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Interview with Jessica Shand

Meet Jessica Shand

Jessica first appeared on our show just this past summer, as a soloist and as a member of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States.

She, along with alum Theo Luu, will be premiering J.P. Redmond’s new #Note4Note composition, Shifting.

Read more about her and the campaign below.


Our #Note4Note Campaign has surpassed our initial fundraising goal of $5,000 thanks to our generous donors and a large matching gift by alum Charles Yang.

Will you help us reach $7,500 by the end of Giving Tuesday?

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Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what’re you up to these days?

I’m 18 years old now, and I’m from Colorado Springs, Colorado. My parents are originally from Switzerland and England and immigrated to the US before I was born. I’ve been playing the flute since the age of eight when I realized I wanted to be in my elementary school’s band program.
I chose the flute because it looked like it had the most keys and was therefore probably the most difficult. I wanted a challenge. Since then, music has become a huge part of my life, and I’ve been lucky that my parents have supported me throughout that process despite not having a background in music.

You’re a freshman at Harvard now – anything surprising you’ve learned about the school or your field?

I’m currently studying math, but my official concentration is undecided; I’m also really interested in politics and social issues. I really love Harvard. The classes are by no means easy, but the amount of development I’ve seen in myself as a thinker over the course of just a few months is something I could never have anticipated.
I love the idea of “Veritas,” which is Harvard’s motto meaning “truth.” It challenges me to have integrity in all of my pursuits and intentions, and also to stay true to myself in everything I do.
I also attend the New England Conservatory as one of its Harvard dual degree students, and I’m in the studio of Ms. Paula Robison.

How was your experience last summer with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States?

I was a member of the orchestra; our positions in woodwind section rotated so I had the chance to play the principal part on Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, which I had never played before in full. Sharing that with audiences in both the U.S. and in Latin America was such a treat. I believe that Mahler’s writing is accessible to people of all kinds of backgrounds because of its central humanistic and emotional appeal, and playing his first symphony was a powerful and moving experience. Furthermore, NYO-USA is an extremely special organization, which is largely owed to the ambitiousness and creativity of its directors. I have no doubt that the friends I’ve made as part of the program will be friends for life — and musical colleagues in future endeavors.

What was rehearsing and performing with the fantastic conductor Marin Alsop like?

Playing under Marin Alsop was really inspiring – not only is she the embodiment of what it means to make a space for yourself as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated occupation, but she also gave the orchestra a sense of empowerment that made our time together feel much more like collaboration than anything else. Rather than placing herself on a “pedestal,” so to speak, which she easily could have done given her fame and success, she did absolutely everything we did. She stayed in the same hotels, took the same flights, ate the same meals, cracking jokes here and there, and that rendered our orchestra one big family, which was something I’d never truly experienced before.

You also performed on our radio show as a member of that ensemble and as a soloist (bravo!). How was that experience different from other performances with NYO-USA?

It was a pleasure to be able to record with From the Top over the summer as both a soloist and a part of the ensemble. As one would expect, playing for a recording is quite different than playing for a live audience – sometimes it’s easy to strive for “perfection” over artistry and risk-taking. This was a special experience for me, however, because that distinction wasn’t really there for NYO-USA. We just did what we always did: projected our enthusiasm for classical music out into the world, knowing that was the best we had to offer.

Anything of note that you’re working on, that you’re proud of having accomplished, or that you’re looking forward to?

Right now, I’m in a class entitled Music 185R: 21st Century Ensemble Workshop with the world-renowned flutist Claire Chase, who joined the Harvard music department faculty just this past semester. Not only is Claire one of my biggest idols as a musician and an intellectual, but the content we discuss in the class has really challenged me to redefine how I think about classical music and to actively work to expand the accessibility of classical music for people of all backgrounds. This is one of the topics I’m most excited about at the moment, so to be working on this new composition right now creates a wonderful overlap.

Since this campaign’s composer, J.P. Redmond, and you are friends, could you say a few words about him?

I met J.P. at National YoungArts Week in Miami in January 2017 where I first heard his works. Then, in the summer of 2017, we had the chance to tour Latin America together as part of NYO-USA. I really respect J.P. and admire the thoughtfulness he puts into his work, as well as his openness to experimentation as an essential part of the creative process.

How is working on a brand new piece of music different from practicing a standard piece of repertoire?

This will be my fourth time bringing to life a newly commissioned work for flute, after working with the Harvard Composers Association and having been fortunate enough to receive the prize for best performance of a newly commissioned work at the National Flute Association High School Soloist Competition in summer 2016 and 2017.
I deeply believe in the responsibility we have as musicians to continue to expand upon our repertoire and discover new means of artistic expression, as did the artists whose shoulders we stand on, so without a doubt, I’ll always be a proponent of writing and performing new works for my instrument. It is easy to pick out differences between learning a freshly-printed work and learning a work that’s decades or centuries old, but I’ve found that regardless of the date attached to it, a piece of music is just another story, another narrator, another idea — and it’s a wonderful challenge to piece all of those elements together in a way that’s true to the composer and true to me.

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