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Musician Spotlights - Jodi French, Piano

Musician Spotlights - Jodi French, Piano
By Musician Spotlights • Issue #10 • View online

Jodi French by Christopher Briscoe
Jodi French by Christopher Briscoe
Question 1: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in a very beautiful, very small town in the Minnesota River Valley. I lived in town, but because all my friends lived on farms, I do know how to milk a cow and round up sheep and do other farm chores — the only thing I wouldn’t do is detassle corn, because I saw the blistered hands of my friends who earned some mad money that way every year!… I’ve played piano and other instruments my whole life… I love dogs and cats… I’ve lived in Ashland longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, and I’ve played with the orchestra my whole time here.
Question 2: What brought or inspired you to pursue piano? If you’d like to share one of your favorite pieces of music as well, I’d like to know!
When I was 3 years old, my parents bought a piano and had it delivered, and I started playing that day. I wasn’t the first one, though. My four siblings all rushed at it and started pounding together and making the cacophony you’re imagining. They did this for a while and I stood apart, watching, until they grew bored and drifted off to their toys. I don’t know if I had heard a piano played before, but I remember thinking, “That’s not what you do with a piano.” I walked up to the instrument and pressed one key and listened. I pressed another and listened, and another… and I specifically remember thinking that I needed to find out what sound every key made, and that when I found that out, I would know what to do next. 
My dad was a marvelous musician, a great jazz pianist and organist, and also played percussion and trombone. When I was four years old, I remember him showing me little “chords” to accompany the Jingle Bells melody that I had figured out. They weren’t real chords because he thought it would be too complicated, and also my hands were VERY tiny (and still are!). But I wasn’t satisfied with the simplified harmonies, so I waited until he left the room and then figured out the real chords and played those instead. He heard this and came back and asked me, “What are you doing?” Not upset, just curious. I said, “The other way didn’t sound right. I can’t play it like that.” That’s not a baby-genius story; I was never a genius or prodigy. It’s a story of how sometimes things compel us and somehow lead us to the right place. I have always been compelled and overjoyed to play. 
Favorite piece? Probably Goldberg Variations. Which I’ve always felt I needed to be the age I am now to play it… so I’m going to finish learning it this year and hopefully play it in recital next year. There’s so much beautiful music still to be played!
Jodi French by Christopher Briscoe
Jodi French by Christopher Briscoe
Question 3: What do you enjoy most about being with the Rogue Valley Symphony?
I love so many things about playing in this orchestra. I’ve always said Southern Oregon has the best audiences anywhere, so playing for those people, connecting with our communities in this way, is a big draw for me. Let’s see, what else? The conductor is a fantastic musician and a lovely person, the music is always beautiful and fun to play, and I have so many friends in the orchestra! Many of the players join me in other music projects around town, or we’ve presented our own duo recitals together, or we have simply celebrated and supported the ups and downs of life over the decades. 
I think my favorite kind of orchestra moment happens when we’re in the middle of a piece and I hear a gorgeous solo or a cascade of melody or an intricate rhythm beautifully expressed… and I look over and watch one of my talented colleagues giving everything they have to make a moment in time that will never, ever happen again. That’s the best. What we do as musicians and audience together is so fleeting but somehow permanent, too, isn’t it? Watching the people around me come together to make that happen… yes, that is the best.    
Question 4: What do you do when you’re not playing music i.e. what are your hobbies or interests?
I’ve taken up running again, which I did for many years a while back, and I’m really enjoying that. I also love to cook. And, honestly, when I’m not playing music on my usual instruments, I’m usually trying to learn a new one! Partly because it’s fun and fascinating, and also because I think it’s really important for teachers to remind ourselves how it feels not to be proficient at something, and that struggling with an instrument or a piece isn’t a referendum on our innate ability. It usually means that there’s something we don’t know yet, and there’s no shame in that. I think this, in turn, reminds us to see the seeds of possibility in every student, I guess really in every person.
Question 5: Finally, one unusual fact, story, or tidbit about you or your instrument?   
At my first college, I was advised not to be a music major! That caused some turmoil for many years and I didn’t study again for a long time, but eventually I found it a helpful experience. Not because it was the right thing to say — it wasn’t! — but because it taught me as a teacher not to limit someone else’s path by my expectations, that we don’t always know what someone else is capable of. Along those same line, it also showed me that I am usually the best judge of what I can do, and if I think I can do something difficult, I am probably right about that. I think this is true for all of us.
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