Jeanne Sinquefield – “Music is the Joy of my life”

“Music is the joy of life,” Jeanne Sinquefield said, a certain eagerness in her voice. While far from being Jeanne’s only passion, music has played a huge role in her life. An accomplished string bass player, Jeanne is very generous in support of her passions. Her eagerness to support the arts is evident not only in word, but in deed. Her goal, in a few words, is to turn her home state of Missouri into a music Mecca for composers young and old. Here is the evolution of her dream.

Music is Central

“Music is such a central part of everyone’s life,” Jeanne said. “Radio, CDs, what about the music in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Schindler’s List? We know so much music and we don’t even know we know it. And there’s so much new music. So you say to yourself, well, how do we get new music? I was in Vienna doing a series of concerts last year, and think about it Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, come from all over Europe. But Vienna attracted the best composers,” Jeanne enthused. So, she explained, they created a culture for musicians, for composers, for these types of geniuses. “These people were in that particular place in that particular time and people put money up to have orchestras hire composers,” she explained. As a result, these composers’ work was encouraged.

Bringing the Composers of Today Together

“So I started thinking,” Jeanne began, a clear purpose forming in her voice, “Well, maybe you could do it here in America, if it happened in a specific place. You’ve got that great writing place in Iowa, that best opera place in Santa Fe in the summer.” And Jeanne realized what she was going to do, what she could do. “I knew we could do that here in Missouri,” she said. When Jeanne’s vision first began to take shape, it materialized as a statewide competition for young composers in K-12. And not only was the program well-received, the contenders were modern-day Mozarts and Bachs in their youth. “We gave cash prizes to students and to their music programs. The first year we were blown away. One, where do these kids come from? They just crawled out of the ground,” Jeanne laughed. “They were so talented! We did it the next year, and by that time we decided the kids were out there, but there was no place for them to go to get better, so we decided to add a high school summer camp.”

Jeanne’s dream of fostering young composers in Missouri developed further in the third year of the program. “We had this documentary done called ‘Genius Among Us.’ My son’s a movie producer and they were on strike, so he got a bunch of guys to come out and feature the children in our program. It was one of those random good luck strikes, and they won a couple of film awards.” But it was what Jeanne heard the students say in the film that impacted her the most. “What was interesting was that every young composer is all the same. They all say, ‘I hear it in my head.’” Jeanne says she remembers thinking: “You know what, when I get up in the morning, I don’t hear [music] in my head. And,” she said, “that’s what seems to differentiate these composers, these kids. They have this ability to hear new music in their heads.”

Taking It To The Next Level

Jeanne noted after all she had accomplished in the competition and the summer program, she still thought there could be more done, more created, to foster an environment to grow young composers. “We said we have a high school camp, why not add a college camp? Except when we sent out apps, it didn’t occur to us to put age or education limits on the thing. We got eight winners out of 120 applicants. These were world class composers and ensembles and the people who got accepted are the best younger composers. They are all in their 30s, all coming for a camp to have their music performed. It’s really, really hard to get their music performed. Hiring an orchestra is expensive.”

Jeanne remembers her excitement over a future concert with these eight composers. A concert, the inaugural Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, will be held Monday, July 12 through Sunday, July 18 in Columbia, Mo. According to the Press Releases: “The week-long series of events will include four public concerts, culminating in the world premieres of new works written by eight international composers and performed by the acclaimed new music ensemble. Alarm Will Sound at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 18 in the newly renovated Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, 203 S. Ninth St. in downtown Columbia.”

“What kind of music will they come up with?” Jeanne asked excitedly. “This concert is going to be unbelievable. I think we will have more talent in a single place. And this is a concert performed in Missouri! We have this prize at the university, a big tuition thing, and if you win this scholarship, you also get to write an original piece that will be performed by an orchestra we would partner with. Then things kept going further and the University students were coming and saying: what about us? So I worked with different orchestras – Columbia Civic and others, encouraging them to hire composers, to invite these kids to write original pieces.”

Jeanne might be satisfied knowing her dream has resulted in eight full undergraduate rides for composers. She might be enthused about the coming compositions of the young musicians and composers she is fostering. But really, in her mind, this is just the beginning.

Support for the Composers

Jeanne discussed the opportunities for the composers in her programs. “We have our own ensemble, online or distance learning. There is an on-call composer, and he’ll help.” Jeanne’s program continues to grow, and as the students network with each other and find commonality with other young composers, the vision comes more clearly into focus. With her co-collaborators, she discovers new and interesting ways to tie the arts to music. In an annual contemporary art competition, students will write a piece of music to go along with a piece of art. “I don’t even know how I’d start about picking the music,” she smiled.

Seeing Your Dreams Through

How has Jeanne accomplished what she has for young composers nationwide? “It’s not that you just do something, you’ve really got to want to do it,” she stressed. “I figure if my grandpa can do some of the things he did, no one should use the excuses, ‘well I can’t do that because I didn’t go to the right school,’ ‘I didn’t come from a wealthy background.’ You decide you can or can’t. If you want to be an expert on something, read 100 books. I didn’t major in music, I’m not a composer. But, you can do a lot of things if you’re willing to. People can say what they want about my goal to make Mizzou a Mecca for composers, but I have eight of the best young composers there this summer. The reason our students are getting better is that they now have a bunch of friends like themselves; no one had ever met another composer. But we are developing such great musicians and composers. But we have to grow the kids up and have a place they can have their music performed. We must encourage symphonies to commission new pieces. We have to grow the audience, grow the students. Make it available.”

Jeanne’s passion is tangible. She affirmed anyone can advance causes they care about. For her, it’s been passion, drive, lots of networking and, as she put it, “sweat equity.” “People think it’s about money. Yeah, you need money to do things but you can get a lot done by some money and a lot of sweat equity. You’d be surprised what you can get done just by working on it. You see people all over the country doing amazing things, but it’s all sweat equity.”

“If I can encourage composers . . . well, that’s just what we’re really trying to do, get these areas of interest, of passion, supported.” And, she explained, “These kids are geniuses. Why wouldn’t you want to encourage a genius?”


(Springfield, Missouri)

Thursday
10
June 2010