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When you mix 14 years of classical piano training with practical experience -- playing piano in malls at Christmas, playing the organ at Phoenix Coyotes hockey games -- you get to be William Joseph, iWhen you mix 14 years of classical piano training with practical experience -- playing piano in malls at Christmas, playing the organ at Phoenix Coyotes hockey games -- you get to be William Joseph, instrumental composer/performer and Billboard chart debutante.
Piano lessons commenced for Joseph after he banged out the theme from "Fraggle Rock" on a toy piano after watching the show as a child. He studied Chopin and Rachmaninoff with a Russian piano master until his late teens, when he got a job playing organ for his local National Hockey League team. He wrote their theme song, took a break from playing to do a church mission in Australia for a couple of years, and when he returned, he took up mall duty.
"I immediately had to learn how to sell myself," recalls Joseph. He'd set up two chairs by his piano and tell passing shoppers, "'I'm having a one-song concert and I'd love to give you front-row seats.' They would sit down in the middle of the mall and I'd play them a song -- by the time I was finished I'd have a whole mob of people around."
The experience gave him confidence, not to mention sales of CDs of his original compositions. He got a manager, who in 2004 got word that producer David Foster (Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Michael Buble) was coming to Phoenix for a charity event.
"He told me to show up at this hotel and he would try to arrange an intro for us. I went into a big ballroom where David was rehearsing with a band. David sat me down at the piano and looked at me and said, 'Play something.' My heart skipped a few beats."
But the impromptu audition went so well -- Joseph played "Within," a song he wrote that later became the title track to his first album with Foster -- that the young pianist was invited back to open that night's show.
A year later, Joseph was signed to Foster's l43 label on Reprise/Warner, joining a roster that includes Buble and Josh Groban.
His sophomore album, "Beyond," which has peaked at No. 17 thus far on Billboard's Heatseekers chart. Backed by a 72-piece orchestra on his own songs, as well as a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," Joseph's work is infused with stirring, dramatic arrangements that have a visual quality reminiscent of film scores.
"I would love to get into writing for film," says Joseph, who has nonetheless kept busy opening tours for Groban, Il Divo and Clay Aiken. He began headlining solo shows this year, and will be touring Canada as well as playing in China. A PBS special, "David Foster & Friends," will air in December and features Joseph, Buble, Andrea Bocelli and others.
As for whether instrumental orchestral pop can find a mass audience without vocals, Joseph is confident that it can. Pointing to the success of Kenny G and Yanni, Joseph notes, "There is a niche out there that isn't being filled right now. There are not a lot of instrumentalists out there that are really well known. From a live standpoint, it's gone really well."