“I wish I had a CS-80,” Skylar Thomas tells me after I inquire about the imposing keyboard shown above, a Yamaha CS-60. We discovered Skylar after a Facebook posting demonstrating her command of Pro Tools 8. With a slew of classical and rock performances under her belt, including stints alongside Jeff Watson from Night Ranger and Frank Hannon from Tesla, Skylar is one talented keyboardist to keep an eye and ears on. That’s why she’s our first MAJORminor — our new column profiling young keyboardists headed for success!
Skylar on (top to bottom) Minimoog Voyager, Roland VP-330, and Yamaha CS-60. In back:her Pro Tools 8 rig, and Kurzweil PC2X above Dave Smith Prophet ’08. Not shown:
Steinway A, Yamaha CP70B electric grand, Roland RD-300SX, and Oberheim OB-Xa.
Another view of Skylar at her keyboard rig. In this picture, you can see the Roland RD-300SX to her left, in addition to the other synths in the previous photo.
First memory of hearing a synth sound: Probably when my Dad pointed out the gigantic, long opening to the Elton John’s “Funeral For a Friend.”
First synthesizer: A small Yamaha — I can’t remember the model. I got a Roland JP-8000 [virtual analog synth] when I was about eight years old. That was when my collection started!
Musical heroes: Liszt, Chopin, Lucia Micarelli, Don Airey, Rudy Sarzo, Randy Rhoads, and Frank Hannon. My greatest inspirations are my talented father, and my classical teachers from Julliard, Richard Cionco and Natsuki Fukasawa.
Why keyboards and not some other instrument? My Dad started me on the piano at age four — I didn’t really choose the instrument. But when I finally got my Steinway A grand piano at age 13, I was totally jazzed for having stuck with it. And I love playing it every day.
Favorite material to play: My favorite classical piece is “Liebestraum” by Franz Liszt. Some of my favorite rock songs to play are “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin and “Highway Star” by Deep Purple. I also love to play classic and ’80s rock, and some current artists like Lady Gaga, Pink, and Mariah Carey. I love challenges. Last New Year’s Eve, I had to learn “Call Me the Breeze” by Lynyrd Skynyrd four days before the show, with no band rehearsals. I like to play solo and I also dig supporting a band — teamwork!
Worst gig nightmare: A classical performance at California State University. I was freezing cold and we were running late. My fingers locked and trembled and worst of all, I stopped playing. Thankfully, I found a place in the Mozart piece to jump to, and finished my performance. Now I make sure we have plenty of time, and when it’s cold, I wear gloves and a nice warm jacket beforehand.
How important is traditional music training? It’s all about fundamentals. I wouldn’t play music well if I didn’t do warm-ups and scales. I use my piano to learn better voicing and to shape notes, plus get the feel. There’s no way you can learn classical correctly on a synth. Synths are for the rockin’, fun side of me. Even so, I feel the classical training is what makes me a better synth player.
Life goal: Rockin’ America!