I am currently a music professor at Delaware State University, and besides playing on Johnny Carson's TONIGHT SHOW twice, I have played at The White House, toured Europe with Jon Anderson of YES, composed all of the new original music for DISNEYLAND PARIS, written 7 musicals as well as many other projects. Ask me anything about my life as a musician. http://youtu.be/IikaDKvC1as

I've tweeted my verification (@tolley_david) and posted it on my http://www.facebook.com/DavidTolleyMusic

I was posted in the Music section earlier and was told to move it to here.

Comments: 76 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

Mattywagon14 karma

I loved the performance. You seemed not to be nervous at all! Did this change your life, and if so what do you imagine life would be like had a this not have happened?

David_Tolley13 karma

Great, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I wasn't nervous because I didn't have time to think about what was really happening. Honestly, I would have been terrified if I knew 28 million people were watching every note I played, lol. Yes, it did change my life, but I'm not exactly sure how. It made my life a lot more exciting from time to time. But I think it also took some of my work ethic away from me. Since being one of 8 kids raised by a single mother, I always had to work for whatever I got.

As far as what my life would be with out that event, very interesting, not really sure. I think I would always being doing music and art though, because I love to create things.

cheftlp12219 karma

Had you heard of Reddit before yesterday? When did you know something was going on?

David_Tolley28 karma

To be honest, and I hope this doesnt upset anyone, but I hadnt. I have 4 college aged kids, and I first found out when my son who works for Apple in Boston called me up in hysterics, and tried to explain to me what was going on. I know I probably look pretty silly with some of my posts, and answering YouTube comments, but hey, its spring break, and I need to catch up on this stuff for my college students (they will laugh less at me).

abcdariu19 karma

I dont know why someone would be upset by this. You clearly got other things going on and even then, took time to show up here.

David_Tolley15 karma


cleverbeefalo8 karma

Can you name some things you find inspiration in besides piano? i.e.: books, maybe a different instrumentalist, nature, etc.

What are some exercises you couldn't live without?

Last one, in consideration of the current economic situation, how do you advise those interested in music school when it will likely result in great debt and, perhaps, limited job opportunities?

David_Tolley12 karma

Wow, these are all great questions from everyone. I find inspiration from almost anything around me when I open my eyes and ears to notice. Honestly, we are surrounded by so many miracles and beautiful things (my problem has always been not taking the time to notice them). I learned early on that I needed to separate making music from praticing technique (otherwise my music sounded very technical and too much thinking) So you can actually practice all of your pieces musically, then flip a switch in your brain, then practice slow and precise and turn segments of every piece into an exercise. I hope that made sense. Tough Tough question - I tell my college students to find their core genius (what they love doing and what they're great at), then pursuse it with great passion and don't look back, AND another option is to find a good stable career job like nursing, then create your art at night & weekends (in hopes that some day it will set you free financially from your other gig). Both ways are equally good, and there are many paths in between, now its up to you to find your best path. All the best.

cleverbeefalo3 karma

Thanks for doing this and your reply!

David_Tolley3 karma

You're welcome, good luck.

HelenVonBiscuits6 karma

Any off-stage interaction with Carson? Anything stick out in your mind from those appearances on the Tonight Show that happened off-camera?

David_Tolley11 karma

Mr Carson was an extremely private person, he was also known for not being seen in and around LA & Malibu at all (Probably because of being in the public eye so much ??) He was extremely nice to me on both shows, and he would communicate to me through the Producers of the Show (like signing and sending a picture of himself to me, and also let me come back and get several photos of me on the show from time to time. He also was the one who told them to let me play AMAZING GRACE on the 2nd show (I only had a week to think of what to play for the 2nd show, and I wanted to do something a little different).

simAlity1 karma

The producers objected to your choice?

David_Tolley1 karma

Thats what I heard indirectly from the staff after the show. Im sure that they were thinking that playing AMAZING GRACE would be kind of a gamble, especially since this was a different kind of show where Johhny had to explain to the audience that this happened just like you saw it. NBC received tons of mail & phone calls about the first show.In fact, Grant Tinker was CEO of NBC at the time, and I heard he called Johnny up the next day and said "hey, that was an incredible stint planting that pianist in the audience", Johnny explained to him that they took a last minute gamble and it worked, thank God, or I wouldnt be responding to you now. Thanks for the question.

mamasgotabrandnewbag6 karma

Hey there! Your brother is my summer time landlord. He shows those clips of you to everyone. Its like I already know you.

David_Tolley6 karma

Hey, I hope my brother does a good job, lol.

mamasgotabrandnewbag1 karma

Steve is a great guy. I will tell him I saw you on reddit but I am not sure he has never even heard of an AMA, lol. You were awesome on Carson. Thanks for the beautiful music!

David_Tolley6 karma

LOL, I don't think my Alaskan brother Steve has ever been on the internet other than buy plane tickets, LOL.

Tell him to get a cell phone that works and have him call me, thanks.

simAlity2 karma

Better yet, introduce him to this winderful new thing called email.

mamasgotabrandnewbag1 karma

Email!?! It hasn't even been 5 years since "Tolleywood" got electricity. I will be heading up there in a couple of weeks, and I promise to nag him until he calls.

David_Tolley3 karma

Ha ha, thats funny, do you all really call it TOLLEYWOOD up there in Healy Alaska. I heard he was mayor at one time, lol. For everyone reading this, my brother Steve is a real wild man living in the wilds of Alaska (kind of Jeremiah Johnson like with a gun in one hand, and a beer in the other). His broken down bus was the one the real character from Sean Penn's movie actually lived and died in. Stay warm!

mamasgotabrandnewbag1 karma

TOLLEYWOOD is a unique place to live. There are about a half dozen cabins rented out to seasonal employees that come to work in the Denali Park area for the summer. These tennants are hand-selected by your brother, both because of the limited number of rental properties, as well as the fact that TOLLEYWOOD is a pretty famous, if not infamous, little neighborhood. We are a tight-knit community, and a couple of us return year after year. It is a quite rustic place to live. Having just recently aquired electricity, we are feeling pretty "uptown", although there is still no running water. The highlight of our week is Mimosa Sunday Funday, when we all get together in the afternoon and play horseshoes, jam out some music, bbq, and obviously, enjoy Mimosas. The small community truly is a utopia for the right kind of person.

David_Tolley1 karma

Wow, thanks for sharing about TOLLEYWOOD! I shared it with the entire family, they got a big kick out of it!

Maybe this summer I will make it up to TOLLEYWOOD and say hi in person. All the best, david

Cameramano5 karma

How did the people around you know to point to you? Did you shout something out? How did you get picked from the audience?

David_Tolley11 karma

They actually picked a girl by the name of Mary Jo Manella first, she played SILVER BELLS, but Johnny wanted a back up in case she would "lay a bomb". She did fine. Im not sure why people were pointing at me, my brother actually urged me to raise my hand. Not sure why he picked me, I think there were several others to choose from, maybe it was my NIKE t-shirt. Goodnight for now.

JaysonthePirate5 karma

I can't believe you were wearing flip flops.

David_Tolley10 karma

Straight from the beach, honestly.

Scallywagger4 karma

I am a piano student in college at the moment, and this is great having someone of your stature to answer questions!:)

Just a few that might seem like I'm repeating myself, hehe:

How do you keep composed and focused during a performance?

What do you think about during performance?

What do you do to put "feeling" in your music?

How do you establish a connection with the audience?

David_Tolley8 karma

Well I make sure I really know the piece (inside & out), then I just let go and try to make the piano sing (dont think about the audience or outside influences). Think about the music, but dont over think, enjoy the music as you're playing, don't let your analytical brain get in the way of making music that emotes (I used to practice so much and focus on the technique, and my teacher would always say that Im playing with my brain , not my heart, he was right). Connection with audience, not sure, just focus on making music, the audience will follow.

TheNerdbiscuit3 karma

Hi David! As a pianist and a composer, what do you think about Rachmaninoff? I've heard his music is sometimes considered "lowbrow," but his second piano concerto is probably my favorite piece of music.

David_Tolley7 karma


I love Rachmaninoff! I wish I had half his gift!

At this point in my life, I really don't care about the "lowbrow" critics, lol, LIFE IS TOO SHORT for me to pay attention to their verbalizations :~)

starecontest2 karma

Hey, I found out about you on reddit and thought you had charisma. Awesome

David_Tolley3 karma

Hey thanks, tell that to my 4 kids, LOL.

mowolvesmoproblems2 karma


David_Tolley2 karma

Yea, that was a great version! I saw or heard an amazing version by a russian pianist in college. Blew me away!

exceptionalmind2 karma

When did you reach the level of composing?

David_Tolley5 karma

I quit piano lessons at least 3 times as a kid because I was probably bored and was ADD (before they knew much about it, lol) & I loved to improvise and make up things that weren't on the page (composing). Composing brings me the greatest joy, and I think I have always composed atleast at some level throughout my life. I may not be any good at it, but I still love to do it!

exceptionalmind1 karma

Thanks for responding.

David_Tolley1 karma

You're welcome

lucasran2 karma

How did you feel going up on stage without any pre-rehearsal?

David_Tolley5 karma

I felt great, I had no time to get nervous, thats probably why it worked liked it did. If I had time to let my mind over think the situation, you probably would have never seen this show on YouTube, :~)

Windir192 karma

Which Beethoven piano concerto is your favorite?

David_Tolley3 karma

I primarily played a lot of his wonderful sonatas, but in college I played his First and Third Piano Concerto. Beethoven was such a genius!!

malfourmed1 karma

Tell us more about the musicals you wrote. Which musical theatre creators do you admire and why?

David_Tolley5 karma

I've written 7 musicals. My latest one is a love story based on King Solomon called SONG OF SOLOMON. Hopefully during this spring break I'll be able to really update and greatly improve my suffering website, lol. www.usrecords.com. It will have mp3s of all 30 tracks, as well as pictures and story synopsis.

Only 3 of my musicals have been produced, but I hope to change that. I'm currently working on 2 new musicals (another serious one, and a lighthearted kids musical called MR PUPPY)

I love Richard Rodgers because he cranked out a lot of great musicals over the decades, as well as great songs with well crafted melodies.

I also enjoy Sondheim for his originality, and Lloyd Webber for his mass appeal musicals.

I love Les Miz because of the story. In fact my youngest daughter's name is Cosette, lol.

xin_kuzi1 karma

I just want to say that your Carson performances were great and put a big smile on my face. You must be an inspiring music professor!

Had your students seen your Carson performances before reddit found out about them?

David_Tolley2 karma

Glad you enjoyed them. I try to inspire, but I don't know how good I am at it, I probably need a lot of improvement in inspiring my students.

Some of the students had seen it, but not most of them, I have a lot of HIP HOP students (they're all great kids, but piano music is really not their thing, lol).

xin_kuzi1 karma

Well, I think a good student can choose to be inspired or not... there's only so much a teacher should be expected to do.

I've started taking some casual piano (and voice) lessons in the past year and a half. I've always wanted to play, so I'm doing my best to work on it while still pursuing a lot of other things in my life. Your performance is very motivating - one never knows when an opportunity like that will arise, so it definitely pays to be ready :-D

I like hip hop, and even have some experience making hip hop music, but I get the most satisfaction from playing even a simplified arrangement of a Chopin waltz :D

David_Tolley1 karma

Cool , have you ever tried mixing the classical with some BEATS?

xin_kuzi1 karma

Yes! A good beat + classical melody = pure gold (it's really too easy), in my opinion. Some friends and I work on different music projects together, and the hip hop projects are really fun because people will dance to it :D. We all play various instruments, though, so we're not just sampling someone else's work.

Have you done any mixing of classical with beats? Or have any of your students done anything like this?

David_Tolley1 karma

Thats great to hear! I always try to encourage my BEAT MAKING students to intermix different styles of music, sometimes the results are wonderful!

I started a musical about 10 years ago based on the opera TALES OF HOFFMAN, and I intermixed Pop with Opera, and so I called the style POPERA, lol. maybe someday I'll go back and re-work it. All the best with your music!

xin_kuzi1 karma

Popera :-D

Thanks! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions; it's been a pleasure! All the best to you!

David_Tolley1 karma

You're welcome, anytime, the pleasure's been mine!

cheftlp12211 karma

How was it that you got on but the woman sitting next to you did not?

How much other "competition" was in the audience?

David_Tolley3 karma

She actually did, she went before me and played Silver Bells (it was right before Christmas), but I was told to keep the YouTube video to 5 minutes or under. I'm not sure how much competition, that first show was a blur to me, it all happened so fast (From the beach to sitting next to Johnny in one day, lol).

martlet11 karma


David_Tolley2 karma

To be honest, I really don't remember what was going thru my brain while I was playing, I guess their claps and laughs inspired me to HAM it Up a bit??

I think they laughed during the song because the camera man panned to my flip flops during the performance (and the studio audience can also see the TV monitors of what is being filmed besides whats on stage) LOL.

martlet11 karma


David_Tolley2 karma

Yea, some other people told me that also.

colin1321 karma

I love the video. How did you get the footage?

David_Tolley2 karma

That was another cool and friendly gesture that Mr. Carson did for me, he actually allowed his company Carson Productions to give me both shows on big BETA broadcasting tapes. (I really need to do a new HD version of both shows, what is on YouTube now is probably from some ones VHS tape, lol).

ral3158 karma

I just found a clean version, including the performance by Mary Jo, that was put up a few hours ago by Carson Productions.

David_Tolley3 karma

wow, they just put it up?

David_Tolley3 karma

Thanks for letting me know.

stgeorge782 karma

The bigger question is holy cow, Carson Productions is still active? I assume they still make a boatload just selling Carson on DVD to retired people in Florida.

David_Tolley1 karma

I hope so, they deserve it, thanks again for updating me.

RoboBeardSloth1 karma

how nervous were you when you first sat down at the piano when you got called out of the audience? was is scary or did you feel at home at your instrument?

David_Tolley2 karma

To be honest, I wasnt nervous at all because I had no time for my brain to kick in and get me nervous, LOL, if I would of really known what was going on, I would of hid or ?? LOL,

I did feel comfortable at the piano because its a safe place for me if you know what I mean.

RoboBeardSloth1 karma

hahaha, that's awesome, i actually watched the video about 3 days ago so when i saw this AMA i had to ask something! and i know what you mean about the piano, feel the same way about my bass guitar. must have been so unreal though, to be at the show is one thing but then you get to perform? holy tits that's so cool

David_Tolley3 karma

Thanks, good luck with your music & bass playing!

Panentheist1 karma

I saw this on Reddit the other day - I remembered your name. Really cool that you got on the Tonight Show. Did Johnny Carson really pave the way for you as a musician to get your name out there? Or were you well known in your own right before appearing on the show?

David_Tolley3 karma

Hi, I was somewhat known in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio before I moved out to LA, but unknown every where else.

Johnny really did help get my name out there, the only thing is that I focused on being a composer instead of a performer (I was too nervous to be a performer, lol).

MaxVonWhite1 karma

Did you study a second instrument in college and if so, why did you pick it up? Do you still play it?

How do you score say a musical, mainly on the piano or do you hear the instruments on your head.

David_Tolley2 karma

My BM degree was a double major - piano performance & theory/composition; we were required to take a secondary instrument for the degree, mine was singing (but you wouldn't want to hear me sing, lol)

Writing a musical usually starts with hearing melodies in my head, but sometimes I sit at the piano and start improvising, especially when nothing is ringing in my head.

Jackandahalfass1 karma

How was Tony Roma's? What five people did you take?

David_Tolley3 karma

You've eaten there? It was great, we pigged out if I remember correctly.

Since I didnt have any family living out in LA, and I had only been living out there for 6 months, I took who ever said yes, lol.

thesuperalex-9 karma


David_Tolley10 karma

Probably try fighting the one horse sized piano, since thats the size of a steinway 9 foot concert grand (I'm used to fighting that every day).