It’s the holiday season and to kick it off, we sat down with SDYS alum Jonathan Piper, education manager for La Jolla Music Society, to learn more about his jug band, how music keeps him sane, why not to borrow a friend’s euphonium and more! Have a safe and happy holiday season and look for more great alumni content in the New Year!
What did you do after SDYS?
After high school and SDYS, I attended UCLA for a BA in Music Performance, studying with legendary tubist Tommy Johnson. There, I pursued numerous performance opportunities – wind ensemble, orchestra, brass quintet, brass choir, duos, solos, etc – and became very interested in both music theory and music history. I ended up writing a senior thesis, supervised by members of the Musicology faculty, on listening strategies in contemporary music. Based on my interests in contemporary music and theory, I pursued an MA and then PhD in the UC San Diego Music Department’s Critical Studies/Experimental Practices program. This program allowed a fairly wide-open approach to the study of music, including performance, musicology and ethnomusicology. I ended up focusing on popular music for both my thesis and dissertation, with a hefty dose of experimental music performance thrown in.
How has music influenced you?
Music has directly influenced me in myriad ways, as you can imagine. On a fairly basic level, I make music in some form just about every day – singing, practicing the tuba, rehearsing with my jug band, or just playing with a group of friends. These are more than “just music;” they’re all rich activities. Singing calms me down, cheers me up, or lets me be goofy. Practicing gives me focus and a strong sense of accomplishment. Rehearsal is an intense social process that gets me outside of myself. Music keeps me sane, it keeps me social, and it keeps me going. It might be a bit of a cliché, but I’m really not sure what my life would be like without music.
What are you up to now?
Post-PhD, I work as the Education Manager for La Jolla Music Society, one of the premier performing arts presenters in Southern California. Our concert series feature world-renowned soloists, chamber ensembles, orchestras, dance companies, and a variety of incredible performers who don’t fit neatly into any category. We also produce SummerFest, a three-week chamber music festival in La Jolla every August. The festival brings musicians from around the world for an intense period of rehearsing and concertizing. My work centers on the educational offerings that supplement our performances: master classes and coaching workshops for both music and dance, in-class performances around San Diego, pre-concert lectures, and open rehearsals. We also manage the Community Music Center, a free afterschool music program in Logan Heights. Students who complete the CMC curriculum get to keep their instruments, making it unique among similar programs in the region.
How does the La Jolla Music Society and SDYS work together?
LJMS and SDYS work closely to provide amazing opportunities for San Diego’s young musicians. Many SDYS students are selected to perform in master classes with our visiting musicians. Recently, Sofia Hashemi-Asasi was coached by Frederikland of the Danish String Quartet, and Austin Su participated in a master class with Branford Marsalis. SDYS students are also invited to many of our performances free of charge so that they can experience the work of the world’s most amazing musicians. Winners of SDYS’ solo competitions are selected to perform before our Discovery Series concerts and as featured guest at CMC recitals. Finally, a select number of students from the CMC are given tuition-free scholarships to participate in SDYS programs. We’re working to make our partnership even more valuable for San Diego’s wonderful community of student musicians.
What is one thing you learned from your days at SDYS?
One of the strongest lessons I learned from SDYS was personal responsibility. Show up to rehearsal on time, fully practiced, and ready to focus for however long the group needs you. Get to concerts and other events early enough that you’re ready to perform your best before the first downbeat. And one I learned the hard way, make sure your instrument is in perfect working condition every time. More specifically, don’t borrow a friend’s euphonium to play the “Bydlo” solo in Pictures at an Exhibition and then blame the instrument every time the valves stick. An instrument problem quickly becomes a problem for you, and a problem for you quickly becomes a problem for the rest of the orchestra. Respect the instrument, respect yourself and respect the ensemble.