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Daily Inspiration: Meet Jonathan Romppel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jonathan Romppel.

Hi Jonathan, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Coming from a musical family, I was always exposed to music growing up. My parents instilled in me a love for R&B, Soul, Jazz and Gospel music, which was uncommon growing up in Germany. After playing drums as a toddler, I started piano lessons at age five. However, I wasn’t always planning to become a professional musician, instead wanting to become a comic book artist. (I still have a big love for drawing today)

Everything changed in my teenage years when I started exploring the music of Stevie Wonder for myself. I taught myself how to play chords on the piano and the world of music really opened up for me. I started learning more instruments by myself like bass, guitar, ukulele, and harmonica. I would soon start playing in a lot of bands, starting at my school band, moving to the Big Band and Jazz Combo of our local music school, and playing in a Soul/Funk band. I also started my own bands with friends, like a Toto cover band, with which we gigged all around town, a Fusion band, and a pop cover band. I even accompanied on harpsichord for a classical music competition. Playing in a church band was also a big part of my musical development, as well as accompanying singers on the piano.

After I finished school in Germany, I applied for the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and was accepted on a scholarship. Ever since I had visited New York City a few years prior, I had been dreaming of living there, but after I found out about Berklee, I knew I had to go there. At Berklee, my musical horizon practically exploded – I was exposed to so many new styles and genres, learning to appreciate electronic music, pop, Hip-Hop, Neo-Soul, and diving much deeper into Gospel music.

It was here that I had the chance to play with the acclaimed Gospel choirs Reverence Gospel Ensemble and Overjoyed, both led by Dennis Montgomery III. At Berklee, I was also lucky to become a first-call pianist and keyboardist for many singers as an accompanist, and for bands playing big show productions. I learned so much and honed my craft in very deep ways at Berklee. My major was called Contemporary Writing and Production, which allowed me to both learn about arranging for different ensembles like Big Band, Orchestra, bands, etc. as well as about producing and mixing for pop music or scoring to film.

After I graduated from Berklee, I decided to move to LA to pursue my music career. I had still dreamed of living in New York, but LA always seemed to hold the best opportunities for me. And luckily, I was able to start playing gigs as soon as I got here, thanks to the connections with all the wonderful people I had met at Berklee! I got to play with Verdine White from Earth, Wind, and Fire; Erica Campbell from Mary Mary; Sandra Crouch; as well as a lot of other great artists, many of whom have sung in Kanye’s choir.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Looking back, it definitely has not always been a smooth road. I had a really rough second semester at Berklee, which almost made me reconsider doing music. I built myself back up from it during the 4-month summer break being back home in Germany. Coming back for my third semester, I had learned to really value the relationships that we build, and how important they are to what we do as musicians!

At the beginning of my third year at Berklee, a few friends and I had decided to move to our first apartment off-campus. A few weeks into us staying there, a fire happened and our entire apartment building burned down. I lost almost all of my belongings, including my keyboards, and my laptop with all my work – all of which happened during the most stressful semester so far. Luckily, I was able to continue my studies, and I still managed to graduate in only six semesters total instead of the usual 8+ semesters. I had set that goal for myself at the beginning of my time at Berklee, and I studied long hours overtime to be able to test out of as many Harmony, Arranging, and Production classes as I could. On top of that, I also always tried to take as much advantage of all the amazing opportunities at Berklee as possible, so I would take extra classes and ensembles, and play in a lot of student shows at night.

Fast forward to my time in LA – I had just found a new home in LA, and things were looking up career-wise with gigs booked. Then corona hit and I caught Covid right at the beginning of the pandemic. I was sick in bed for two months and permanently lost my sense of smell. Navigating the pandemic has been difficult, watching the carelessness that many people displayed after I had gone through the illness. At one point during the pandemic, my visa ran out and I had to leave the country for a while, during which I went back home to Germany to stay with my family. I decided to use this difficult time to go back to the shed, and work on my craft as much as possible – one of the goals I set for myself was to be able to play bass on a professional level.

With all these struggles, I still want to acknowledge how privileged I am to have supportive parents who have always wanted to help me pursue my goals.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I’m a pianist and keyboardist first. I love supporting artists, whether it be accompanying a singer on piano, or playing keyboards as part of a band. I have specialized in playing Gospel music a lot – playing in Black church is a dream come true for me and I feel very honoured to have been allowed to experience that culture. I also specialize in playing pop music, as well as RnB, Soul, and Jazz – but I am very comfortable playing in any genre, from Country to Hip-Hop, from Rock to Funk. I like programming sounds and coming up with parts, working on all professional brand keyboards. During the pandemic, I have delved deeper into analog synthesis, as well as programming live tracks and musical directing. I hope to be able to play on a tour soon. In the future, I would also love to make film music, as well as produce records for artists.

What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
I think it might be to just focus on what you want to do first – it is something that I am still learning as well, and I think we all are. But it is important to not lose the thing we love to do out of sight. And to be able to do that, the relationships you make are the most important thing. To treat everyone with kindness and respect, while staying true to yourself. Especially in music, to treat the other musicians, as well as the music itself, with respect – to know your space in a group, and to be able to work together as a unit to create something special – that should always be the goal.

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