Alumnus Celebrates Holidays With 'Christmastime' Album
When you ask Joseph Fuller about his life’s passion, he uses words such as “palettes,” “textures” and “colors” to describe the ways he turns his passion into art.
Fuller, however, is not a painter or sculptor but a pianist who has found a way to create music that truly takes shape as it rolls off the keys of his piano. His unique style and dedication to sharing his talent are ever present in his recently released third studio album Christmastime.
“I created a version of ‘Silent Night’ 18 months ago; I played it during a concert and received great reception,” Fuller said. “During Christmas last year I decided it was time to go into the studio and do some work.”
It was an easy decision that produced arrangements of Christmas favorites such as “Deck the Halls,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”).
Getting to this point in his life and career has not always been a straight and easy path; Fuller has seen his career take on various new shapes and even experienced something so traumatic that he feared he would never sit behind the piano keys again.
His love for music and playing the piano developed early in life.
When he was just 5 years old he remembers his mother searching for a piano teacher who would take a student that young. She finally found a lady willing to work with her kindergarten-aged son, and the rest, as they say, was history.
“I guess I was about 9 when I realized I had a knack for it and was able to just sit down and play. People would stop and listen and not just say ‘hey there’s a kid sitting at a piano.’ I grew up playing in churches, as well, and remember people looking at me in shock because I was 9 years old and playing in a church. Now when I think about it, it is kind of crazy,” laughed Fuller.
By the time Fuller reached his teenage years, he knew playing the piano was more than something he loved; it was a true passion.
“I kept working to hone my talent and get better, and then doors started opening,” he said.
One of those doors was to Sam Houston State University. After graduating from high school in 1998, Fuller auditioned for a scholarship at SHSU and with the high recommendation of music professor John Paul, he earned a full tuition and fees scholarship.
Sadly, during his first semester, Paul, who had become his mentor, unexpectedly died after performing in a faculty recital.
“I suddenly had no teacher, and when you are 18 years old, you wonder what you are going to do and wonder if you should stay or leave,” Fuller said.
He decided to stay, and soon found more doors opening at SHSU.
“The department of theatre and dance needed a pianist one season and welcomed me with open arms. I played that season, and they invited me to play as long as I was at Sam,” Fullre said. “I was so grateful for the way they treated me, especially since I was not a theatre and dance major.”
After earning a degree in music and a minor in business from SHSU in 2001, he continued his education, also on scholarship, at Baylor University, where he earned a master’s degree in collaborative piano.
His degrees led him to a career in accompanying and vocal coaching, and he found himself in the “opera world,” working for companies such as the Indianapolis Opera, the former Berkshire Opera and the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.
He was making a name for himself in the opera world and enjoying the successes of his career when in a single, chilling moment Fuller experienced something that would threaten to change life as he knew it.
“I was talking to my mom on the phone while I was driving home from Indianapolis. I hung up the phone, and two intersections later, I was upside down in the middle of the road,” he said. “Another driver did not yield the right-of-way and hit me head on, causing my SUV to roll.”
Fuller took a blow to the head when the wreck occurred, which would take him away from the piano for more than a year.
“It changed me. After the accident and months and months of rehab, what used to be familiar to me was no longer familiar; what used to be second nature, I could no longer do,” he said. “There’s a day I remember sitting down at the piano and bursting into tears because I could not play. During the accident I hit the back of my head and it affected my motor skills in a way that there was a gap between my brain and my hands.
“I got angry. It was a dark period in my life. I realized I might not ever be able to play piano again. It really changed me,” Fuller said. “And then one day I decided it was time to stop being angry, and I started to fight and fight hard. I realized I didn’t have to let this beat me because playing the piano and creating music is my calling; I’d been given a gift and I knew I could push through and retrain my body.”
That’s exactly what he did. Through dedication and faith, Fuller regained his ability to create magic at the piano.
“I have so much more freedom in my body now. It changed my playing and my outlook on what I do,” he said. “I know what I have is a gift, and I tell people ‘I know this gift is on loan,’ so I want to make sure I do it right and do it justice for the right reasons.”
Soon after regaining control of his talent, Fuller decided three years braving the cold weather of Indianapolis was enough and wanted to come home to Texas.
That’s when another door opened, and he received a call from Houston Grand Opera. After performing one season in Houston, Fuller decided to take his music in a different direction, from live performances to working as a recording artist.
“I had arranged music in my head but never had an opportunity to put it to a recording,” he said. “I was terrified at the thought of sharing that kind of music with the world. It’s scary to wonder whether or not people are going to like it.”
Despite his fears, in 2008 Fuller recorded and released the first of two CDs of sacred music, all different arrangements of hymns he had played growing up. The first album was titled Release; the second was Abide with Me, which was picked up by Pandora Radio in 2011.
“That opened yet another door for me,” he said. “Once you are on Pandora Radio, people everywhere can find you and they can download you on iTunes and buy your music on Amazon. It really introduces you to a whole new world of people.”
Fuller has been the guest pianist at churches across the country and continues to perform live concerts and collaborate with other musicians and singers. When he realized his ability to reach people, he knew it was time to create a Christmas CD. He wanted it be something that would allow people to escape the hustle and bustle of a commercialized holiday, and it allowed him to “find Christmas again” for himself.
Pandora Radio has also begun playing Christmastime.
“It’s great. I feel very blessed and fortunate that this kind of success is happening, but the way I measure true success is by the lives that have been touched by what I do,” Fuller said
“People have told me that my music brings peace and joy and solace in a time when they need it. That’s humbling.
“My prayer is that I get to continue to share my music with people and it would continue to grow in the way it is intended to grow,” he said. “As long as I’m touching lives with music, then I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Where his career will take him next is unknown, but you can bet Fuller will be doing what he loves behind the keys of a piano, creating textures and colors one note at a time.
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