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Jay Hancock, KSL TV

Utah man hopes to turn uncommon piano talent into career

By Andrew Adams, KSL TV | Posted - Apr. 12, 2021 at 6:34 a.m.

PRICE — After facing some incredible life struggles, one Huntington man is hoping for a brighter future by staying "in tune" with an uncommon piano talent he's had since he was a child.

Tanner Hill has little classical training and struggles when he tries to play to sheet music, but if he listens to a song on the radio or online, he can play it on demand.

"Yeah, basically I just need to hear it," Hill said.

During a recent session at Lee's Music on 58 E. Main Street in Price, he demonstrated his prowess by playing classical and contemporary hits with ease, including a sonatina by Clementi, "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals and "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey.

He wasn't told ahead of time to prepare for any of them.

Store Manager Mark Dickey called out tunes, and Hill almost seamlessly transitioned into playing them.

When Hill couldn't quite recall Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire," Dickey played only a few seconds and Hill immediately translated it to the keys of a grand piano.

"Hearing two seconds of it and being able to play it is pretty awesome," Dickey acknowledged. "Most of them play by reading sheet music and some can play by ear, but not quite on that level."

Hill said he believes he can play as many as 200,000 songs.

Sheet music is a hindrance, he said.

"Like, I could pick apart at it, but it would be really difficult for my actual ability to play not to take over that," Hill shrugged.

His talent came at an early age. Hill said he was 5-years-old when his parents heard somebody playing "Jingle Bells" on the piano and came to find him doing it.

"There I was, playing with both hands the same as on the radio, except they said my version was better than what was on the radio, so it kind of threw them off," he said.

Hill said his parents went around the state, trying to find someone to teach him to learn how to play traditionally and with sheet music.

"I had a couple people just straight-up tell my parents I'm not capable of learning to read sheet music," Hill said.

Hill performed locally numerous times over the years, with people telling him, "you're awesome," "you're going to be famous someday," and "you're going to play at my wedding."

His path into adulthood, however, was filled with obstacles.

He said he still struggles to hold down jobs to support his family, and he has been financially devastated through three different fires that displaced him.

He was living in an RV next to Utah Lake in Utah County in 2015 when it burned.

In 2018, Hill said he was living in a tent when a wildfire struck.

"We were in a really bad struggle for life," he recalled. "Like once again, everything we'd saved up to try to get back on our feet … gone."

His music helped carry him through those dark days.

"It's a constant stress reliever," Hill said. "It just kind of takes my worries, my stress and everything away."

Today, Hill said he works odd landscaping jobs.

He has tried out multiple times previously for NBC's America's Got Talent and is hoping somehow to turn his musical gift into a living or career.

For now, Hill shares music on his YouTube channel while using his ability to connect with those around him who also may be facing challenges in life.

"It made me feel better inside that I knew that my music was helping someone else through a rough time," Hill said.

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