Tom Brier: The Story and Tragic Ending of a Piano Prodigy
Tom Brier rose to YouTube fame for his dazzling video game piano covers. But a devastating crash left this piano prodigy paralyzed and silenced. His inspirational life story.
Among the countless piano covers and video game remixes on YouTube, one pianist stood out from the rest in the late 2000s.
With his technical brilliance and adaptable improvisational skills, Tom Brier took familiar tunes and transformed them into complex, high-energy rags filled with racing embellishments.
For fans of classical and ragtime piano, as well as gamers who loved hearing their favorite soundtracks jazzed up, Tom became a YouTube sensation.
Yet the name Tom Brier may not ring any bells today. His popularity has faded over the last decade, despite Tom's legacy as one of the most talented pianists on YouTube. Even more tragic, a terrible accident in 2016 left Tom paralyzed and unable to play the piano, cutting short the career of a truly gifted musician.
Tom's story deserves to be told. His youth as a ragtime prodigy, his meteoric rise to YouTube fame through his video game covers, and the devastating crash that disabled him give insight into an important yet forgotten figure in internet music culture.
Tom brought joy to millions and inspired many young musicians before his playing days were cruelly ended. By looking back on Tom's life and achievements, we can appreciate the mark he left on the world and the magic he created at the piano.
Early Life & Beginnings in Ragtime Music
Tom Brier took to the piano at an astonishingly young age. Born in 1971 in Oakdale, California, he was surrounded by music from the start. At age 4, Tom's parents bought a player piano for the home, loaded with rolls of classic rags.
Fascinated by the rhythmic, bouncy piano rolls, Tom started plinking on the keys himself at 5 years old. Recognizing their son's innate talent, Tom's parents soon found him a piano teacher to nurture his interest.
After just a year of lessons, 6-year-old Tom composed his first complete ragtime work. This kicked off an exciting childhood filled with practice, recitals, and competitions.
By age 11, Tom had already written over 20 original ragtime compositions. One of his early works, "Pine Cone Rag," caught the attention of California's ragtime music community when Tom performed it at 14.
Throughout his teenage years in the 1980s, Tom became deeply involved in societies and festivals celebrating ragtime music. He attended meetings of the Sacramento Ragtime Society, impressing seasoned ragtime veterans.
Tom also performed at the prestigious West Coast Ragtime Festival as a featured young talent. His technical skill and mature musicality on complex ragtime works belied his young age.
Tom's natural talent and devoted study of ragtime piano would serve as the foundation for his later popular success. Even as a child prodigy, his gifts were apparent.
YouTube Fame & Video Game Covers
In the 2000s, Tom Brier's reputation expanded from the ragtime world to the internet at large. His talent caught the attention of Ron O'Dell, an online ragtime enthusiast.
O'Dell ran a YouTube channel sharing ragtime performances, and began uploading videos of Tom playing in 2006. These early videos showcased Tom's original rags and covers of ragtime classics.
But it was Tom's adaptations of video game soundtracks that made him a viral sensation. His "prioritized" versions took familiar 8-bit tunes and transformed them into fast-paced, harmonically rich rags.
Adding improvised embellishments and ornamentation, Tom gave new energy to songs from Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing and many more games.
Tom's flair for spontaneous rearrangement amazed viewers, as did his sheer technical skill. His playful yet precision-perfect covers required immense coordination and sight reading abilities.
For many young pianists, Tom's YouTube videos opened their eyes to just how exciting and fun piano performance could be. His impact resonated across the internet, making him one of the most popular video game music interpreters of the late 2000s.
The Tragic Accident
Tom Brier's meteoric rise to internet fame made his sudden downfall all the more heartbreaking. On August 6, 2016, Tom was driving through an intersection when his car was violently struck from behind by a speeding truck. The devastating crash left Tom with severe injuries, including paralysis from the neck down.
In the days following the accident, fans and fellow musicians feared the worst, assuming Tom had perished. Miraculously, he clung to life, although the extent of the damage remained uncertain. Tom spent over two months in a coma before regaining consciousness. Only then did the permanence of his paralysis become clear.
Though the accident had tragically robbed him of his greatest gift, Tom's fighting spirit persevered. After years of rehabilitation and recovery, he continues to amaze doctors with his resilience. But at the age of 51, Tom's piano playing days have sadly come to an end. His countless fans can only hope that new medical advances may someday restore his abilities, so the world can again hear him perform.
Legacy & Impact
Silenced too soon, Tom Brier nevertheless leaves behind an incredible musical legacy. Through his compositions, albums, and YouTube videos, Tom inspired legions of pianists and game music fans. His "prioritized" covers influenced a generation of musicians to experiment with improvisation and sight reading.
And though Tom can no longer play, the knowledge and passion he developed over a lifetime at the piano lives on.
Of course, Tom's greatest legacy is the sheer joy he brought to so many. Few musicians could make classical ragtime feel so fresh and exhilarating.
Whenever someone stumbles across a Tom Brier video and feels wonder at his talent, his legend carries forward. For all he's given the world, Tom Brier will remain a YouTube icon worth remembering.
Summary of Tom Brier’s Story
The name Tom Brier may not immediately ring a bell today. But rewind to the late 2000s, and Tom stood as one of the brightest stars on YouTube.
Through his dazzling piano covers of video game soundtracks, Tom carved out a unique niche at the intersection of classical ragtime, internet remix culture, and gaming fandom. The sheer enthusiasm and infectious energy Tom brought to the keyboard earned him devoted fans across the internet.
Yet Tom shone just as brightly off-screen through his lifelong dedication to music. As a child prodigy in the 1970s, he feel in love with the syncopated rhythms and bouncing momentum of ragtime piano.
From age 6, Tom poured his heart into mastering the complex genre, relishing the creativity and technical challenge. By his teens, Tom was blowing away audiences at ragtime festivals with his precocious talent and deep musical knowledge.
Tom carried that passion for spontaneous live performance onto YouTube, where his playful personality and improvisational flair captivated viewers.
Though grounded in classical theory, Tom followed the flow of inspiration in the moment when covering video game tunes. His ability to transform simple melodies into rich, multi-layered textures showcased both his creativity and sheer technical mastery.
That is what makes the tragedy of his devastating 2016 car accident so poignant. In an instant, Tom lost both his mobility and his ability to share his musical gifts.
For over 40 years, the piano had been Tom's greatest joy and mode of expression. To have that outlet so abruptly taken away, while still in his prime, seems unspeakably cruel.
Yet even paralysis has not stifled Tom's inner spirit and love of music. Though his performing days have passed, his compositional legacy lives on through an awe-inspiring catalogue of recordings.
For as long as YouTube exists, new generations will continue discovering and marveling at Tom's talent. And his passionate, relentlessly creative approach to music stands as an inspiration for all artists.
Tom Brier's story carries so many lessons about living meaningfully and making the most of the time we have. He poured his full energy and dedication into perfecting his craft from childhood. Even in adverse circumstances today, Tom's will to overcome challenges and progress remains strong.
As both a musician and a human being, Tom exemplifies the power of passion. Though he has passed out of the limelight, the ripples of his inspiration continue to spread.