By: Alyson Peabody, Staff Writer
The students at The School of Music are following a new baton. Jackie Townsend joined the USM faculty this past July. She is the director of bands and in that role she spends much of her time conducting.
She conducts the University Wind Ensemble and the Concert Band. She has also conducted the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble and the Casco Bay Wind Symphony.
She teaches courses, too, in instrumental conducting and instrumental music education.
“As a conductor, this job has been really amazing …I get to conduct a lot,” she said in a recent email conversation.
Townsend said she was excited when she saw the USM position listed on an instrumental music job board. At the time she was in Texas earning her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Wind Conducting.
As soon as she arrived in Maine, she began recruiting students for the bands, even if they were not music majors.
Townsend has been busy ever since, on campus and off.
“The concert band has been an absolute joy to work with, and I really love working with the music education students in the Teaching Instrumental Music and Instrumental Conducting classes,” Townsend said. “It gives me an opportunity to share my own experiences teaching instrumental music in the public schools, and prepare them for their future careers.”
When she was a kid, she didn’t know music would be hers. Her first love was paleontology; though she began learning to play the clarinet in the fifth grade and continued into high school, when she picked up the saxophone, both alto and baritone.
“I was fascinated by dinosaurs and the idea of excavating fossils and studying them seemed so cool,” she said. “But then I realized that I didn’t love science nearly as much as music and teaching and quickly changed routes toward music education and haven’t looked back since.”
Townsend recommends that anyone pursuing a career in music take lessons to develop the skills and prepare for the rigor the discipline requires.
Townsend attributes her work ethic to her mother, who is a nurse. She also credits those who taught her.
“Because I was so heavily influenced by my teachers, I definitely do not take my role lightly,” Townsend said. “They have all taught me the value of hard work, perseverance, artistry, and creativity and helped me realize that I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to, as long as I’m willing to be patient and put in the efforts needed to get the job done.”
Now that she is a teacher herself, she encourages her students to perform wherever and whenever they can.
“The more you get to perform and work with different people, the better,” she said.
When she isn’t directing musicians, she enjoys cooking, hiking and spending time with her two sassy cats, Calypso, 9 and Abby, 7.
“Unfortunately, I can’t practice conducting anywhere near them – they think my baton is a toy and try to attack it constantly,” she joked.
Townsend is still learning, too. She refers to her teachers as the ideals that she consistently measures herself against so she can improve every time she is conducting at the podium.
That’s where you’ll find her.