In anticipation of our December 16th concert, Reverie, we interviewed Ashley Jackson about her musical life!
by Ariel Kurtz, Social Media Manager
Where did your love of music come from? Are there any other musicians or artists in your family?
Although there aren't any professional musicians in my immediate family, I grew up in a very musical household. Music was always on in the house, and we would often sing along to our favorite songs. My mother grew up playing organ in the black Baptist church, so I get my love for gospel music and classic soul from her. On the other hand, my father has countless jazz records and CDs, and listening to his favorite jazz station in the car with him on Saturday mornings on my way to music lessons is still one of my fondest memories growing up. My sisters and I, we all started out playing piano, and while my younger sister still sings, I was the only one who couldn't get it enough of playing music.
Why did you decide to play the harp?
As I mentioned earlier, I first started out playing the piano, and while I loved the instrument, my curiosity and early attraction to classical music made me want to try different instruments. So I picked up the violin and harp at age 7, played all three until high school, before focusing on the harp. I liked right away the complexity of the instrument, the similarities to the piano, but also the fact that I could play the harp in orchestras, which, growing up, was my favorite thing about playing classical music. And still is.
What is your favorite part of being a musician and what made you want to pursue it professionally?
My favorite part of being a musician is a combination of the intellectual and technical challenges, while exploring the emotional content of a piece. And I think that is what has always motivated me to pursue it professionally – the excitement that comes when I have a new piece of music on my stand, whether it's a solo work, or a contemporary orchestral part. Figuring out how to make it work on my instrument, and then how to make it speak to the audience is why I love what I do.
Do you have a favorite piece or composer?
This is always such a tough question since I'm often working on multiple pieces by different composers at the same time. But if I had to pick one, my favorite composer at the moment is probably Puccini. His writing for the voice is exquisite, and his orchestration is so rich in conveying what's happening on stage.
What do you love about Washington Heights?
I love that there is really a community of classical musicians, probably unlike in any other neighborhood in Manhattan.
What piece of music fascinates you?
I certainly can't name just one piece, but the one composer that continues to fascinate me is Bach. Sometime during my graduate studies I vowed to play a piece by him every day. And while I haven't exactly kept that promise (LOL), I will often return to old piece in my repertoire at the end of a practice session, and I challenge myself to find either a new pattern, or voice, or way of improvising.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
Seek out music that speaks to you, and surround yourself with warm, supportive colleagues also in the field. I think now, more than ever, there are many paths that a classical musician could take, and the one that will be the most successful is the one that is the most honestly you.
Is there anything that you would like the audience to know about the program for your upcoming recital?
Most of the pieces on the program were written in France during the turn of the century, and they reflect explorations into bringing to the surface certain elements of music that had been previously-deemed secondary: texture, rhythm. Because these composers wanted to change how music could make the listener feel. Debussy and Ravel are featured on this program because they were really at the forefront of this movement in music, a movement that had parallels in visual art. They were known as the Impressionists, and in this program we will be exploring those stylistic features.