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Elton has his short fingers to thank for moving him away from classical music to pop.  He told students Monday night at the University of Southern California that his fingers are like “cocktail sausages” and are not long enough for a career in classical music.

 Elton gave a free two-and-a-half-hour concert at the school (open to all students but they had to first enter a lottery) to promote his new studio album, and to demonstrate his relevance in a musical world that’s changed since his big hits of the 1970s and ‘80s.

He suggested that people listen to everything, like he does. The singer mentioned some of the latest entertainers he likes, including New Zealand teenager Lorde (who is said to have asked to perform with Elton) and 22-year-old country star Hunter Hayes.

Elton took a few questions from the 1,200 students in the audience, and sang older numbers like Sixty Years On and Levon as well as five songs from the new Diving Board album.

For much of the concert, Elton was backed not only by his own band and back-up singers but also by the USC student symphony and chamber singers.

Also in attendance were Grammy Foundation Vice President Scott Goldman, who moderated the question and answer session, and producer T Bone Burnett, who did the introduction at Bovard Auditorium. 

Elton’s performance came from a partnership with his label Capitol Records, USC Thornton School of Music and the Visions and Voices Arts and Humanities Initiative.

Chris Sampson, the vice dean of the division of contemporary music at Thornton, explained that Capitol Records reached out to the university because it was a school of similar stature to the rocker’s alma mater, the Royal Academy of Music.

Sampson said the experience of students seeing Elton perform and interact with him them directly was incredible.

“The value of his trip is hard to calculate,” he added. “It’s immeasurable. Just to be able to see that level of professionalism is priceless. The opportunity to get insights and talk with such an iconic music figure is so rare.”

Monday night’s event was filmed, and is expected to be turned into a documentary.