John Salmon

I first learned of Professor John Salmon of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, back in June 2014. He emailed me about my Dave Brubeck Tribute to Teachers blog published December 2013, in which I mentioned Professor Salmon’s recordings of Brubeck’s Nocturnes on the CD John Salmon Plays Brubeck Piano Compositions. He graciously offered to send me his new music volume, Add on Bach and view the videos of performances of selected works.

 

He wrote, “I decided to try quirky (rather than musicologically relevant) intros in an attempt just to get people’s attention.  I know I cross the border into bad taste ….. but we’ll see if the intros enhance viewership.” I was intrigued!

Add On Bach

 

After several emails back and forth, I was delighted to learn John Salmon personally knows two of my favorite pianists, Jura Margulis (through his dad, pianist Vitaly Margulis) and Dmitry Rachmanov, who I hear is plotting to lure Professor Salmon to teach at CSUN (California State University, Northridge), my alma mater. Keeping my fingers crossed. Professor Salmon is such a fun and interesting guy, I just had to interview him for the school’s blog and get the word out about his new book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q. What inspired you to create Add On Bach? Do you incorporate it in your curriculum?

A. Over the years I had already begun to create these additions to various keyboard works of J.S. Bach, for various reasons. For example, I remember teaching the E Major Prelude, WTC (Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1) I once to a student and wanted to show her that there was an underlying harmonic scheme. So I came up with the SATB (Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass) addition to that Prelude. I remember telling another student that I thought the character of the F Major Invention was like the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major (BWV 1047)—bright, rhythmic, lively—and so I came up with a continuo part for the Invention, as if it too were a reduction of a concerto grosso.

 

No, I don’t systematically incorporate Add On Bach into my curriculum – but every now and then, say, if somebody’s playing the F Major Invention or E Major Invention – I might start jamming with the student. Gah, we have fun!

 

Q. When were you first introduced to the music of J.S. Bach? By whom? Was the introduction at a concert or a piano lesson? What was the first piece by J.S. Bach that you learned to play?

A. Hmm. Probably my first piano teacher, Mrs. Q’Zella Oliver Jeffus in Fort Worth, Texas (my hometown). (Front row, 2nd from left.) It was probably some piece from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook – maybe the G Major Minuet (the one every beginning piano student plays, which has the five-finger position). After that, I did the Two-Part Inventions. After that I learned the D Minor Prelude & Fugue, WTC I. I remember thinking that the fugue was weird, an inarticulate recognition of the strange things that happen in the minor mode. I think on my senior piano recital (when I was a senior in high school, 1972-73), I played (badly!) the D Major Partita.

Mrs. Q’Zella Oliver Jeffus, John Salmon, Piano Students

 

Q. How did you decide which pieces in Add On Bach to rework as solos and which as duets?

A. There was no grand schema. It happened rather piecemeal. I’d simply get an idea and then go with it. It was my former doctoral student Cicilia Yudha who, in January 2012, asked me, “John, why don’t you try to publish these things?” That was my inspiration to put them out “under one roof.” To tell you the truth, if I had it to do over again, I’d probably be a little more organized and market savvy, coming up with only one genre, say, duet versions of the Two-Part Inventions. By including Durchgaenge, cadenzas, and codas, for solo and duet, and including several genres (inventions, preludes, a fugue), the concept is a little fuzzy. The present volume probably would have made more sense as a scholarly article or dissertation rather than an actual music volume for a broad audience. But, hey, it’s too late. I can’t turn back!

Solo - Allemande

 

Q. My younger student and readers enjoy learning about my blog guests on a more personal level. If I may ask, at what age did you realize you were a musical spirit?

A. Good for your younger students! I was five when I started playing the piano, sitting by my older sister when she had her piano lessons and then banging away trying to imitate her. I had just turned six (in January 1961) when I started piano lessons with Mrs. Jeffus.

 

Q. How old were you when you performed your first professional concert? How did you get the gig? Was it through teacher connections or a professional manager?

A. Depends on what you mean by “professional.” Nowadays my interpretation of “professional concert” is that I get paid! Back in 1978, I did some concerts in Trieste, Italy and Geneva, Switzerland through my piano teacher at the time, Luiz de Moura Castro, with whom I studied at Texas Christian University. But I don’t think I got paid for these gigs. Sometimes, I would get some “Taschegeld” (pocket money, as Helena Costa once called it; Helena was a student of Edwin Fischer and a prominent piano teacher in Porto, Portugal who invited me to play some concerts there). But other times, I would just go, maybe sleep in somebody’s basement, play the concert, and then go out for drinks later! Those were the days. I did have a “professional manager” in NY for about 4-5 years in the mid 1980s but I don’t think he got me many gigs. I did get concerts from having won the Beethoven Foundation Fellowship (nowadays known as the American Pianists Association).

 

Q. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your musical dreams? If so, how did you handle it?

A. No, I was incredibly lucky! My parents were very supportive of my musical dreams. They did sign me up for a week of aptitude tests when I was a senior in high school, secretly hoping (I think) that I would show an aptitude for business or accounting. I clearly remember how they reacted after that week of tests when the two psychologists who conducted the tests told my parents that my score showed I was suited to either English (in which I supposedly had an aptitude greater than 99% of the general population) or music (in which I supposedly had an aptitude greater than 99.999% of the general population). My parents shrugged at each other simultaneously, gave each other a look of submission, then looked at me with this look that said, “OK. I guess you’ve proved that music is an appropriate career for you.”

John Salmon Teen Photo

 

 

Q. How old were you when you knew you wanted to become a music teacher? Was there any particular person or event that inspired your decision?

A. I never really thought about becoming a music teacher, to tell you the truth. I just kept on entering piano competitions and getting degrees, hoping to postpone reality. But, of course, sooner or later, you have to start making a living ,and I am very glad that my skill set (or ability to convince people that I know what I’m doing, even if I really don’t) enabled me to get college teaching positions. It’s a really good gig! I have very smart and talented students around me every day. In fact, nowadays I have one basic criterion for accepting students: they must play better than I do. Ha! That way, I don’t have to teach! In a typical lesson, a student (say, Stephanie, one of my very talented, very chutzpah-infused doctoral students) will play something for me, say, the Schubert A Major Sonata, D. 959. Then I’ll sit down and play it my way and she’ll critique me (“John, are you sure you want to slow down so much there? Are you sure you want to homogenize and legato-ize those portato markings so much? Doesn’t it detract from the rhetorical Sprechstimme effect?”). And then we’ll go out to lunch! It’s a pretty good life, I have to say.

 

Q. Are there plans in the works for a Add On Bach 2?

A. Hmmm. Hadn’t thought about it – until now! How about if I add a voice to a bunch of fugues? Turn a “fuga a tre voci” into a “fuga a cuattro voci”? I mean, Bach used to do that kind of thing all the time. Why should I be such a wimp? Gah, you’ve inspired me!

 

John, you are inspiring! What a fun interview. I will be sure to circle back when Add On Bach 2 is ready to launch!

 

In the meantime, I invite my readers take a moment to view these teaser videos. They are a hoot! Comments welcome!

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I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. To learn more about this talented pianist and professor, visit his website. To peruse and purchase his fantastic Add On Bach book, visit this link.

 

For more on Pastimes for a Lifetime’s Piano Curriculum and founder/instructor Linda Wehrli, visit the website or Facebook fan page.

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