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Brian Felder: From despair to his dream
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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Fifteen years ago, Brian Felder was a 17-year-old senior at Huntington (Ind.) North High School. He knew then that he was gay, but had not yet come out. That would happen a few months later.

But not before one of his biggest life-changing moments.

It was an early February evening in 1998, about two weeks before his 18th birthday. Sure, he was struggling with his sexuality, but that wasn't his only personal demon, not even his biggest.

"I knew what life I wanted to have, what I wanted to become," Felder said slowly, carefully choosing his words for this interview in June, at age 33. "I wanted to do something really big in life, but, for some reason at that point [in 1998], I just felt like that was never going to happen, and I still don't know why I felt that way."

Felder wrote a suicide note, placed it under textbooks on his desk at home, so his mom, Sue, would eventually find it.

He then consumed the contents of three bottles of sleeping pills.

A few hours later, Felder awoke. He stumbled to the bathroom and vomited. His mom thought he had the flu at the time, so she came to his aide.

She immediately saw his dilated eyes and knew things were serious.

Felder admitted, he attempted suicide.

He was rushed to the hospital, hallucinating, where he stayed for a few days.

"The doctors said, had my mom not found me, had I just thrown up and gone back to bed, [due to] my heart rate, I probably would have died within 30 minutes," Felder said.

Since he was only 17 at the time, his parents, Mike and Sue, had to decide where he'd go once released from the hospital. They suggested a mental hospital for a few weeks. "I was really mad, upset about that [decision,]" Felder said.

Ultimately, he was only there for a few days.

"When I came through in the hospital, and was not hallucinating anymore, I remember seeing my mom sitting on the end of the bed. I was so mad at her for saving my life; I remember glaring at her. I even blamed her and said, 'You're the reason I'm still [alive.]'" Felder said. "Thinking back, it was so cruel, rude what I said to her. I now can't believe I said that to her. Of course any mother would do her best to save her son's life. What was I thinking?"

Felder's suicide attempt was not a plea for attention, nor a cry for help. He just was skeptical where his life would go. He knew he didn't want what he considered an "average" life, but couldn't imagine any of his goals or dreams coming to fruition at the time.

"I truly believe now that every person has a purpose, that we're all here for a reason. I didn't know what my purpose [in life] was at the time, but obviously I'm here for a reason, as is everyone," he said.

Felder, now living in Chicago's Buena Park neighborhood and happily partnered for more than three years to Jared Wile, 29, a collateral analyst, is a professional pianist. He also is a licensed real estate broker and one of the main on-camera hosts for Gay Chicago TV.

Felder is truly the living image of the It Gets Better campaign.

"Even though it's not always easy, figure out what your passion in life is, what you love … and then find a way to make it your job and make money at it," Felder said. "I really want to be the motivation to that struggling teen, just as I was."

Felder has lived in Chicago for almost 10 years and he was one of the three hosts moderating the annual Chicago Pride Parade on June 30.

"I really love the TV work," Felder said. "I always joke that, if I could be anyone in the world, I probably should want to be Elton John, but I really want to be Oprah. My dream job would be hosting a national talk-show."

But his path looks more destined for piano stardom, surpringly.

After all, he is self-taught and has only ever taken eight piano lessons, at age 8.

"Going along with my personality, I didn't like being told what fingers to use, how to hold my hands," when taking piano lessons years ago, Felder said.

Felder started learning piano in second-grade, but stopped quickly.

He returned to piano, on his own, in the fourth-grade—and he started teaching himself through his old beginner books.

"I can honestly say, my talent as a pianist is a gift from God because I've played all over the country, and there's no way that someone with two months of piano lessons in the second-grade should be able to do that," said Felder, a regular pianist at local cabaret shows and piano bar gigs.

He even has played on major cruise ships.

In junior high school, Felder played with the school choir; he did the same in high school.

He has also played at area churches and regularly for the Chicago Cabaret Project.

"My favorite thing to play for is the sing-along piano parties at someone's house," Felder said. "Even if it's a house filled with only 40 people, as opposed to venues I previously have performed at with hundreds and hundreds of [attendees]. They are so interactive, so enjoyable."

Felder was a business major at Ball State University in Indiana, dreaming at the time of becoming the next Donald Trump. He didn't take any music classes in college, but his parents pushed him toward the musical world, to his true passion.

"My parents saw that I had a gift, particularly my dad who is a musician. I think he recognized my talent at a young age," Felder said. "Most young people with artistic talent are urged by their parents to get a 'real job.' My parents were the opposite. They recognized my gift and thought it would be foolish not to use it. I never thought I'd be playing professionally."

Felder has five or six paid piano gigs per month, on average. But he's playing almost daily, often just to entertain others or for rehearsals.

"It's fun," he said, smiling.

Felder does not compose or write his own music, but his piano style is very similar to Elton John and the way the gay legend plays. Felder's genre is mostly cabaret and show tunes, anything but classical. His style of playing is very improvisational.

And he's always smiling. Felder found his passion and has made it his career.

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