Teacher Profile: Jessie Rothwell

Jessie Rothwell

Jessie Rothwell

Instrument(s): Composition, Piano, Voice, Music Theory

City: Washington, DC


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About Jessie Rothwell

Art and life are not two separate things.
- Felix Mendelssohn

Jessie Rothwell is a composer, pianist and vocalist, as well as a storyteller, lyricist and poet, who has dedicated her life to the arts. A self-proclaimed Renaissance Woman, synthesizer and lifelong learner, she is as passionate about creating music as she is about teaching music.

Jessie's is a life that has always been filled with music. She began piano lessons at age 5 and studied formally through graduate school as a student of Peter Miyamoto. She added clarinet to her repertoire at age 9, oboe at 12, and sang with various choirs throughout her youth. With each passing year she became more interested in music theory, and continued her lifelong love of writing poetry and songs.

Intending to major in English or Psychology, the draw to music was so strong that she ultimately chose to pursue music as her passion. She has a B.A. in music from Earlham College, where she studied theory and composition with William Tortolano, and an M.F.A. in music composition from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where her composition teachers included the late James Tenney and the late Stephen "Lucky" Mosko. She has also studied with Larry Polansky, Gavin Bryars, Anne LeBaron and Anthony Stark. Jessie performed in many ensembles as a pianist and oboist throughout her studies, and played the energetic piano part in a performance of Copland's renowned ballet, "Appalachian Spring," in its original version for 13 instruments. While at CalArts, she collaborated with students and faculty in every art form represented by writing music for dance, animation, film, puppet theater and beyond.

A cofounder of the composers collective "Fuse" -- a group dedicated to multimedia and interdisciplinary performance -- Jessie's work has been performed at HERE and The Frying Pan. She also had the opportunity to work with established composers such as John Cale, Joe Jackson, Randall Woolf and Eve Beglarian. Jessie's compositions for chamber ensembles, piano and other combinations have been performed in concert halls, galleries, living rooms and other venues around the U.S. She has worked as a concert curator and producer of "Salon" type concerts held in living rooms, and she loves getting students and others excited about the sounds that most compel her.

Jessie has studied vocal traditions from around the world, including Indian Classical voice with Rajeev Taranath and Balkan singing with Kate Conklin and later with Tzvetanka Varimezova. She also studied African drumming, played in a Balinese "Gamelan," and was a member of the Vienna Youth Choir in Austria. Currently, Jessie sings with two groups; one a traditional Balkan women's ensemble and the other a fusion group incorporating jazz and pop as well as traditional sounds.

In lessons she teaches, whether on piano or voice, Jessie aims to engage students' creativity as much as possible from the start. She approaches music education holistically, and she seizes every opportunity not only to connect music theory and composition her lessons, but also to connect music to history, science, language and other subjects. She believes that learning music is all about making connections, whether that means connecting ideas to each other, or connecting the brain to the hands and developing muscle memory to play a Bach prelude.

When it comes to teaching composition, Jessie doesn't ascribe to one particular method of writing music, instead aiming to draw out of each student what makes them unique. Jessie sees music -- and all of the arts -- as a lens through which we make sense of the world, as a form of expression but also as an incredible means of connecting to oneself and to other people.

Her deepest belief is that music encompasses all academic subjects from science and math to history and foreign language. It develops insight and demands research. But above all, she believes music is art. As one of her favorite quotes goes, Jessie teaches music so there will be more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good - and all in all, more Life in our world.

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