Meet The Conductor: Jessica McNamara
Updated: Aug 18
How long have you been with NYS?
This is my 9th season as a conductor with NYS and my 11th season with the organization. I was a sectional coach for two years prior to being appointed conductor of Philharmonia.
When did you start playing music?
I started playing violin at the age of 6 when a Suzuki violin teacher came to my first grade classroom in Queens, NY and played her violin for my class. She told us that we could learn how to play the violin along with our Mom in her before-school class, so I went home and told my mom that I wanted both of us to learn how to play violin! No one in my family was musically inclined, but my Mom was very supportive and learned how to play the violin along with me for that first year. After that, I loved it and decided to continue taking private lessons.
Did you have a music teacher that stood out and had an influence on you?
The music teacher that was the biggest influence on me was my Conducting and Vocal Methods professors in college, Dr. Holt. She pushed all of her students extremely hard but was always very encouraging and supportive. I started off as a music minor, then decided to double major and during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, decided that I wanted to drop my Psychology major and pursue Music Education instead. When I sent Dr. Holt an email asking her if it was too late for me to join the Music Ed program, she wrote back saying, "we've been waiting for you to realize that this is what you were meant to do!" She told me that all of my professors knew that I would eventually go into music since they first met me freshman year, but they wanted me to figure it out for myself!
Did you always want to be a conductor/music educator?
No, like I said above, I didn't realize that until the middle of my undergrad degree. Up until then, music was always something that I did and loved, but never something I considered making a career of. When I realized that the field of psychology wasn't for me, I took a step back and looked at what I was good at and always made me happy and realized that it was music. When I finally figured out that I could make a career out of the thing I always loved, I knew I would feel fulfilled and love going to work every day.
If you weren't a conductor/music educator, what career would you want to try?
I still find the study of the human brain fascinating and would love to study neuropsychology.
Could you share a favorite NYS memory?
February concert of 2012 (I think that was the year). We had a blizzard the day before the concert, but since there was no possible way of rescheduling the concert to a different date, we decided to go ahead with it. My neighborhood got hit especially hard and had 38 inches of snow in total! I tried taking out my skis and skiing out of my neighborhood to the main road so that Mrs. Watkins could pick me up, but couldn't even do that! I didn't think there was any way I could possibly get to Norwalk, so Jonathan was prepared to conduct my orchestra. He even did the pre-concert rehearsal with my students. But when my neighbors heard that I was going to have to miss my concert, they all banded together and used their snow blowers to dig out a path just wide enough for my car to get out of the neighborhood! It took four snowblowers and a few hours, but they did it and I made it to the concert just in time! The plows didn't make it to my neighborhood until three days later, but everyone in my neighborhood could get to work on Monday because of me : )
What advice would you give to NYS students or to a student who would like to audition for NYS?
Play something that you can play well. Don't choose a reach piece or even your most recent piece to play for your audition. Instead play a piece that you have known for months and feel really comfortable on. Not only will you play it better technically, but you can play expressively and musically because you won't have to be stressing so much about the notes and rhythms. We would much rather hear a slightly easier piece played well than a challenging piece played poorly.
Ms. Mac's children, Julie and James (above photo)
Ms. Mac and the crew from the 2017 Fairfield County Summer Strings Orchestra. (below)