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VPA Graduate Student Finds Her Confidence in Central New York
Jessica Montgomery is a graduate student pursuing dual degrees in voice performance and pedagogy in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Originally from Pompano Beach, Florida, Montgomery completed her undergraduate degree at Florida State University in 2016. She mentions that she learned so much from FSU, but felt that she was missing her confidence. “Going straight to graduate school was always a goal, but I was honestly not sure about my purpose. I wasn’t as confident in myself as a musician, and I needed time to figure out my path,” says Montgomery.
After two years away from school, she remained active in the Tallahassee Community Choir. During that time, she realized how much she missed performing. “I missed taking weekly lessons, and I had the desire to take performance more seriously,” she says. “I missed singing. And I just missed that feeling.”
With a renewed sense of purpose, Montgomery focused on voice lessons, auditioned and was accepted into the Setnor School of Music. “I came to Syracuse University because I wanted a change of pace and feel,” she says. “It was a great challenge to accept and the Setnor School of Music Program has definitely shaped me. I accept challenges that are in front of me and I now feel ready to present myself in the best light.”
In addition to being a full time graduate student, Montgomery serves as the external vice president and voice department senator representative for the Graduate Student Organization, and serves as Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity province officer for the chapters at Hartwick College, Mansfield University, SUNY Potsdam and Syracuse University. Montgomery is preparing her lecture graduate recital. SU News sat down with Montgomery to discuss her experience at VPA and her upcoming performance highlighting the work of black female composers.
What did you learn about yourself in the two years after completing your undergraduate degree?
I was just missing something. I was missing that rooted confidence that all musicians are expected to have. Not having the confidence played a huge role as to how I thought of myself as a musician, how I critiqued myself as a musician. It also geared me in directions where I was in a place of standstill, filled with indecision and unsure of my next steps. I wasn’t sure if this was a career that I wanted to go in because of my insecurities. I learned so much from Florida State University, but I realized if you don’t have that strong confidence in yourself, it can hinder the decisions you make.
How has your experience in Syracuse bolstered your confidence?
I love working with all of my teachers. I like to think of them as my team because they really have played a role in shaping me on who I am today. My voice teacher, Janet Brown, is just phenomenal. She makes you feel like you can do anything, while also preparing you for challenges. I absolutely love it. It also works in the other direction. When I do bring her a work that’s challenging, she expects me to take on discipline and accountability to do my part, but she’s always there to guide me.
How does that confidence translate to your work in pedagogy?
Pedagogy is a challenging subject. There are so many studies that are rapidly developing and it can be difficult to keep up. Taking on the challenge, learning the subject and gaining the experience is definitely a confidence booster. My advisor, Dr. Kathleen Roland-Silverstein, is putting me out there to gain experience in the field. This semester, I will be teaching a beginning voice class for non-majors. Prior to being assigned to the course, I battled with the thoughts to make sure I have everything right, making sure everything is “perfect” and that I don’t mess up. Preparing for this course has already made me realize that teaching does not mean to be perfect. What it means to me is to be vulnerable in taking risk, trusting what you know and to be open and willing to learn along the way. Learning is a part of teaching.
What inspired you to dedicate your graduate lecture recital to black female composers?
I realized there is so much beautiful music written by African American women composers that I was not aware of. Sure, I know the standards of Maragret Bonds or Florence Price and Betty Jackson King, but I discovered a composer named of Brittany Boykin, who has written a masterpiece to the poetry of Maya Angelou, and I just instantly thought I just must perform this work. I am excited for what’s to come.
What have you learned about yourself in preparing this recital?
I learned that I am more confident than ever and I can take on any challenge. Preparing for this recital is exciting. This will be my first time dedicating to both a recital and to research about the African American experience. I’m excited to sing about music that represents my culture, myself as an African American woman, and that represents and tells the story of my ancestors. It’s a beautiful feeling.