By Scott MacClelland
REBECCA JACKSON describes her younger sister Elizabeth as “super outgoing, much more free-spirited,” adding by contrast, “I love rules.” To explore her year-round commitments, rules seem to have paid off. And her Music in May (Mim) annual chamber music festival of two programs this weekend—her local ‘baby’ now in its eighth season—only scratches the surface of her world of music. The Santa Cruz resident since age 12, also created Sound Impact, a string trio that plays in and around Washington DC—“very much an extension of Mim”—and is a founding member of the larger Ensemble San Francisco that plays different Bay Area venues. Sound Impact doesn’t stay still; its many run-out concerts and workshops have gone to such places as West Virginia, North Carolina and, now, Project Costa Rica, which includes taking music supplies for students. Jackson’s dedication to provide services where needed has taken her into communities in Ukraine, Romania, Dominican Republic and tent cities in Haiti. “Hopefully, Sound Impact will be coming this fall for a program at the juvenile detention facility in Felton,” she says.
Jackson plays in the first violin section of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, in the Sarasota Opera orchestra, and is a frequent member of the San Francisco Opera and SF Ballet orchestras. She will join the Santa Fe Opera orchestra for two months this summer. Since her college days, she’s a regular participant in Half Ironman and Triathlon races (ocean swimming, bicycling and running) in Santa Cruz and other locations. (To train while in Santa Fe she will drive five hours in each direction to the closest suitable facility in Flagstaff!)
Despite all this, and a lot more, Jackson grew up in a very close-knit, almost insular family environment, shy and easily spooked in larger social situations. Now in her mid-30s, she retains some of that unease; in conversation, her responses sometimes trail off into nervous girlish giggles.
Until relocating to Santa Cruz, the Jackson family lived in Crescent City. Her father, a Missouri native, was one of few physicians there and as such was away from home during days and, often nights. (That workload was one incentive to move to a larger town.) Her mother, who grew up in Korea, is a piano teacher of iron-discipline. Rebecca’s parents met while studying at UCLA.
Using the Suzuki method, “My mom started me on cello at three. But I envied the violinists who could stand.” Jackson took up violin at five. While she enjoyed performing for others, and the feeling of accomplishment at learning a new piece, “The one thing I never really liked is the solitary aspect of it.”
Entering middle school in Santa Cruz, “I was scared out of my mind. The kids there were not very nice.” Moreover, she and her sister were the only violin players in schools, none of which had orchestra. “Mom got us into the Santa Cruz Youth Symphony, then, in high school, the California Youth Symphony.” In the meantime, the Jackson girls moved to a more structured private school, then onto Aptos High adding an independent study session for violin, “so I could focus myself in music.” When she was 16, Rebecca, who had “always felt a bit of an outsider,” attended a six-week session at Meadowmount music school in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Suddenly, she was in the company of “all strings and piano.”
While still in Crescent City, her mother found a violin teacher, Marjorie Lin in San Mateo, who would take Rebecca and Elizabeth to the next level. “Because of the distance, seven or eight hours one way, my mom would video-record our lessons. She learned violin along with us. It was always about quality. Our mom pushed music as an equally important part of education.”
Jackson took her Bachelor of Music degree from the Juilliard School in New York and a graduate degree from UC Santa Cruz.
Despite not having a musical social network growing up, she says, “I love community, building community, sharing experiences with others.” This explains why she is so driven to take music into the lives of people who haven’t had the exposure she has enjoyed. The connection to Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall was made through David Kaun, a philanthropic sponsor of Music in May, who also supports social programs for those in need. Jackson describes preparing for her first appearance there as “the most nerve wracking in my life. As the date approached I thought, what do I have in common with these kids? I was so afraid of saying something insensitive.” She took the advice from composer/string player John Wineglass and juvenile hall therapists to ‘just be yourself.’ (Wineglass’ Someone Else’s Child, premiered during the 2012 Cabrillo Festival, bases its narrated text on letters and poems written by inmates at the Felton detention facility.) “It’s hard for me fake it,” says Jackson. About the encounter, she says, “We all still want to feel love and a part of a community and perhaps a purpose.”
Coordinating her hyper-busy calendar has only become more important. It includes mundane things like providing transportation for some of her Music in May musicians who don’t have cars. “But I can’t allow anyone to be sitting idle.” And her annual New Year’s resolution always includes more practice time.
“Music is my calling and I need to make certain it’s presented in an amazing way, so I have to prioritize my instrument.”
This Friday and Saturday, Music in May will serve up generous helpings of chamber music at Peace United Church in Santa Cruz. Jackson depends heavily on the hands-on support of both her parents, and gives them all due credit. And just when you begin to think that her plate is totally full, she is working with her father in writing a biography of her mentor, David Arben, a former associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra and a survivor of seven Nazi death camps.
Photo by Scot Goodman, Montalvo Arts Center