnipeg, and I was absolutely amazed because my husband, Ray St. Germain ...

Roy: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Glory: Who is a singer, entertainer, obviously. And I remember you and Rosemary were performing and you said, “Oh, Ray, you know, would you like to sing a song?” And he said, “Sure.”

Roy Tan Master Pianist - How does Music Theory help you in your music career?

Glory: And this is what really just totally amazed me is, the three of you went into a room for about 10 minutes, you learned a song that you'd never heard before, and so did Rosemary, because Ray said, “Oh, I want to sing this little jazz tune.” And you're like, “Okay.” And came back in the room which, was a room full of people and, boom, you just played it.

Glory: So, you know, how do you develop that style of playing, or develop your ear so that you can just improvise. What are the steps, if you're speaking to our group of, you know, musicians and they aspire to like ... like how did that happen for you. I mean, it's not just magic. I mean obviously your gifted, but there's still that element of practicing and developing that craft. So how did that evolve for you?

Roy: That is a good question. I, actually, sometimes I almost believe ... I feel like sometimes it is almost magic so I don't actually understand how it works. But I think it's kind of, both Rosemary and I, we actually both naturally play by ear, and I think that this is just from listening a lot and so we actually memorize a lot of stuff very quickly by ear. More than I do by sight reading music. But in terms of learning new songs, this is where actually the theory does come in because it's all, it's harmony, right.

Glory: Right.

Roy: And I kind of learn the harmonies and you can kind of learn the melody line quickly. And I think people learn melody lines relatively quickly.

Glory: Yeah.

Roy: And, like, when I hear a melody line, I always here a harmonic structure behind it as well. So I hear where the harmonies are and, you know, the basic ones are obviously, just tonic, dominant, and sub-dominant. Basically, the chords one, five, six, four, two. Those are very easy to hear, well, I say that, but I compose.

Roy: It does take practice, like everything else, it does take practice.

Glory: I think ...

Roy: I believe it's something you can actually work on and just by ... I guess analyze something and try to figure ...

Roy: This is sort of where all that keyboard harmony stuff came in handy.

Glory: Yes.

Roy: Way back in the day.

Glory: Yeah.

Glory: I think, and you're so right, you know. And it's probably why I'm so passionate about teaching music theory and actually if we have teachers out there that are sort of thinking, “Well, how can I help my students go from where they are now to becoming the Roy Tan, performing in Carnegie Hall.” We actually, and Sheena can share it with our viewers here is that, we actually developed the ultimate music theory certification course for teachers, so that they could learn all of these things, and how we can help our young students.

Glory: Because they think the reason, you know, you're so successful, Roy, is because you had the foundation. You learned that when you were little, when you were in Singapore you were already starting your journey. You obviously had good teachers and, you know, good role models that you could aspire to be. And, of course, the more you practice, and you become better and better at your craft.

Glory: And was there one point where it, you learned from someone ... or how did you start to improvise? Because reading music and playing and, of course, you learn a lot of genres. But what was your beginning in improvising and arranging? And maybe you could just explain the difference? I mean there's improvising and then there's arranging. Can you just talk a little bit about that.

Roy: Okay, that's a big one. Let's see.

Roy: Improvising, I really started, actually for me it's quite, just, “I like this tune, and I'd like to hear it like this.” And it's kind of, just, hearing it differently. Just sort of, I guess re imagining it. I suppose if you know, again knowing the melody, and then kind of figuring out the harmonies. And I guess I kind of figured that out when I was younger and I've just sort of taken it with me all the time. So it's sort of how I've, kind of, always been able to improvise.

Roy Tan Master Pianist- How does Music Theory help you in your music career?

Roy: But yeah, what I said about theory, of course, it helps just knowing the harmony. The rhythm structure, things like that. So, improvisation was sort of a natural thing for me. So, I'm not really sure how to describe that, but the difference between improvising and arranging: improving is sort of a live arranging almost, for me it's an instant sort of, like you're doing it on the fly a lot more. Whereas with arranging you can ...

Roy: When I did my arrangement, I go through the, you know, I hear a certain way of playing a piece or a certain way of harmonizing a piece and usually I go through and it sometimes happens, it just happens in my head a lot of the times.

Glory: Yes.

Roy: And also sometimes, I'll explore different ways of realizing a melody, right? You can go back and refine it, that's the difference for me in terms of arranging.

Roy: Actually, I studied with a teacher by the name of Rudy Rozanski, actually when I was in my grade 10 in the RCT. Yeah, he actually teaches at CAP right now.

Glory: Oh, yeah.

Roy: And he was actually the first one who, kind of, taught me to listen to the piano, to listen to the lines of the piano and then actually, sort of, imagine the lines being played by an orchestra. And so what lines would be played by what instrument. So, it kind of breaks down that as well. Really it helped me develop how I played in terms of that and that also helped me think about how to arrange. In terms of how to put what instruments where, and what would sing where, and where would the melodies be and where would be the counter melodies and the accompaniment and baseline and all that stuff.

Roy: Yeah, I think I've kind of went on a little bit about that.

Glory: No, but that ...

Glory: And it's really interesting. And I think one of the things too, because, when I hear you play, and so I and that's just fantastic because, you're right, it's improvising, you know, you might sit in with a band, and you jam, and you're improvising on the spot. But when I hear you performing a piece, I want to say well, I would love to play your arrangement of that music because, I just love the way that you put that together.

Glory: So, are you currently working on something where we can go and get and arrangement of your music? Like, what's coming up for you this year?

Roy: I actually just joined with so you can actually get my arrangements on that. So far I've only got the version of Hallelujah up there. Which is  with Rosemary that's up there right now.

Glory: Wonderful.

Roy: So that just happened so that's going to be cool for me.

Roy: And I'm going to be actually working on a lot of my own rep as well. Of course, more music... You know, if we get requests we put it in the requests, in the comments and I'll try to get to that.

Glory: Yeah, absolutely, if you'd like the link to Roy's music, just leave us a little comment and just put “Roy music.” And we'll make sure to get you that link. So, just go ahead and throw that in the chat box for us and we'll make sure to get that for you, because, I think that it's, you know, you are gifted, obviously, you know that, we know that. And not all of us have the gift of creating arrangements, but we want to play your arrangements. And so I'm so glad that you're making those available for purchase because it just enables us to enjoy your music in another way, by, you know, performing. And it takes a lot of practice to get to that level of performance that you're doing.

Glory: But it's very exciting and I'm really looking forward to my attempt at playing your arrangement of Hallelujah. I'll be working on that one for a long time. And what's coming up travel-wise for you? Like, what's going on? You're in San Diego? And what's coming up for you?

Roy: Yeah, I'm in San Diego for a while now and I'm actually going to be working ...

Roy: I've got some down time from, for touring last, the last season was quite heavy.

Glory: Yes.

Roy: So we're a little off right now, so Rosemary actually, you saw her last week but she just had a baby so ...

Glory: Yes.

Roy: We're taking a bit of a, we're taking it easy for a little while.

Glory: For just a bit, yeah.

Roy: For a couple months, and then we should be back later on in the year.

Glory: Yeah, oh that's great.

Roy: And in terms of, for me right now, traveling, not so much until later in the year. But right now I'm mostly home, I'm just going to actually ...

Roy: Working on these arrangements trying to get all this stuff arranged and actually I've got quite a few coming up, so if you check out my YouTube channel the new tunes will be, I've got a bunch of new tunes coming up.

Glory: Nice.

Roy: Hoping to get all that out there and so there's that stuff. I'm putting together my own show as well for cruise ships as well.

Glory: That's so much fun, right?

Roy: Yeah, I know, we did some before and I had a blast and I wanted to do it some more. I put together a show, it's sort of, based on film scores and ...

Glory: Oh, nice.

Roy Tan Master Pianist - How does Music Theory help you in your music career?

Roy: The music from the silver screen and kind of the pianist journey sort of take you through. It's called Soundtrack. And I'm pretty excited about that so that will be pretty fun to do.

Glory: Yeah, and I mean, that's the awesome thing about being a performer is you get to travel the world. I mean who doesn't want to go sit on a cruise ship and then go do a show and then go sit by the pool, like, you're just living the life you know.

Glory: And I think sometimes when we're, got our little students and their like, “well, I think I'll just go to soccer,” and as a piano teacher you're like “you need to come and go to piano and practice because this could be your life. You could be a musician, you could be an arranger, a composer, you can be Roy Tan and travel the world.” And just you know, have fun, it's just, I mean we're so blessed to have that opportunity to share our music and it really inspires people.

Glory: You know, even when I listen to your music, Roy, sometimes I just put it on because I just need to be uplifted, or I just, it can change your mood. I have certain music I put on that just puts me in a happy mood, and it's a great way to start your day.

Glory: And I know we've got some people in the chat box here that are saying, “Roy, music, please.” So when we're done our call we'll make sure to go in there and answer your comments and get you the tags to all of your music, because it's just going to be fantastic. And I want to wish you all the best with your arrangements and I'm so glad that you made those available for purchase so people can go and get your music now. And of course check out your YouTube channel and your Facebook group, and your Facebook page, so they can kind of connect with you.

Glory: Any advice you can give for music students, but also music teachers. Like what is the one thing that kind of put you on the right path, as a student, when you were learning? Like, what advice would you say, “Gee, I'm glad my teacher did, what?”

Roy: Really just sort of, whipped me into shape.

Glory: Okay.

Roy: Sometimes I think we're, and I'm guilty of this as well, when I was teaching, just not, I suppose, not giving your students a sort of discipline, I think it's really necessary to have structure when you're learning. And I think it's, I think kids should able to play what they want to play as well. But in terms of, when I learned my music, I did all the RCM stuff and all the conservatory things, but I also did a lot of, like I said, improv and I just played a lot of tunes of my own. And it just sort of, that fuels, I suppose that fuels your passion for it, because if you're only playing pieces that you're maybe not so fond of it doesn't ...

Roy: I think, kids should be able to play what they want to play but I think at the same time, the structure, all the foundational stuff should be there as well and I think, I'm glad my teachers sort of, whipped me into shape 'cause I wasn't particularly the model student.

Glory: Yes.

Roy:  So there's my admission right there.

Glory: Yeah, and it's interesting to hear you say that. My daughter, Sherry, who's a professional musician as well, and who you know, music producer in Las Vegas.

Roy: Yeah.

Glory: And one of the things that she says is very similar to what you said, and I was kind of the drill sergeant of, you know, “you're practicing every day, you're doing, you know, your RCM exams, and doing your music theory and practicing, you know an hour to two a day, and then you get to play your fun stuff.” And you know she loves the jazz.

Glory: But you are right, Roy, you need to have structure and I think sometimes when we think about athletes, you have a coach and they're working you hard you know, again, again, again. And sometimes as music educators we tend to, you know, just want our kids to have fun. And fun is good, but it doesn't get you to the real fun which is being successful as a musician, and capable of doing all the things that you actually want to do which is improvise and create arrangements. And if you don't have structure and you don't have that, you know, motivation, to, I mean, it's hard work. It doesn't happen by just playing fun stuff once a week at your lesson.

Glory: So I'm glad to hear you say that because obviously you're very grateful for the structure, as well as being able to ...

Glory: I like to have that variety too. We have to have structure and these are the conservatory pieces that we're working on. But because we're doing that, it enables us to have independence of hands, independence of fingers. You know, having a deeper understand for all the harmony. Like, when you're arranging, I mean, it's amazing to me that you say, “Well, here's the melodic line, I just hear, I can create different harmonies, and arrange this to still be true to the melody but to just create a new way of listening to the music." And that's what makes it so much fun to play and create and it's an amazing journey, and I'm so proud of you. And I'm so thrilled that you joined me today.

Glory: I wanted to say thank you so much, because I know you've got a busy schedule. And you're going to be back to doing some arranging. Do you do some original music as well?

Roy: I do. I do do original music. I have some coming up.

Glory: Great.

Roy: There's nothing published right now, but you know, I do write every now and then. I don't consider myself a composer composer per se but I do write, I'm more of an arranger. But yeah, I do have some originals coming out. So you can look out for that as well, my YouTube channel I suppose which will, I will be putting a lot more music up, so that fine.

Roy: And then the accompanying sheet music should go up on Music Notes as well.

Glory: Right, perfect.

Glory: Well we can't wait to see all of that.

Glory: I want to say big thank you to Roy, who's an international renowned pianist, sensation, arranger, and performer and I just want to say thank you and I wish you all the best this year. And look forward to seeing you performing a Carnegie Hall again sometime.

Glory: And we'll look forward to connecting with all of the little things we're going to put in the chat box here so that they can go and get your music, get your links to your YouTube channel, and I'm just very grateful that you joined me today.

Glory: So thank you, Roy, have great day everybody.

Roy: Thank you.

Glory: And remember what Roy said, he said, whip your students into shape and make sure that you're providing them with all the tools so that they can learn their music theory, learn their conservatory pieces, have variety in their music and of course pick some fun stuff that they're passionate about learning.

Glory: Well, have a great day, thanks again Roy.

Roy: You're welcome. Thank you.

Roy Tan Master Pianist - How does Music Theory help you in your music career?

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