Exclusive Interview: Salome Scheidegger Talks About Her Studio Ghibli Piano Album, Changing Genres and Cooking With Creativity

Few things are as polarizing as art. Beauty being in the eyes of the beholder makes distinguishing between something that’s good and something you like difficult at times. As someone who reviews modern media, I struggle with the “Good” vs. “Like” dilemma almost daily, but not all things prompt that battle. Some things are simply both: Amazing and enjoyable. And saying my current guest’s work fits both is an understatement.

I’m lucky. As someone who loves most iterations of performance art, I also get to talk about them as my job. But when something is so well done, and so wonderful to consume, it turns into something else. It becomes an emotional experience. It becomes something that can affect you in a very personal way. I believe that is what Salome Scheidegger’s music is capable of doing.

Classically trained, Salome’s manipulation of the ebony and ivory keys has evolved into something far from the beaten path. Transforming music from video games and anime into piano masterpieces is now her focus, and… wow. If you’ve ever wanted to witness art evolve and maybe even transcend your expectations I’d like you to meet someone. Here’s my chat with the intensely talented and completely charming Salome Scheidegger:


onFiction:  You have a very strong classical background, so It’s a pretty drastic turn adding gaming music and anime music to your resume, how has that changed you as a musician?

Salome Scheidegger:  That’s a great question that’s been on my mind ever since I made that turn.  You’re right, it was a really drastic turn, and I was really nervous at first because I had been feeling for a couple years that I didn’t quite fit into the classical scene and I always wanted to be a classical musician.  I hate doing things that the masses do and I’ve always been kind of a loner and always done my own thing.  In the classical scene, it’s very much that people do things that other people have done over and over again.  Mostly still pianists have a certain set of repertoire and the concerts look the same all the time.  I just didn’t want to do that, and when I started thinking that I wanted to get out of the classical scene, it was still like that.  Now it’s changed because contemporary music is getting further and further up and people are starting to think about how to perform in other ways to make it a little different than it has been for the past one hundred years.  I started working on a project six years ago where I combined a classical piano recital, which was by Mozart, and added to visuals to it-video projections and lights.  That’s actually one of the reasons why I moved over to the U.S., because I had a video director and projections artist and lighting artist and project manager that wanted to do this with me.  We did that five years ago and we had a few concerts with it and that was great because it was a little different from the normal classical concerts that I had been giving up to that point.  And then I got this email from Jason Hays that was at the time that I had finished that project and I was kind of in a rut to be honest and I thought that was really exciting and I really wanted to take that opportunity.  It turned out to be the greatest thing because it made me break out of that box and think of what else I can do with my instrument.  I can basically do anything I want and I didn’t really have that mindset before because classical pianists have such a great repertoire and there isn’t really a use for finding anything new because there are so many pieces that you have never played before.  You can play for years and never play the same thing.  Now I have started arranging myself and started thinking about composing myself, which I had never thought of before because pieces that have been composed so far are better than anything I could compose.  Now, I’m starting to think differently and more creatively at the piano.

oF:  How do you select the track – is it from games you’ve played or anime you’ve seen?

SS:  It’s really exciting but also kind of overwhelming at the same time.  What I’m working on right now is my new album and it’s going to be all Studio Ghibli soundtrack covers from movies that I grew up with.  Some of them are the first movies I saw when I was little.  The music from those movies has accompanied me throughout my life, but I never really thought about playing it at the piano myself and now it’s just a revelation and those pieces I’ve heard so many times and sang along with is something that I have on my mind.  Some of the tracks on my last album I learned through playing with Critical Hit and I loved them so much.  One track was from playing with Critical Hit, and that’s Jason Hayes’ Legends of Azeroth from World of Warcraft.  I just like that piece so much that I wanted to have my own rendition of it.  The rest of the tracks I researched a bit and some of them are from Nintendo64 games, which I played a lot when I was younger.  And new stuff comes out and I really like it.  It’s kind of random, actually.  Things like Daredevil-I did a Daredevil cover-I saw that show and I loved it so much and that opening theme just stuck in my head forever.  I loved it so much, so I made an arrangement of that.

oF:  You’re literally blazing a new trail.  Do you think about how this is going to impact music in general and the perception of video game and anime music?

SS:  Yes, definitely!  I’m certainly not the first person to do this but I’m part of a small group now that’s doing this.  The audience for video game and anime music has grown substantially in the last couple of years and it’s spread more to the masses.  The production companies get bigger budgets-I read an article recently about some of these animes and how the production companies and the anime artists can’t work fast enough to feed the market, which impacts the apprenticeship of young artists.  It’s really funny how the market has grown substantially and it’s the same with the music.  The quality of the music, especially the instrumentation, have gotten much better in the past five years and there are just more people that listen to it.  What I do is take it out of the context of the games and animes and play it as a performance.  I think it just shows that the music can live on its own because it’s such great music.

oF:  What were you expecting as you changed genres and what has the reception from the fans been?

SS:  I don’t know what I was expecting, I just felt like I really wanted to do this because it’s awesome.  The fan response has been really positive; I would have never expected this.   Audiences of this particular scene are very enthusiastic and have been very positive and I really appreciate that.  Coming from the classical world, unfortunately is a lot of pressure, and the audiences are a little snobbier.  I think it’s also the result of people hearing the same pieces over and over again and knowing exactly which note follows the previous one, and everybody thinks they know best how the pieces are to be played.  Therefore, there’s a lot of criticism and a lot of pressure and always comparing yourself to the next pianist.  It’s a different response and a different interaction between the audience and the performer.  I feel that the audience I have now is so enthusiastic and they want to hear new things.  It’s not about playing old pieces and comparing, it’s about enjoying listening to the music.  And also, it’s about the memories, because a lot of the music I play is taken from video games that people have played over and over again, and animes and movies that people have seen and have positive memories tied to them.  That’s a very beautiful thing and it really comes across when I talk to audience members.  It’s really nice and I enjoy it very much.

oF:  I’m very lucky in that I have seen you play three times, twice with Critical Hit, and once as a soloist.  You appear to be very invested in what you are playing, especially when you play solo.  How does that impact the way you approach a piece and arrange something?

SS:  It’s a huge deal, that’s the reason I play pieces.   I have to be emotionally invested; otherwise, I can’t play.  For me, that’s what music is, you transfer emotions into sounds and transfer them over to the audience.  It’s very important to me that I put everything I have into a piece and it usually happens automatically.  It’s really crazy how it actually does get transferred to the audience.  I see that when I sit in the audience at a concert and someone plays and I can feel that the performer is emotionally invested in what they are playing.  It’s a completely different feeling from when someone plays something because they have to or when their heart is not in it.  It’s a huge difference and it’s the difference between what’s music and what’s not music.

oF:  You’ve mentioned in our emails that you love cooking and you said that it requires creativity and it requires intuition and that’s what connects it to music for you.  Is that what draws you to most things creatively?

SS:  Yes, definitely.  Throughout my life, I’m a very intuitive person and I don’t really like rules.  I rely heavily on my intuition with everything I do, if possible.  For example, when I cook, I use cookbooks as references but I have trouble following them because I just always think I can do a better job.  I just feel like you have to mold something to your own preferences, especially with something like cooking or music, because you are the only one that can do that job expressing something the way you want to, otherwise you are no different than the person next to you.  That’s the great thing about art-everybody is different and everybody has something interesting to say, and that’s very important…It doesn’t really matter which one is better, they are just different, that’s something I like about music.  It’s everybody’s own opinion…the ultimate nuances that make it your thing is just a preference.

oF:  You were born in Japan, grew up in Switzerland, and now you live in New York.  How has that impacted you as an artist and how has that shaped you?

SS:  I spent a year in Paris and spent 1.5 years in London to take intense lessons from a great piano professor there before I moved to New York.  He showed me that people are different and see things differently and he showed me that you have to adapt and that I can adapt to anything.  I think that’s also a good comparison to music, because there’s always so many different ways to play it, and no piece comes from the same place.  For me, it’s always important to adapt and to always see different aspects of different pieces.  Seeing different cultures and knowing that people see things differently and that music sounds different when it comes from different places and knowing how to approach something like that is a very valuable lesson.  It also shaped me in a way in that I’ve kind of created a world inside myself.  Since I’ve changed places so many times, the only constant is yourself.  That makes an impact too, and I feel like that made me a stronger person and more brave with expressing things the way I want to. 

oF:  What do you really love the most about what you are doing right now?

SS:  I love arranging and being able to construct something the way I want to play it, and the techniques I want to use in the piece.  I can also make sure that it fits my hands, which is also important when you are playing pieces that are already written; my hands are not as big as other pianists.  This coming album, I’m arranging more than half of the pieces on it myself, and that aspect I love.  I also just love the music from those Studio Ghibli movies.  It stirs up a lot of emotions, which is what I love about music in general.  Now, I choose whatever I want to play from whatever I enjoy in my free time, which is one of the greatest things you can do.  I also enjoy being in a scene where I play for people that just enjoy the music.  When I get positive feedback from people that listen to my music, that’s just the greatest thing.  When I hear from people that they had a hard day, then they saw my YouTube video, and their day got better, it’s just amazing.

oF:  Away from music and cooking, what do you like to do to have fun?

SS:  I love to go out with friends, and I love watching shows and movies.  Binge-watching a show is a guilty pleasure.  I binge-watched Stranger Things the other week, and it was so great.

oF:  How many languages do you speak?

SS:  I speak four fluently and at one point I learned Russian.  Now, I’m learning Japanese again.  German is my mother tongue, and I speak English, Italian, and French.  I am fortunate that I grew up in Switzerland, where we have four official languages.  It’s pretty easy to learn English because it’s all around us.  I used to speak Japanese fluently when I lived there, but it’s really hard when you’re not there anymore.  It’s such a beautiful language that I’ve heard throughout my life, and now I really want to learn it again. 

I promise, once you start listening you won’t be able to get enough. So jump over to her site and get copies of her latest work for your very own!

Her page also offers performances, news and more, so make sure it’s bookmarked!

Now, click on over to Facebook and share your thoughts on the amazing work from Studio Ghibli. What’s your favorite film and soundtrack?

About The Author

Michael Pellegrini

Michael is a classic example of a child trapped in an adult's body - and I use the word "adult" very, very loosely. With interests ranging from comic books and movies to theater and fine art, Mike has followed humble journalistic beginnings that have led to interviews, reviews, news write-ups and opinion - though it's ever changing - pieces covering those same interests. All of that brings us here, to a site where a community of like-minded geeks can inform the rest of the world on the topics we adore. And on the personal side of things, Michael squeezes time for his lovely wife and house full of dogs between all the comic reading and video game playing.

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