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Virginia student plays music for Alicia Keys on Instagram

Terrance Shepherd, 31, is a Radford University graduate student pursuing a career in music and music education in Radford Va., Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) Photo: Matt Gentry, AP / The Roanoke Times



RADFORD, Va. (AP) — Few people get to meet their idols. Even fewer get the chance to converse and share their passions with them.

Terrance Shepherd — a Radford University graduate student majoring in musical composition — got to do both when he played the piano for singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, who also plays the piano. The chance meeting happened on Instagram live when Shepherd was listening to Keys talk about her latest album, “Alicia.”

He was one of thousands watching her stream when his comment stuck out to her, and she pulled Shepherd into her livestream.

He said he was in disbelief, and proceeded to audibly yell before saying, “Alicia…Oh my God.” From there the two struck up a conversation about their similar tastes in music, and Shepherd talked to her about his passion for music, and how their styles were so similar in the way that they both love to combine the music of artists from different eras.


After impressing Keys with his musical knowledge, she asked him if he had a piano nearby that he could play for her — and, without missing a beat, Shepherd happily obliged and proceeded to play parts of two of her songs, “Fallin’” and “Harlem’s Nocturne.”


Keys praised Shepherd’s performance, saying “This is so, so fire what you just did.”

Shepherd thanked Keys and told her he looked forward to the day they could collaborate on some music together.

In an interview this week at the Covington Center’s piano lab on the Radford campus, Shepherd, 31, recalled the experience of performing on the spot for one of the world’s most well-known musicians.


“I just hope that it brought some inspiration to people that may have needed it. We need that right now,” he said. “It’s way bigger than me… It’s more about sharing the story. If this can happen to me, look what can happen to you.”

The Queens, New York, native grew up in Charlotte, where he studied music at Queens University of Charlotte. He said he began playing music at 14, because he said he wanted another outlet besides dancing to “get more of himself out there.”

His Radford classmate and clarinet player, Megan Denslinger, said you can feel the passion in Shepherd’s music.

“He inspires me… It (his music) is very personal. It always portrays a message,” she said. “He’s always portraying something within him, and I think that’s very clear in his compositions as well as his playing.”

Shepherd said he loves composing music that includes different genres of music as well as different eras.

“It’s fun to me to make music that encompasses a lot of different things, you know? I write things that will have some of Bach or Beethoven but also Tupac and Jay-Z. Stuff like that,” he said.

Bruce Mahin, Shepherd’s composition professor, said Shepherd and his music are unique.

“His concept of music is very deep and goes down to the root of human expression… It’s a rare thing when you hear music that touches you in a visceral way… I think that’s one thing I can say about his music. It touches that deep emotion.”

When asked where Shepherd stands compared to other students he’s taught, Mahin said he hates to put a rating on his students, instead saying “let me put it like this, he is primed for success, and I think whatever that means he’s going to be ready for it and something great is going to happen.”

While Shepherd said his goal is to teach composition at the collegiate level, he has not given up hope on perhaps being a performing artist, something he said he is very comfortable doing. He recalled the days when he was a teenager in Charlotte and would go to the piano store and play for hours.

He said the place meant so much to him that he had to call the owners and tell them about his experience with Keys.

“That’s the place where the music kind of found me,” he said. “They let me do it, and a full-circle moment is they had an Alicia Keys picture up in the store when it first opened and I said one day man, one day.”



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