Music man

  • By Sarah Koenig Enterprise reporter
  • Tuesday, October 14, 2008 5:39pm

The song “Cry, Baby Cry” on the Beatles’ “White” album sounds brisk and unsentimental, but when Jeff Junkinsmith plays his version on piano, it’s with a deeper melancholy.

“It’s a very sad song,” he said.

Junkinsmith, Shoreline Community College music professor and chair of the music department, just released a CD of his piano arrangements of Beatles songs, one in a long list of projects over the years.

Though being a musician rarely means fame or even a cushy life, Junkinsmith has made it work. He tells his students they should try to do the same, despite the odds.

Junkinsmith has been at the college for 10 years, teaching music theory classes and composing in bits and pieces on the side. But for 30 years before that, he worked several different jobs at a time.

“I used to play at two churches, sell pianos, play dance classes,” he said. “When you’re a musician, you have four or five jobs at any given time.”

Just one of those jobs was playing piano for a ballet class 30 hours a week.

“When you’re playing 30 hours or more a week it’s all improv, and you end up playing whatever comes into your head, so I started playing Beatles songs during class,” Junkinsmith said. “‘Lady Madonna’, for example, works well at the bar.”

Last fall, he played some of his Beatles tunes at a college open house and someone said he should make a CD.

“One of the jokes I make in my theory class is that students should be versed in the three B’s: Beethoven, Brahms and the Beatles,” Junkinsmith said.

So in January, he and professor Jensina Byington will put on a concert at the college with music from those three musicians.

Junkinsmith has composed other pieces over the years. He just released a CD of music for ballet classes and has written much choral music.

He’s taking a leave from the college later this year to write a new music theory textbook and, possibly, an opera.

Right now, the idea is embryonic and might take too much to pull off, considering the challenges of story and libretto. But he’d like to do something that’s political — and funny, he said, something that could be performed at the college.

Composing is mostly a side project for Junkinsmith, and not something he’d rather be doing than teaching.

“Teaching is like performing,” he said. “I feel lucky I get to do it.”

Though Junkinsmith has managed to live a good life as a musician, raising a family and paying the bills, some of his students aren’t sure they’ll be so lucky.

“A lot of students think, ‘I should do computer tech or get an MBA, that way I can get a job and make a lot of money,’” Junkinsmith said. “I say, ‘Do you like computers? Like business?’ and they say ‘No.’ I say, ‘What’s the use of having a job if you don’t like it?’”

Music is a difficult field, but all fields are hard, he said. He tells students they might go into business and still not find a job.

Though trying to get a job playing an instrument takes a lot of sacrifice — practicing four to five hours a day, for example — Junkinsmith tells students to go for it if they are willing.

“I tell students to follow your bliss,” he said.

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