Composer and clarinetist Eric Salazar has become a wonderful force for good within the local music scene. As a musician, Salazar is a dynamic and creative performer who composes music pairing his virtuoso clarinet skills against washes of electronic sound and his work with Classical Music Indy brings chamber music to unconventional venues and underserved communities.
Experience his work as community engagement coordinator with CMI live every first Tuesday at the Chatterbox for Classical Revolution and every Fourth Tuesday at the Melody Inn for Tuesday Mashup.
NUVO: Before we jump into your work as a performer and composer, can you tell our readers about Classical Music Indy and what you're doing for the organization?
Eric Salazar: Classical Music Indy is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing classical music to the community. We have two facets of what we do, we have on-air radio programming and we also have community programs which is primarily where I work. As the community engagement coordinator, I'm responsible for bringing classical music to people who wouldn't normally get to hear it and also bringing the music to nontraditional locations.
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We've got three or four primary programs; one of those is our Senior Series. We have senior musicians play for seniors at assisted living centers. We also have After School Indy, which is our educational outreach program. One of my favorite programs is what we call Random Acts of Music. This is where we essentially pop-up in public locations and perform live classical music. The purpose of that program is to normalize classic music and make it more of a daily part of life.
NUVO: In addition to your work at CMI, you're also an incredibly talented composer and performer on the clarinet. I'm curious what attracted you to the clarinet as a young person.
Salazar: Oh yes, I love talking about that! The simplest answer is that I just liked the sound of the clarinet. I discovered the sound of the clarinet through my favorite cartoon as a kid, which was Tom & Jerry. So Tom & Jerry, and all the Looney Tunes used a lot of classical music. Tom & Jerry always had some jazz clarinet and classical clarinet and I just remember listening to it and thinking, "Man, I want to do that!" In sixth grade you get to choose a band instrument and I already knew: clarinet, that's what its going to be.
NUVO: The clarinet once held a very important position in American popular music, from New Orleans jazz and Dixieland performers like Sidney Bechet and Johnny Dodds, to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw and all the big band music of the '30s and '40s. But after the big band era, the clarinet started fading from American popular music landscape. I'm curious what your thoughts are on the clarinet's role in contemporary music
Salazar: It's true that a lot of wind instruments have been on the decline since electronic instruments were invented. With one guitar and a bunch of foot pedals, the spectrum of sounds you can create is so versatile. That sort of made the acoustic instruments decline a bit. But the beauty of the acoustic instruments is that they rely on the player to produce a refined sounds, and that's unique to every player.
Actually the clarinet in Turkey is a huge pop instrument. The Turkish style of clarinet uses a lot of slides and glissandos and sounds much more like the human voice than the Western tradition of clarinet. The clarinet has always had a presence in orchestras since Mozart's time and people are still writing music for it. Contemporary classical music uses a lot of clarinet.
There's also a specific bass clarinetist named Michael Lowenstern who is one of my inspirations. He listened to a lot of funk when he was growing up, so he composes music that uses loop pedals and all sorts electronic stuff.
NUVO: You mentioned the spectrum of sounds produced by an electric guitar with pedals, I recently had a chance to see you perform and one of the things that impressed me most was the spectrum of sounds you pulled out of the clarinet. At one moment you were waling like Benny Goodman, then you played a piece where the clarinet sounded like a Japanese shakuhachi flute, and then you played a piece that evoked the sound of the Indian oboe known as the shehnai. How are you getting all those sounds out of a clarinet? I've never seen someone playing a clarinet take the the instrument in so many directions.
Salazar: Part of it has to do with my personality. I get bored easily so I'm always trying a bunch of different things. I'm also a bit of a chameleon, I am whoever I need to be when I'm in a social group. The beauty of that aspect of my personality is that it allows me to wear different hats and produce different colors when I compose music. I like having as many points of access as I can for someone who is unfamiliar with the clarinet.