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Today, Elton would probably describe the audition to the Royal Academy of Music as a daunting proposition for any eleven-year-old to go through, but after showing what he was capable of when it came to playing the piano, an oral test, and convincing his auditioners that he had an ear for music, he was accepted into the Academy, and as far as he was concerned, he was now on the first rung of the ladder to becoming a professional musician.
Helen Piena, his piano tutor at the Academy, recalls that he was offered a Junior Exhibitionist Scholarship even though he couldn't read music, not even a note. He was chosen, says Piena, because he had such a good ear. She taught him the rudiments of playing the piano but not composition, 'I didn't teach him for composition. He had lessons with a composer for that, but I don't know how he was doing in his other classes at the time. I know his compositions were, and still are, classically based, and that was due to his education at the Academy; he learned a lot about music structure whilst he was there.'
As well as practising the piano, he was also in Harmony classes in Room 114. 'I came to the Royal Academy as a junior Saturday morning student in the early sixties,' recalls Skaila Kanga, a fellow student, and a then would-be principal harp player on Elton's second album. 'He used to always sit at the back, out of the way. We were keen and eager, sitting at the front and swotting, but Reg wasn't like that, he was shy and hid away in this very big room, by the window. He remembers me in that class but I don't have a huge amount of recollection of him because he was so very shy. It was quite a tussle for him. He had such a different way of listening to music, and was playing piano mostly by ear, which was, and still is, his incredible skill but which the Academy didn't really engender in those days. It was a much more classical training, and for those students who wanted to go down the classical path, it was invaluable.'
Certainly, he didn't seem to be comfortable doing Mozart and Haydn, continues Kanga. 'And so, therefore, the stricture and all the classes that we had were hard for him.' What he could do, however, was play and improvise on what he could remember, which is a phenomenal thing to do, and vital for the route into rock 'n' roll music.