Three-Time Grammy Winner Is Changing the Tune
Local Clarinetist Salvador Perez Lopez Talks Musical Journey, Family & More
Photography provided by Jayme Goetz & Salvador Perez Lopez
Many musicians would be more than satisfied having attained the kind of accolades and accomplishments Salvador Perez Lopez has already achieved. His career as a clarinetist includes performances on every track of “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom” — an album that garnered three Grammy awards in February, as well as appearances with a few prestigious Indiana orchestras and ensembles.
And his career is very far from over — in fact, he’s still in college.
The Bremen High School grad developed an interest in learning an instrument back in the sixth grade, having grown up in what he describes as a musical household.
“My dad is a guitarist and was always playing music in the house when I was growing up, and his dad was a professional mariachi player,” says Perez Lopez, who was born in Mexico and came to Indiana as a young child, subsequently attending Bremen schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade. “So I guess all of that had an influence on me.”
During his sixth grade year, Perez Lopez decided to join his school band and serendipity played a role at the beginning of his development as a clarinet player.
“I wanted to do trumpet but there were too many trumpet players so the band director said to try the clarinet,” he recalls. “At first I hated it and wasn’t that good, but I practiced a lot and slowly fell in love with the instrument. As I continued through middle school and high school I got more serious with it and decided I wanted to try to make a career out of it.”
Soon Perez Lopez was off to Indiana University-South Bend, and his undergrad years brought many musical experiences that helped to further sharpen his craft including wind ensemble, chamber ensemble, jazz band and orchestra performances as well as a spot with the Elkhart County Symphony.
“Salvador is the most consistently hard-working college student that I’ve actually ever had,” says Chris French, who served as Perez Lopez’s IUSB clarinet instructor.
The two first met when French coached the South Bend Youth Symphony during Perez Lopez’s high school years.
“It’s typical for college musicians to get really inspired and go home to practice for three hours, and by the next week their instrument stays in the case until it’s time for the next lesson,” says French, who teaches clarinet and saxophone at IUSB, Goshen College, the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College. “With Salvador, he wants to be a professional clarinetist bad enough to practice many hours every single day and never miss a day. In the last year that I was teaching him, I was sending him to gigs that I couldn’t do.”
It was during his sophomore year at IUSB that Perez Lopez set in motion the events that would lead to three wins at the Grammy awards this year. He’d submitted a story to the New York Times detailing his background as a federal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient and his passion for music. Several months after the story was published, he was contacted via Facebook by Kabir Sehgal, one of the producers for the “American Dreamers” album, and became the first of 53 individuals in the DACA program to be part of the project.
“(Sehgal) said the album’s music director, John Daversa, and the producers wanted to raise some awareness about immigration and DACA by doing a jazz album,” Perez Lopez says. “They flew me down to Miami where the recording was going to be done in March 2018 and I played on every track. It was a great experience.”
The album, which features the John Daversa Big Band along with the DACA performers, went on to win at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for Best Improvised Jazz Solo (for “Don’t Fence Me In”), Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Capella (for “Stars and Stripes Forever”), and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. Perez Lopez was in attendance for the ceremony and when the latter award was announced, he and several fellow performers took to the stage shedding tears and sharing hugs.
“We might have broken the rules by all of us storming onto the stage, but it was worth it,” Perez Lopez says with a laugh. “When John accepted the award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo, he recognized me on stage and talked about my story. I was really grateful for that. We wanted the album to help raise awareness and to even be nominated I think helps with that.”
Perez Lopez graduated from IUSB with a degree in music and clarinet performance last year, and as he currently pursues his master’s degree at the IU-Bloomington Jacobs School of Music, he already has several post-education plans to continue his musical journey.
“My first year in Bloomington has been hard, and my private teacher is a stickler but he really knows how to train his students,” he says. “I feel like doing a master’s has been the right next step for me to go forward in my career. My goal after school is to play clarinet with a professional ensemble and create a studio of clarinet players so I can teach. I believe if you have a gift or talent in something, you should try to pass it on to the next generation.”