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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Music

Kentuckians in Music

Musician and Educator Jennifer Rose
Berea, KY

Who Jennifer Rose grew up singing and dancing with her family and community in Berea, Kentucky. While earning a vocal music degree at Berea College, she traveled throughout the United States, Japan, Denmark, and Italy with the Berea College Country Dancers. She has been a full-time performer since 1993, with a busy schedule of national and international concert tours and educational seminars. She has also produced ten solo recordings of traditional music and published two teaching resources for traditional dance. She and her family are featured in the KET series Art to Heart as well as in the Arts Toolkits.

Influences “I grew up surrounded by music. My siblings all play various instruments, and my whole family sings together. I suppose my earliest musical experiences were in church, but the ones I remember best were at home, singing along with my brothers and sister in the family living room or in the car, singing late-night rounds and harmonies on the last leg of a long trip. My family enjoys dancing. I remember bouncing on my mother’s knee when I was very young, watching the dancers at Berea’s street dances or Country Dancer performances and listening to the lilting Irish fiddle tunes or English reels they danced to.

“My parents are not musicians, but all their children are. Mom and Dad continue to be our best critics and strongest supporters in the different fields we’ve entered. My father worked in the administration at Berea College, and my mother was very involved in adult literacy, so education was always a part of life in our family. My uncle John Ramsay gave me my first opportunity to teach on an official level when he recommended me to a local music teacher to help her start an after-school dance group. I was 16 at the time, and by the time I was 20 I was teaching dance in three area schools. My major professor at Berea College was probably one of the greatest influences in my decision to continue with arts education after college. He told me that I had a great voice and a special gift for performance, but ‘If you don’t teach somewhere, a lot of kids are going to really miss out.’ So, as crazy as it makes my life, I have continued to try and balance performance with education in my career.

“The folk musicians who have lived or played in Berea have had the biggest influence on my career because those are the first musical models I had. I remember meeting and hearing Jean Ritchie, Richard Chase, Edna Ritchie Baker, Homer Ledford, John McCutcheon, Malcolm Dalglish, and other very successful folk musicians when I was just a little kid. I loved the music because I was hearing it all the time in the living room and at Berea’s dances. Meeting people who were making that kind of music out in the bigger world was inspiring. I have been able to continue friendships with many of the great musicians I met as a little girl, and I am honored to be involved in the same music with people of such integrity.”

What “I don’t work with other musicians as often as I would like, since my concerts are solo performances and my schedule is crazy. The people who book my concerts are often activities directors at recreation facilities or, in the case of my Florida tour, large retirement centers. Concert hall and festival performances are generally booked by the director or someone else on the board or staff, and school bookings are done through the teachers who will be directly involved. Those people become my friends through the process of arranging and completing a successful experience, and I have always enjoyed seeing them again and again over the years.

“I have to keep working to make sure my material stays fresh, and I need to keep creating CDs and other products that appeal to my audiences. The work doesn’t create itself—I have to stay disciplined and current in my field or I could get left behind. It’s hard not to get bogged down in the everyday work of the business and lose track of the creative (and much more fun) side. I’m also away from home a lot. Fortunately my husband and daughters can travel with me, so I don’t have to be away from them so much. But that can get stressful, too—all four of us cooped up in the van or in hotels for weeks at a time! All in all, though, I can’t complain; we have a great life.”

When “I am always working. I remember taking a vacation once without an instrument and I felt completely lost. I need music around me nearly as much as I need food. I spend a lot of time now at the computer, working on web site development, communicating with fans and booking contacts, and reading up on new developments in the independent music industry. My year is divided up into predictable yet flexible segments: I do a concert tour in Florida every winter, spend almost all my time in schools as an arts education consultant in the spring, split my time between teacher professional development and concerts in the summer, and perform at quite a few festivals in the fall. Every year or two I take an overseas performance trip as well.”

How “I have a collection of folk music books in my personal library, and I often refer to them as I gather ideas for new concert material or recordings. I like to look through them to remind me of songs I may have forgotten about, and I use them as references to make sure I understand the history of each song. I enjoy listening to other folk musicians perform live or on CD. It inspires me to do my best as well. If this question refers to actual ‘tools,’ then I should say I carry a multi-tool with me everywhere, with wire cutters for my steel strings, pliers for things that work themselves loose on my instruments or sound equipment, and screwdrivers for my tuning pegs and other things that I might need to tighten or loosen. Nobody told me that I would need to be a handyman when I became a musician! Luckily, I like that sort of thing.”

Why “The things I enjoy most about this work are making people happy and helping them understand the value of heritage.”

Getting There “I have really appreciated my music degree, even though it didn’t have much to do with the style of music I’m now performing full-time. I learned about the anatomy of the voice and how to best care for it, including correct vocal production that helps me sing safely through minor colds and allergies and will allow me to keep singing well as I get older. I also feel qualified to talk about music with anyone, from classical violinists to Irish fiddlers. I am very glad for my education, and I am also thankful that my family instilled in me an attitude of constant learning so that I became a student of the world and all that’s in it, not just what’s in the classroom.

“Remember that each person you’re looking at has infinite worth and not a single minute is wasted when you’ve spent it investing in others, whether from stage or the whiteboard. Remember that you need to recharge yourself; find out what recharges you and make time for it. Remember that you are part of God’s plan for the world and stay tied into that meaning for your life. Remember to set goals and work toward making them reality. And finally, learn to manage your money—there’s enough stress in any career without adding financial confusion to the picture. Get those things right and reach for the stars!

“The world has changed a lot since I started my career. My first recordings were on cassette, and now I’m considering a completely digital release. A few years ago I did a concert just for Internet viewers. There are incredible possibilities for artists now that didn’t exist when I got started, and I would encourage young artists to take advantage of that. It’s a great era for independent artists! The most important thing is to stay focused and disciplined so that nothing takes you away from your central goal.”


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