Let Eli Be Eli: Three Lessons Learned While Coaching Eli Tiller

This is a guest post by our good friend Laura K, a 28 year-old singer and songwriter who lives on a bus and likes to blog.  You can read her blog, follow her on Twitter, and download her new album on iTunes
Laura K is also Eli’s vocal coach, piano coach, and co-writer of Eli’s album!

Lesson #1) Weakness and Inability Are Not Synonymous

When the Tiller family first started coming over for their weekly vocal coaching visits, I soon discovered that Eli has a weakness. Standing for long periods of time can be tough for him. For someone who wants to sing in front of people, this could present a problem. At first, I was concerned that he wouldn’t make it through a rehearsal. He’d do really well for the first song, and then start to get visibly tired.

Laura K (far right) and friends in the studio while recording Eli’s album


At the time, the task at hand was to teach him the three songs I’d written for him that were based on his lyrics. If he could only sing one song at a time, this would have made the learning process much too slow for the timeline we were on to record his CD.  We figured out that if he stood up to sing a song through once or twice, then sat down while we talked about what he could do differently, he’d probably have enough energy to do the next song too.  Sure enough, it worked, and we were able to cover all three songs at every rehearsal. Had I confused weakness with inability, Eli may not have reached his full potential.


Lesson #2) Highlight Uniqueness, Don’t Hide It

I recently started teaching Eli piano lessons to help his left hand develop more mobility.  I now have a plan for “Lefty” that will hopefully create some cool music. I just have to teach Eli enough music theory to understand how “Righty” can make sense out of the random notes Lefty hits. After our third piano lesson, I shared my new plan for Lefty with John and Tricia.  John said “That’s brilliant!  That’s what I love about working with you – your plan has always been to let Eli be Eli.” I hadn’t given my plan such a catchy slogan until John coined the phrase, “Let Eli be Eli”, but it made sense.

A good coach highlights a student’s unique characteristics, instead of trying to hide them.  I will never be able to hide the fact that Eli’s left hand has limited mobility. If instead of hiding his left hand I highlight it for you as a listener, you might be inspired to figure out what you can do with the unique characteristics God has blessed you with!


Lesson #3) Hard Work is More Important Than Raw Talent

I’ve had quite a few piano students.  Some have been inspiring, and some have been just plain frustrating.  It always seemed like the most talented ones had no interest in practicing.  Eli is now one of my top 5 favorite music students because of his work ethic.  Within two weeks of receiving the CD of the newly written songs he had to learn, he had already memorized most of them.  Then, when I gave him tips and little things to work on, he would come back the next week having obviously practiced the spots we had talked about.

Yes, there are certain challenges for Eli in his vocal technique that stem from his old injuries.  Though Eli demonstrates that with hard work and practice, these challenges can be minimized and overcome. I think that is part of why people are so inspired by him.

Seeing Eli sing helps us to examine whether or not we are working as hard as we should be to use the gifts God has given us.  Eli practices very hard to be able to sing and speak in front of people with excellence.  Working with him forced me to examine my own work ethic and ask myself if I was exercising my gifts to their full potential. Ultimately, I discovered that I really don’t work as hard as I should.


Are you using your God-given gifts effectively?  I hope you’ll take some time to ponder that today, and that Eli’s example will inspire you as much as he has inspired me!

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  • David Hawk

    A BIG thank you to Laura for sharing the love of Christ with Eli. I am so very happy to hear Eli is now playing the piano. I too play the piano and “Lefty” gives me trouble all the time. I believe that God calls the availability and not the ability. I do not have the training to be a great piano player but the talent that the Lord has given me I use to the best I can. Music is such a blessing from the giver to the receiver. I can not wait to hear Mr. Eli play for his Lord for others to hear. Blessing to Laura as she gives of herself. To God be the Glory… David Hawk