Tim Riley Interview
Tim Riley writes Substack’s free, fortnightly riley rock report newsletter and podcast. Among the many books he’s written, the latest is What Goes On: The Beatles, The Music, and Their Time. He also contributes to various freelance outlets, both in print and on radio, and teaches digital journalism at Emerson College, where he heads up the graduate journalism program.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I started out in choirs all through school and church in Boulder, Colorado, at St. John’s Episcopal and later in the Fairview High School Festival Chorale under Ron Revier, the choirmaster who ran a booming program there. He encouraged me to compose, and I did my first conducting there. I wanted to be Leonard Bernstein, who still visits my dreams, and watching his Norton Lectures on PBS as a teenager lit me up. I could tell by what he was doing with “musical metaphors” in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony applied to the Who’s Quadrophenia.
By the time I got to high school, I had grown very serious on the piano and did well in concerto competitions. I majored in performance and English as an undergraduate at Oberlin, and then did a Master’s in Piano at Eastman. I was very lucky, I had supportive parents and teachers, and a thirst for the repertoire. I kept thinking I would master the piano and after a while step on to conducting, but I just kept playing and learning more music, playing for violists and fiddlers and as many chamber groups as I could.