The songs that stick

Pianist combines rock, classical influences into original compositions

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2000

When Juneau performer Rory Stitt takes the stage at the Silverbow Inn this Friday, he'll be drawing on his years of training as a classical pianist. But the influence of Janis Joplin and Rocky Horror will be even more profound.

The concert begins at 8 p.m. at the Silverbow's Back Room and will feature about 20 of Stitt's original songs, as well as a few of his favorite songs by other performers. The singer and pianist will be joined on a few songs by classical guitarist Kelly Grubb, harmony singer Betsy Sims and percussionist Annie Ward.

Stitt, 23, grew up in Juneau, a self-described ``brutally shy'' kid. He had never acted when director Anita Maynard-Losh coaxed him into auditioning for the lead in ``The Rocky Horror Show.''

The show proved to be one of the best-attended musicals in Perseverance Theatre's history. Stitt played Dr. Frank N. Furter, a swaggering, flamboyant and diabolical transvestite.

``It was transformational,'' Stitt said. ``Anita said, `On stage you can do things you're never going to do in real life.' She helped me open the doors on a lot of backed-up energy.''

Stitt has since performed in a number of Perseverance Theatre plays, most recently ``Angels in America'' and ``Romeo and Juliet.'' He served as the musical director for Perseverance's production of ``Goblin Market,'' and designed sound and composed music for ``The Seagull.''

Stitt said his grandfather Richard Stitt and his dad Rick Stitt both play guitar and sing, and growing up he was constantly surrounded by live music.

``Dad was a sound guy. He had a little company for a while doing sound for concerts. He was also in bands and he was always rehearsing,'' he said.

Stitt started piano at age 8, and within a few years was composing his own music. He was awarded grants by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council to attend several summer music camps, and he took master classes at the University of Alaska Southeast.

He said he enjoyed listening to his dad's pop and rock music, but played mostly classical through his teen years.

``I always wanted to write music, and all this time I was trying to write classical,'' he said. ``That was really my desire, even before I could play. I I'd hear music and I wanted to be the person that wrote that.''

He discovered the Texas-born blues and rock singer Janis Joplin when he was about 12 and fell in love.

``Janis Joplin really got me interested in performing,'' he said. ``Magnetizing an audience enough that they go with you to new and interesting places.''

Stitt began working professionally as a pianist in his mid-teens. He played instrumental dinner music in restaurants and was frequently hired to play for rehearsals and auditions, and by voice teachers to accompany voice lessons. He did not sing publicly, but he picked up singing tips and cash as he played scales for voice students.

``I'd go home and practice the things the teacher said,'' he said. ``More than that, I was imitating my favorite female vocalists. And singing really loud in the car.''

Stitt continued writing instrumental compositions, but started writing songs as well. He particularly admires the work of Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos, songwriters who share personal aspects of their lives but at the same time entertain their audience. He wants his songs to do the same.

``The biggest thing for me is honesty. The things I've felt best about and that other people have enjoyed the most are when I'm talking directly to myself, saying, here's what happened, how I felt.''

He said he's written about 50 songs over the years.

``I write about 10 a year, and maybe two or three have staying power,'' he said. ``I'll write songs where I'm beating myself up over and over, and then I'll write the one where I say, `It's all right.' And that's the one that sticks.''

Performing, he said, is all about giving.

``I try to be generous as possible, and when things work right the whole audience, or the one person you're singing to, is generous back -- really paying attention.''

Stitt plans to move to Portland, Ore., in September. He's started a recording project and would like to have it finished before he leaves. He said the Friday concert's $10 admission will go toward recording expenses.

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