Salvador Perez Lopez uses his artistic freedom to draw new classical music fans
Written by Crystal Hammon
Some people spend a lifetime chasing the kind of achievements Salvador Perez Lopez has claimed. Classical Music Indy’s new web producer and host of its local and new classical music channel was part of an ensemble that won three Grammy awards in 2019. And in 2017, when the U.S. government seemed poised to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the so-called Dreamers Act that protects young immigrants from deportation, his was one of several op-ed pieces that argued for its preservation in The New York Times.
It’s a hard act to follow if you happen to be one of the Perez Lopez brothers. As the oldest of four boys, the 24-year-old clarinetist is sympathetic to the pressure his younger brothers may feel to match his success. “I tell my brothers and my family, ‘You guys made it possible. You believed in me. I tell them whatever they want to do — it doesn’t have to be music — whatever you have a passion for, just go for it,’” he says.
A DACA recipient himself, Perez Lopez grew up in Bremen, Indiana and recently graduated from the IU Jacobs School of Music with a master’s degree in clarinet performance. Following the musical interests of his father and grandfather, both of whom are mariachi musicians, Perez Lopez started playing music in sixth grade. “My parents never made me do music,” he says. “I just chose it because I love it.”
His first choice was trumpet, but his school already had too many trumpet players. Perez Lopez settled on clarinet by default and eventually fell in love with the instrument’s sound. From high school on, he played with every ensemble he could, participating in the South Bend Youth Symphony and attending summer camps. “I never had a doubt that I wanted to do music as a career in some form or fashion,” he says.
The path to three Grammys began a month after he was published in The New York Times. Perez Lopez got a Facebook message from a music producer who had seen the article. “I thought it was spam,” he says, explaining his delayed response. The message was from Kabir Sehgal, who was working with composer John Daversa to produce a jazz album featuring over 50 DACA artists.
A year later, Perez Lopez was on his way to Miami, Florida to record American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom. The album won in three categories, Best Large Jazz Ensemble, Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Arrangement Instrumental or Acapella. It was also lauded by Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.
The Grammy awards not only opened doors in the music world; they gave Perez Lopez opportunities to advocate for DACA students nationwide. He has been invited to speak to high school students who want to attend college and at corporate meetings designed to educate employees. “I’ve been able to tell students who are in my position that if they work hard, their dreams can come true,” he says. “The Grammys were great, but the reason the album happened was to raise awareness.”
Perez Lopez is equally proud to be an advocate for classical music and the local arts scene in Indianapolis. “I hope people see from the musicians and composers we’re featuring that Indianapolis is full of the arts, and that they never lose sight of how important the arts are,” he says. As a CMI producer, he schedules syndicated radio programming for Anytime Classical with Michael Toulouse and produces his own hosted programming on CMI’s 24/7 streaming service.
Although he is new to the job at CMI, he is a veteran fan of its programming. While studying for a master’s degree in music at IU Bloomington, Perez Lopez tuned in by radio on his daily commute and followed CMI activities in the community through the organization’s website. “One day, I thought, ‘This is a great organization. I wonder if they’re hiring,’” he says.
A recent newlywed, Perez Lopez is excited about pursuing U.S. citizenship. Meanwhile, he credits his DACA status with opening the doors to an education and freeing him as a musician. “It’s made me a more open person, and it also helped me as a performer to lose the anxiety I felt on stage,” he says. “When you just throw it all out there for the public and tell people who you are, performance anxiety goes out the door. Now, I hope people just listen, hear my interpretations of the music, and go home curious and inspired to look up classical music on their own.”
Listen to Perez Lopez’s programming on CMI’s 24/7 streaming service here.