Tom Brier is a pianist whose extraordinary musical gift and passion for performance made him a YouTube sensation, before a tragic accident severed his budding career. Known for his masterful covers of ragtime classics and video game soundtracks, Brier built a reputation as one of the most talented interpreters of contemporary music on piano. His videos not only showcased incredible technical skill, but an infectious joy that made even complex compositions seem effortless. Though his performing days were cut short just as he was gaining more mainstream popularity, Brier’s legacy lives on through his recordings and those he inspired.

Early Life and Ragtime Beginnings

Born in 1971 and raised in Oakdale, California’s farming community, Tom Brier displayed an innate gift for music from a young age. When his parents bought a player piano for the family home when Tom was just 4 years old, he became enthralled with the machine’s onboard collection of ragtime music rolls. He would sit at the piano plinking along to the songs and attempting to pick out melodies and harmonies. Recognizing their son’s talent, Tom’s parents enrolled him in formal piano lessons at age 5. He took to it immediately, beginning to compose his own original ragtime compositions before he even hit his teenage years. By age 11, he had already written over 20 ragtime pieces. His composition “Pine Cone Rag” was performed at the Sacramento Ragtime Society when Brier was just 14 years old. His precocious talent landed him a headlining spot at the prestigious West Coast Ragtime Festival in 1989, while he was still in high school. Tom had found his calling in reviving and reinterpreting ragtime music. He nurtured this passion while earning a degree in computer science. Little did he know how technology would soon help him share his gift with the world.

Blossoming Music Career

While pursuing his computer science degree in the 1990s, Tom Brier continued developing his musicianship and reputation in the ragtime community. He released his first studio album, Rising Star, in 1994 at the age of 22. This kicked off an incredibly productive period that saw Brier release six more acclaimed ragtime/jazz albums over the next two decades. Titles like Generic, Piano Love, and Blue Sahara cemented him as not just an adept ragtime revivalist, but also an innovator pushing the genre forward. Brier’s profile grew within ragtime circles, scoring invites to perform at prestigious festivals around the country. But it was an early connection with YouTuber Ron O’Dell that truly started introducing Brier’s talents to the wider world. O’Dell, himself a ragtime composer, began uploading videos of Brier’s performances to YouTube starting in 2007. Almost immediately, Brier’s magnetic performing style and his ragtime covers of video game and pop tunes started attracting fans from outside the small ragtime community. His rendition of the Super Mario World theme has amassed almost 6 million views to date. Brier’s videos not only displayed his technical brilliance, but also popularized “sight reading,” inspiring a new generation of pianists eager to learn. Tom Brier’s reputation was reaching its zenith, fueled by this growing online popularity. But just as he was introducing his passion to millions, cruel fate would intervene to prematurely silence his gift.

Tragedy Strikes

At the peak of his powers in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Tom Brier looked destined to bring ragtime music back to mainstream popularity through his YouTube fame. But in an instant, his budding career was devastatingly derailed. On August 6, 2016 while driving his Ford Focus, Brier’s vehicle was violently rear-ended by a speeding Chevy Silverado truck. The catastrophic crash left him clinging to life with minimal chance of survival. He slipped into a coma for over two months as concerned fans around the world prayed for his recovery. Somehow, defying the odds, Tom emerged from the coma. But the extent of his injuries became clear - the crash had left Brier paralyzed from the neck down, robbing him of his ability to play the piano. After waking, Brier faced years of arduous rehabilitation and therapy to regain mobility and independence after the life-changing accident. He spent four years in a nursing home before being transferred to a neurological rehabilitation center for intensive therapy aimed at improving his mobility and speech. Throughout Brier’s painful recovery, Ron O’Dell continued providing occasional updates on his condition. Fans followed along hopefully as Tom relearned how to perform basic functions and rebuild strength. But it was clear his performing career was over, cut devastatingly short just as he was breaking through. The accident that nearly took Tom’s life also robbed the world of more of his prodigious talent. Yet his music and legacy would live on.

Legacy and Current Status

Though the 2016 crash left Tom Brier paralyzed and ended his performing career, his musical legacy continues to live on and inspire new audiences. His extensive catalog of studio album releases and YouTube videos ensures Tom’s singular talent as an interpreter and innovator remains accessible. Streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have also opened up his music to fresh generations of listeners.

Occasional updates from Tom’s friend Ron O’Dell suggest that while his recovery remains ongoing, he continues making strides through intensive therapy. Some hold out hope that emerging assistive technologies could one day allow Tom to make music again, even if only in limited capacities. Regardless, the recordings he left behind give us a glimpse of the legendary pianist he was on track to become before misfortune intervened.

It’s clear in watching his videos that Brier’s technical piano mastery was only part of the equation. His playing brimmed with an infectious joy, energy, and enthusiasm for the music. This raw charisma drew fans in, making Brier one of the first breakout internet music stars. His covers of classics like Super Mario World showcase an unrelenting creativity and passion that left an indelible impression on gaming culture.

Even more than his specific performances, Tom Brier’s embrace of sight reading helped ignite a renaissance in piano music online. Thanks to his influence, a new generation of musicians gained the skills to not just play sheet music, but confidently interpret it on the fly. The culture of video game arrangements and “sheets” can be traced back to Brier’s pioneering YouTube presence.

Though his name may not ring out amongst pianists and gamers today, Tom Brier’s fingerprints remain all over the internet’s vast library of video game music covers and tutorials. More than just a performer, he unlocked a way of spreading and teaching music that changed lives. While cut short, the legacy of Tom Brier persists, living on through those carrying his talents and passion forward to new audiences.

Tom Brier’s heartbreaking story illustrates how lives can change in an instant and the resilience of the human spirit. On track to revive ragtime and share his gifts with the world, a tragic accident severed his skyrocketing career. Yet even though his performing days ended prematurely, Brier’s musical legacy persists online and through those he inspired. His contributions to gaming culture, internet music, and piano sight reading changed lives and will be felt for generations. Tom Brier’s cut-short brilliance is a sobering reminder of the fragility of life, but also the permanence of contributions that bettered others.