There are no words to translate or lyrics to interpret. More often than not, the music of Yanni stands on instrumentation alone.
It is perhaps this fact that has propelled the Greek-born musician to international acclaim, the pianist and composer said.
“There are no lyrics in my music for the most part, so the whole message is transmitted through the rhythm, melody, sounds and I think that has to do with crossing all the borders and being able to go to different countries,” he said. “The message in the music is never lost.”
On June 1, Yanni performs a collection of signature songs in An Evening with Yanni, a live concert at Bell Auditorium in Augusta.
Since his musical debut in 1981, Yanni has sold more than 35 million albums, reaching generations of fans.
“How come I look down on my concerts a lot of times and I see 6-year-old kids sitting right next to grandma?” he said in a phone interview prior to the launch of his 2012 World Tour. “I don’t know who brought whom to the concert. And maybe they’re both there and they both love it.”
In April, Yanni released the Live at El Morro CD and DVD, featuring sold-out performances for audiences in El Morro, Puerto Rico. The CD follows the release of his most recent studio album, Truth of Touch, in 2011.
“One of the nicest things about my career has been that it has allowed me the opportunity to travel all over the world and go into places where most people wouldn’t be able to get in,” said Yanni, who was born Yanni Chryssomallis in the southern Greek city of Kalamata. “I (have) come in contact with so many cultures. That changes a human being. It opens your mind. The lessons are myriad when you come in contact with so many cultures.”
AS A BOY, Yanni taught himself how to play piano. Ever since, Yanni said he’s tried to keep his mind open to learning new things.
“That’s why I travel so much on purpose to learn, you know,” he said. “Keep your mind open because there are no rules in music. Study by listening. I’ve never heard a teacher. I’m a self-taught musician, but I don’t think I didn’t study. I listened to everything I could. Even when I was 8 years old, I used to listen to Bach. Now why would an 8-year-old kid like Bach? You tell me. I don’t know. But I loved it.”
Yanni counts several classical pianists and composers among his influences.
“My parents loved classical music, so I was exposed to classical music very early,” he said. “I love Beethoven. That’s my favorite.”
Growing up in Greece, he listened to the radio because the family didn’t own a turntable or tape player.
“I couldn’t just buy records and listen like other kids and so at night, I would stay up and listen to Shortwave radio,” he said. “I would hear Italian and North African music and even German stations would come through, and stations that I didn’t understand the language, you know, from all over.”
Today, Yanni has his own unique process for writing music.
“I begin with emotion. I begin quiet,” he said. “I hear music in my head. I am very fortunate to have something called perfect pitch.”
When he listens to music, Yanni says he recognizes every note.
“I know the chord progression. I know every instrument and I know what’s the notes they’re saying,” he said. “And it’s just specific words. And it’s like somebody talking to me. ... It’s like someone talking to me or reading a book.”
IN A WORLD of increasingly “disposable” music, Yanni said he has never paid much attention to what is popular.
“I don’t pay attention to what society listens to,” he said. “I don’t care if they’re listening to hip-hop or rap or whatever. I’m just going to write my music. I don’t care what anybody else is doing. It’s very difficult to get to be in sync with society.”
Yanni said he’s thankful for the legions of fans who show up year after year to hear him perform.
“I try to take the audience through a journey if I can. The journey lasts a couple of hours, so a significant amount of time to keep people’s attention,” he said. “We do very well from what I’ve seen playing around the world, and I’m grateful for that.”
Over the years, Yanni has played for audiences of every size, from 300 fans to 300,000.
“It makes no different to me. Once I get on that stage, I’m on. And I’m on 100 percent,” he said. “There’s no 99 percent or ‘I don’t feel good today’ or any of that stuff. It’s just you’re on, you’re on. That’s it.”
At this stage in his life, entering the third decade of his career, Yanni says he’s willing to take on anything.
“I’m not afraid to work,” he said. “I don’t live in fear, even though I do experience fear. I try not to stay in it too long. I tend to be optimistic towards the future, which I like that.
“As I become older, I’m finding a better balance between optimism, pessimism, realism. But at the same time, the reason why people enjoy my music is the sense of optimism. There’s a sense of resolution and that comes from the way I look at life.”