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Missy Alcazar: from studying pop stars in secret to dueling pianos online.

Missy Alcazar: from studying pop stars in secret to dueling pianos online.

Missy Alcazar took up classical piano at an early age, and was considered a child prodigy. Her teacher permitted her to practice only “the greats” — composers such as Bach and Chopin. But by elementary school, she was becoming drawn to pop artists like Alicia Keys and Norah Jones. When she brought their songbooks to her practices, her teacher would shoot them down. So Alcazar began to study their songs in secret. She soldiered on with her classical piano training, but by the time she had finished college, she was over it. “I didn’t care about piano anymore. I thought at the time that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It took my having to take a break for me to realize that piano and music is what I love to do.” The problem, she realized, was that “with classical music, there was too much pressure to be perfect for me to continue that route.”

Centering her break from music on a deep dive into snowboarding, she moved up to Big Bear for a couple of seasons, picked up some sponsorships, couch-surfed, and lived on peanut butter sandwiches. Next was a 2007 move to Leucadia, where her ample spare time would serve as the catalyst for a re-entry into music. “I rented a piano and decided to see if I could get back into piano, because, during the summer, there’s nothing to do but surf. I remember getting my books and then opening them up… I was basically just playing what I felt like playing. And for the first time, I was the one choosing what I was going to learn, because in college, a teacher tells you what to learn.”

Looking back, she says, “I loved that time of my life. It was a time of self-discovery. I thought for myself. I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do. How to play. How to write. At that point, I discovered that I really wanted to write songs, but was just too scared to do it. Actually, just to be able to sing and play — that was one of the things that I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid. To be one of those singing pianists like Alicia Keys or Norah Jones.” So she began writing songs and test driving them on guitar at local open mics.

Even though she was a seasoned musician, the stress of those shows often overwhelmed her. “You have to wait two hours just to play one song. If you think about little, fragile, sensitive me… ‘If I mess up once, I’m gonna be discouraged and not want to go back.’ I needed reinforcement.”

She realized that what she really needed was a gig that would transform her into a pro at performing her own songs, onstage and with confidence. And in 2013, she landed a job with the Shout House as a dueling pianist. It would become the perfect training ground for her future solo gigs. Besides being forced to become comfortable with performing hundreds of songs, “I learned how to read the room, and how to be a very engaging entertainer: what gets them to stand up, what gets them to dance, and what gets them to sing.”

Six years at the Shout House led to landing what would become Alcazar’s true dream job, a dueling pianos gig at Disneyland. Unfortunately, the “Showdown at the Golden Horseshoe” (as the show was dubbed) had a short life due to covid, and it did not return when the theme park reopened.

But while she lost the job she loved, she found consolation in a Twitch community: she was invited to perform a dueling show on the platform and was impressed by the sound quality, especially compared to other apps such as Facebook. She decided to dive into streaming, and has since built what she refers to as a “small but mighty loyal fanbase. They have funded the entire album” — Figuring It Out — “and they have funded the entire music video,” she explains. “They funded everything music-related to my songwriting. I never had a viral moment and, to be honest, I think that’s good, because at this point, what’s most important is really establishing these genuine quality connections. I can name all of my viewers, because I see them on a regular basis. We talk every day. They are in my emails, constantly active. I think if it were to go viral, I don’t know these people. The connection is lost.”

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