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Jennifer Stumm: Straddling the Musical Pond

December 3, 2010 at 3:33 PM


I’ve outdone myself. Today I had a look at my summer performance plans and realized that I would be making my longest trip ever. The journey above starts in London and ends in Sao Paolo, stopping in San Francisco, New York, Oslo, Brussels, Alaska and Suffolk. Even in this era of airport pat downs and standing in a queue for the queue for the queue, the prospect of that adventure gives me an electric surge of energy. I laugh in the face of the TSA (sometimes!) - I am a master packer. I live for new places. I can’t wait.

Modern day traveling musicians are heirs to their troubadour ancestors, meandering from place to place offering their musical wares. While our calendars these days are often sealed years in advance via a long e-chain of presenters and agents and press, I believe the spirit of the enterprise remains the same. The traveling soul is a unique one, willing to forego comforts of familiarity for the rush of the new. My traveling friends and I often discuss the challenges of maintaining balance and nourishing roots to a place. It’s not easy but I suspect few of us would forsake the perspective gained from a life in the air. I liked to climb tall trees as a child. I suppose nothing has changed!

The artistic dividends of travel are undeniable. Of all of my wonderful teachers and experiences, the most profound and instructive to my playing has been to work with and live amongst musicians from differing stylistic backgrounds.  After finishing my studies in the States, I moved to Amsterdam and began traveling for work. Amsterdam for me was an exotic musical utopia, a place where both early and modern music were long-treasured elements of the concert agenda and it wasn’t unusual to see people lining up to hear a world premiere of a contemporary piece. I met musicians from all over Europe who, having studied in countries with differing musical traditions, brought a fascinating mix of ideas to the musical table.  I was forced to expand the range of my palate, to make sounds I had never made or perhaps never even wanted to make. In that international arena, I actively vetted my musical opinions and sought to rid myself of clichés. I asked more questions of the score and of myself. Those years in Amsterdam, biking around the canals with my viola on my back, surrounded by a tapestry of musical voices, I found a voice that was more uniquely my own.

These days my life is an alphabet soup of airport codes. London is my on-the-ground home, but I’ve accepted that for now my life is a series of small homes, each meaningful in itself. I have collected an international family of interesting and generous friends around the world with whom I often stay in my travels and who teach me about cooking and lots of other things. A viola player with soloist inclinations needs to have elephant skin, be part evangelist, part wilderness orienteer and be able to take a joke (because there are plenty!)I never know what’s awaiting me next. The view from the air, though, is like nothing else.

To keep track of where I am and what I’m working on, I’m starting a video log called The Monday Morning Music Show! Every Monday, I’ll check in from wherever I happen to be and play a bit of whatever I happen to be playing. Keep up with me on Twitter!

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