John Hinson composes solo piano music on a massive vintage Chickering concert grand that sits smack dab in the middle of his Anthem home. His technical talents as a software engineer may pay the bills, but his true passion keeps him creating, composing and contributing his art to anyone who wants to listen.
When did you first become interested in piano?
When I was young—probably 5 or 6—that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to play. My mom one Christmas said, “Oh, we got you a piano!” It was a Sesame Street, Grover piano. It was a toy. I just flipped out. I was pretty angry. My mom said, “Okay, I guess we should get this kid a real piano.”
Did you take piano lessons?
Oh, absolutely. The first thing I learned was the theme track to “Jaws.” Everybody knows it’s got two notes, and I played that incessantly. So they said, “We’ve got to get this kid some lessons because he’s going to drive everybody nuts.”
You stuck with the music, but you did not find that a path toward playing professionally was for you.
I think I was a sub-par student. I just didn’t seem to have the interest on the performance side. It wasn’t really what I was looking for.
You found yourself compelled to compose, to create?
I started feeling that at a really young age; I’d say probably 12, 13 years old. There was something that was driving me beyond what I was capable of driving myself.
Do you hear the music in your mind first? Talk about how the creative process works.
No, I don’t hear any of it. I basically sit there and do it.
The notes and chords materialize as you play?
Basically, yeah. It’s essentially pretty random. It’s not something that I’m in control of, or that I actually think, “Hey, let me sit down and make something up.” Every time I’ve tried that, it’s actually been a pretty bad product at the end of the day. So for me, certainly being a godly person, I have always felt that that it was my gift. My job as far as I’m concerned is to show up and let the work happen.
By the time you married Melissa and your daughter Amelie, now 14, was born, you’d put together a CD collection of your work. You tried to make a living from selling copies.
We were 21. Zero career at all. I had the one album done, so we set up a keyboard and some speakers in a vacant lot in a small tourist town and played on the streets. And that was fun. Melissa would be there with me, and we’d take Amelie with us.
You made the rounds of the street festivals in Oregon. But fairly quickly you realized your music might not support a young family. How did you settle on creating computer software?
It didn’t take me long to realize that I had to do something. I came home one day and went through the papers. It was 1996. I thought, the computer industry, why not? The Internet, that seems to make sense. I bought a bunch of books with every last dime we had, started training myself then started cold-calling businesses. People would say, “What’s the Internet?”
As a self-taught software engineer, you’ve found robust demand for your skills. But you abruptly leave lucrative jobs and go on hiatus to compose music.
I’ve tried several things. And so far I have not figured it out. There’s just the financial reality. We’ve essentially gone broke several times trying to make a go of music. Fortunately, a day job can dig me out every time.
Any tips or insights for parents raising a child who shows intense interest and promise as a musician?
It’s always a tough process because as a parent, you see it developing. So you don’t see the “they were here, now they’re there.” You see every little step in between. Competition is fierce and you’ve got to be dialed [in].”
Your music is available as a series of free downloads on your website and on Internet radio; people also buy it on iTunes. Do you think about who is listening?
I don’t have any expectations or any ego. I get emails from people who are taking the time to say, “You wrote something that did something for me.” And that’s powerful, that definitely has impacted my life, for sure. RAK