Meet New Music Director, Jessica Bejarano
By Kate Fitzsimmons
38-year-old Jessica Bejarano isn’t your typical classical music conductor. For one thing, in a field dominated by men, her gender alone makes her stand out. For another, her Mexican American heritage and a collection of tattoos add color and complexity. When Jane Kramer discovered Jessica in one, of a flurry of media profiles, either through a segment on KQED’s Bay Brilliance, or in a feature on the PBS News Hour as part of their Chasing the Dream, Poverty & Opportunity in America, or more recently on NBC’s Today Show, she could hardly believe her luck to find that Jessica lived in the Bay Area. Jane set about recruiting her to become ELM’s Music Director.
Jessica understands what it is like to grow up in poverty, with a strong mother who did all she could to provide the best life for her children. She has also faced steep challenges as a woman conductor, although she continues to conduct nationally and internationally, receiving accolades and awards. She is assistant conductor of San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle and the annual guest conductor of the Antonio Soler Orquestra in Spain.
She is no stranger to inspiring youth. Jessica’s been a guest conductor with the American Youth Symphony at UCLA and serves as music director at San Francisco University High School where she conducts the orchestra and choral program.
Jessica felt immediately drawn to ELM’s students and the promise ELM offers to expand horizons. She said, “I grew up in a tough neighborhood and didn’t discover classical music until I was in college. The passion it stirred changed my life. I am drawn to ELM because I see myself in these children. Jane has done an amazing job with this music program and to be a part of it is exciting.”
She continued, “I want to help Jane grow the program. Jane has built stability and I love how involved the student families are in supporting their children. There is an ebb and flow to any program. Whether a child decides to pursue music as a career is not as important as exposing them to the experience of music and the persistence it takes to master an instrument. Some children may move out of the area, or simply decide to pursue another interest so, it’s important for us to engage a core of students for the different orchestras to stay strong and the learning experience to remain challenging. For instance, the brass section is relatively small, and there is not yet a percussion section. Also, Jane may like to expand to other areas in Marin. So, increased visibility will be an important goal over time. I feel I can help to provide direction and increase engagement and visibility through connections and outreach.”
As music director, Jessica would like to work with the teachers to understand their needs, the needs of the students and hear ideas for improving the program before suggesting any changes.
“I am interested in consistency, across the different offerings for the woodwind, string, and brass sections and across levels”. Consistency will be increasingly important as ELM grows. This usually means adding structure to support consistency, which I believe will be a shared goal. I am fortunate to come into the position with a variety of experience that I hope will serve ELM well. ELM has a wonderful future that will continue to benefit a larger number of children and the community, as a whole.”
ELM offers Jessica an opportunity to return to her roots and she wants to give back to the community, to serve as a role model. “I want children to see themselves in me, to understand that they can pursue a dream, no matter how unlikely and be able to achieve it.”