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You’re Invited, Billy Joel

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You’re Invited, Billy Joel

Wyner proudly displays his interview with Billy Joel in an original copy of his school newspaper printed in 1989.

Wyner proudly displays his interview with Billy Joel in an original copy of his school newspaper printed in 1989.

-Photo courtesy of Tess Rechtweg

Wyner proudly displays his interview with Billy Joel in an original copy of his school newspaper printed in 1989.

-Photo courtesy of Tess Rechtweg

-Photo courtesy of Tess Rechtweg

Wyner proudly displays his interview with Billy Joel in an original copy of his school newspaper printed in 1989.

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Chorus classes celebrated the birthday of a Long Island icon Billy Joel this past April. Classes celebrated by performing various songs, reading articles about the star, and finally creating a recorded invitation for Billy to attend the Spring Gala of the Arts, where they will be showcasing an epic medley of his songs on May 21. A video of the invitation has been circulating on Facebook, and it now has over 2,000 views. Many hope that with enough coverage, Billy Joel might actually see the video and attend the concert.

Chorus Teacher Barry Wyner has always had a deep admiration for the singer, which goes back to when he was in eighth grade. Back in 1989, Wyner reached out to Billy Joel in the hopes of getting an interview for his school newspaper at Higgins Middle School. To his great surprise, he actually got a response. Billy Joel himself called Wyner, with the casual opening, “Hi, Barry, this is Billy Joel.” In response to Wyner’s shock, Joel nonchalantly answered, “Well, you wrote a pretty good letter here.”

LHS' Video Invitation to Billy Joel

It was very clear Joel took the interview, which Wyner recorded, seriously. When asked what advice he would give to kids hoping to pursue a career in music, Joel veered away from the stereotypical, “Follow your dreams” and “Don’t give up” response. He started by saying, “I would tell kids to write as much as they can; writing is the thing that really takes people through a longterm career.” Joel added, “Then, when you get old enough, get a lawyer and then get another lawyer to watch the first lawyer.”

Wyner describes his experience as more than just a fun moment shared with a celebrity. He explains, “Just think how crazy it was that at the peak of his career in 1989, he let me interview him for over 20 minutes on the phone… and sent me a thank you note!” Wyner continues, “It shows that he values all humans, regardless of whether you are big or small in status. If this 13-year-old nobody was worthy of talking to Billy Joel, then I’m actually a somebody. This was very powerful for me.”

To Wyner, Joel’s strong character is just as, and perhaps even more important, than his outstanding musical talent. Wyner shares, “Setting aside all his musical achievements, how many celebrities who grew up in Long Island still choose to live here full time, and do great things for their home community: like donate over a million dollars to save a high school for the arts, start a local business, or promote Long Island musicians into his band?” Wyner continues, highlighting Joel’s contributions to the community, “In just the past two weeks, headlines in the New York Post have shown Billy Joel participating in a beach cleanup in Oyster Bay–like, he was picking up garbage with everyone else–and sitting next to Governor Cuomo as he signed a ban on offshore drilling, which would have hurt Long Island fishermen and coastlines.”

Wyner shares that the experience truly affected his teaching philosophy, saying, “I tell my students the story of that phone call every year on Billy’s birthday because I think it’s a reminder that being a great musician is awesome, but being a great person is most important. That’s very much in line with what we try to teach here in chorus, and Billy really exemplifies that message.”

Many students share Wyner’s appreciation for Joel. Kara Vito, a junior in chorus, shared her love for the singer-songwriter: “I find that Billy Joel writes music that we can all relate to.” She continued, “I can’t wait to see him at our concert.” Senior Jason Shao shared, “I am truly bursting at the seams with excitement over Billy Joel. Him coming to the concert would be a sweet treat. I want the Piano Man to see adult Mr. Wyner playing the piano, man.”

Lastly, Wyner expressed his excitement for the upcoming concert that will give students the chance to honor Joel’s work. Wyner ends by sharing, “From his incredible musical achievements, to his undying support of Long Island, to his long history of good deeds, and so much more, I think Billy Joel is an amazing guy who is well deserving of a rousing medley performance from our chorus. I think they’re really going to bring the energy that night and raise the roof to honor the Piano Man.”

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You’re Invited, Billy Joel