Peter B. Allen
Pianist, Composer, Publisher
Peter B. Allen is a composer and pianist whose music has been described as "fresh, lyrical, and rhythmic." His music blends the best aspects of classical and jazz influences. Besides writing and recording the music for "Pilgrim on Earth," a collection of compositions for piano and orchestra based on well known hymns, Peter has composed music for chamber ensembles and jazz groups. He performs throughout the United States and has three CDs and four books to his credit.
To learn more about Peter or to buy the CD "Pilgrim on Earth," in which Peter combines jazz and classical music in a unique American style to enliven well known hymns, visit his website at pbamusic.com or call toll free at 888-332-9588.
What inspired you to become a musician?
I just like it. When I was young, music was something I could do on my own. I could be creative and express myself, and it was self-contained. Music is also very fair. What you put into it, you get back out of it. I think you can achieve anything. And if you have the desire, you'll find a way to get something done, to learn what you want to learn. I had a really strong desire to learn about music.
Has it been difficult or easy for you as a musician?
I've had to work really hard at it. I've been studying music since I was 7. I practiced 2 or 3 hours a day in high school, at least 6 hours a day in college, and worked 12 hours a day every day in film school. Being a musician is more demanding than many people realize. For instance, concert violinists will have put in thousands of hours and made huge sacrifices just to have the right to sit on stage. For every five minutes that you listen to them play, they've practiced 5 hours, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars they've spent on schooling and instruments.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
I've been a professional since I was 16, a junior in high school. And while my road over the past 25 years has not been rough, I've faced almost every challenge -- working with other people, improving my skills, my knowledge of my craft, or finding work, finding interesting work, finding work that pays well. Anyone who is a performer has had to deal with stage fright. That's the number one fear people have, mainly because it has to deal with rejection.
How did you deal with stage fright?
Early on I realized:
- I have something to offer;
- I'm going to do my thing;
- I'm going to be myself.
Others will either like it or not. And the people who don't like it usually aren't going to tell you. And now I really enjoy just being in front of an audience. I feel just as comfortable talking to 200 people as I do with 2 people. Talking to an audience is like talking to an individual. You focus on what's interesting to them, instead of thinking about yourself.
How did you have the confidence to be yourself?
Well, the turning point was probably in 7th grade. I had a bad case of poison ivy. My face was terribly puffed up; my eyes were almost closed; and I had to play in a talent show at a different school. I almost didn't do it because I looked so bad. But I put all my trust in God. I knew I would have what I needed and that I didn't need to be afraid. It's funny, because I went to play in the talent show, and one of the kids said, "Eewww! Look at his face." I just ignored it. When I was done they all went nuts, clapping. I knew I could play the piano, and I was prepared. That's a big thing about stage fright. If you're ready, there's nothing to fear. You're just doing something you already know how to do for a few more people. And then you can just enjoy it as if you were playing alone, and that's what I did. And I do love the music. I focus on that. As a result, I don't experience that fear, which is really the fear of being judged. The Bible verse, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt 7:1), has been helpful. If you don't judge other people, you're not as likely to be judged by other people or to be afraid of being judged by others.
Are there any other Bible passages or stories that stand out to you as significant?
Jesus' parable of the talents is quite important. A man gives three different servants talents (money) before taking a journey: "And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability" (Matt. 25:15). The first and second servants double their money, but the third servant buries his one talent in the ground. For me, the whole point of the parable is to develop our talents, to use the gifts God gives us. It is so important to value what you have and what you have to offer, regardless of whether or not you think the gift is small. If you don't value it, no one else will. You have to realize what you're good at so that you can develop it and make it grow. That's what I've been doing with music for 30 years. And it's bearing fruit. Another reason why valuing yourself and your talents is important is that the world seems to want to devalue your talents, to say you're not worth anything. You may even hear that message from family members or friends. So you need to acknowledge your strengths and hang onto them.
When you're a teenager, you're making a lot of important life decisions. You can always change your direction. But it's so important to think carefully and get good guidance in order to make the best decisions you can. Certainly the Bible is the best guidance you can ask for. And when you're still a teenager, it is easier to undo a wrong decision than when you're 40 and perhaps have lived with a bad decision for 20 years.
You said that the Bible was a great guide. How has the Bible inspired you to write music?
It serves as an inspiration and a basis for composition in that I take Bible stories and set them to music. For example, I have a piece called "You are the Light of the World." And this actually ties into the idea of valuing your talents. In this parable, Jesus says:
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)
The idea of letting your light shine is such a strong and powerful idea that it's easy to translate that uplifting, energetic feeling into music. And here's a very important point -- as a composer, you can't write or express anything that you aren't, that isn't consistent with who you are. So if you're going to write music that is inspirational, you have to be inspired yourself. Allowing myself to be inspired by those stories makes it more natural for me to express them musically.
Another idea that has helped motivate me to write is, "Be fruitful, and multiply" (Gen 1:22). God gives us our abilities, and we can multiply them. In other words, write lots of music, lots of books and plays. Don't let the quality suffer, but do as much as you can. Be fruitful.
"Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Ps. 127:1) has also supported me in my work. Here, the idea is that if a project is based on God's guidance and inspiration, all the work that I put into it is not in vain; it is going to come to fruition. For example, the two years that I've put into my current project is paying off. The CD I'm making is constantly going out to a broader audience.
You can write music on anything you want. Why the Bible?
The Bible is lasting. It's not going to go away. The truths are timeless. As long as people are interested in the Bible, they're likely to be interested in my music. I'm trying to associate myself with something that lasts. The Bible has a universal quality about it, which is both attractive and considered a very high standard in art. Something like 2/3 of the people on the earth use the Old Testament -- Jews, Christians, and Muslims. That's a lot of people who have the same thing in common. Anyone can appreciate something that is universal because we keep on identifying with it no matter what generation we're in. There's something we all find in it. That's what's great about the Bible.