John Kofi Dapaah has spent the past 25 years sitting by the keys of a piano, riding a musical journey that has taken him to concert halls and studios around the world. He has learned from classical masters to become a teacher, a composer and a recording artist who has performed for dignitaries and Governors General.
These days, life has become simpler for John. You’ll probably find him at home in Russell, in a small room that has just enough space to fit an upright piano. His walls are decorated with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, and a small bust of Ludwig van Beethoven—with his wild mane and intense gaze—sits atop the piano, staring down on John as he plays. Yet, even with everything going on outside his walls, when John plays his piano the air comes alive with bright, beautiful energy and everything feels right in the world.
“I think the best way to look at it is from a positive outlook, the other way will just make you go crazy,” John says with a laugh as he talks about the changes in his life since the global pandemic threw us all for a loop back in March. He had built a life around performing on the piano and teaching at his school, the Piano Place. When the world changed this year, musicians were among the hardest hit and it left him with a lot of unknowns.
But John is adapting, much like he has done throughout his life’s journey. John was born in Ghana, but his family moved to Japan when he was still very young as his talented engineer father had a scholarship to complete his graduate studies at a Japanese university. It was there that John found music and began his classical piano studies with Tabuchi Masako in the city of Muroran on the island of Hokkaido. By age 11, his family had relocated again to settle in Canada, where John continued his study of the piano. By the time he was ready to set out on his own, John could feel the life of the musician calling him.
“I went into music from high school; it was between that, architecture or math,” says John. “I didn’t want to become a math prof, so that was out. I loved architecture, design and everything, but I hated physics, so that was out too. I had a real affinity for music in general. I grew up with music and I’ve always been very musical—it just felt like a very natural progression of things.”
John pursued his Bachelor of Music degree from Carleton University, travelling across the world yet again to complete the final year of his undergraduate music studies at the Kunstuniversität Graz in Austria. He then returned to Canada and obtained his Master’s degree at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University.
Living such a far from ordinary life has probably set John up to make the best of the extraordinary situation we find ourselves in today. “I think in the beginning of the pandemic my outlook was more grim because of that fear of the unknown,” says John. “But as I settled into what this new normal is, I’ve tried to find different ways to not only manage the situation, but to take advantage of new opportunities and find new ways to be even more creative with what I’m doing.”
Seeing the opportunity to reach out to potential students all over the world, John adjusted his teaching style to make up for not being in the room to show them where to place their hands on the keys. He provides his students with an escape from the confusion of the real world, into the structured escapism of the musical world, where they can get lost in the timeless melodies of jazz, R&B and classical.
If you haven’t heard John Kofi Dapaah’s playing for yourself, you can find his debut album, Reflections, on Spotify. If you’re looking to shake up your holiday soundtrack, John has a Christmas album out that you’ll find on his Bandcamp page, it’s called Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas.