University of Hartford alumnus Phil Salathé ’06, ’07 has perfect pitch. It’s a talent that normally comes in handy while the graduate from the University’s Hartt School composes music, plays the trumpet, or electric bass. But earlier this year, it led him to judge the singing of the one and only Jeopardy! game show host Alex Trebek.
On the July 14 show, Salathé was in the middle of his second appearance on Jeopardy! He was coming off a dramatic win that left him $22,600 richer. While following the nightly routine of talking to contestants, Trebek asked Salathé about his perfect pitch. Trebek then belted out a note and challenged Salathé to name it on the spot. Shocked, he replied, “A-flat…ish?” The studio audience burst out laughing, but Salathé says he didn’t mean to poke fun at Trebek.
“I knew that it was closer to a G,” says Salathé, who earned a Master of Music degree and an Artist Diploma from the University’s Hartt School. “I wasn’t trying to bust his chops when I said ‘ish.’ I was just trying to cover my behind! I grew up with a piano that was about a quartertone flat, so my first impulse is to overcompensate. When I said ‘A-flatish,’ everyone in the room just starting laughing.”
Salathé lost that night’s game, but has no regrets.
“I could have bet more aggressively,” he admits. “But it’s pointless to look back. It was so much fun. I was lucky enough to get on the show so any little criticism I may have of my own tactics in retrospect is sort of foolish.”
Although Salathé says he can’t point to one specific game-show answer that he knew from his classes, still he does credit Hartt for contributing to his success.
“My time at The Hartt School was deeply transformative,” he explains. “It really laid the foundation for me to become a more professional person...Jeopardy is really holistic, so anything you can do to make yourself a more literate and professional person is good.”
Salathé plans to use his winnings to continue traveling to music festivals where his compositions are played. (For more on his professional life, visit http://philsalathe.com.) He travels with his wife Kate and teaches undergraduates and pre-college students at Stony Brook University.
Read the next issue of the Observer to learn about Salathé’s winning strategy, how he was chosen to appear on the show, and what Alex Trebek is really like behind the scenes.