Today we’d like to introduce you to Jacob Hiser.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Jacob. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was surrounded by music as far back as I can remember. I grew up in rural southwestern Missouri near a small town called Fair Grove. My father was always playing classic rock and blues on the stereo; he also took fiddle/mandolin lessons and would always bring me along. By the time I was 5, I decided I wanted to learn violin, so my parents found a teacher. A couple years later, my older brother Kane started taking piano lessons. Not wanting to be outdone, I decided to take on piano lessons as well.
Our parents chose to homeschool me and my brother after we completed elementary school. One benefit of that decision was that, since we were often done with schoolwork by noon, we had much more time to hone our musical skills. It also left us time to attend jam sessions, travel to music festivals, attend intensive music programs, and tour with blues, rock, and country bands. All the while, we were also continuing to take classical lessons and play in local youth symphonies.
When I was 17, I began an undergraduate degree in classical violin at Missouri State University in Springfield: mostly because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with music, and also because it was cheap and close to home. I bided my time there for a few years, not really happy with the classical music environment. As much as I love classical music, I was much more interested in improvisation and was toying with the idea of transferring to Berklee. Thankfully, a jazz studies program began at Missouri State when I was junior, so I promptly changed my major. The recently-hired jazz piano professor, Kyle Aho, completed his master’s at New England Conservatory and suggested I look into their Contemporary Improvisation program for my master’s. The thing that intrigued me about the program was its inclusiveness of my different musical traditions and approaches to improvisation. So I applied, auditioned in spring of 2014, and got accepted!
I moved to Boston in August of 2014. Over the next two years at New England Conservatory, I befriended and collaborated with incredible student musicians from all over the world, studied with wonderful teachers that encouraged me to develop my own musical voice (Ran Blake, Eden MacAdam-Somer, Frank Carlberg, Bruce Brubaker, Joe Morris), played in ensembles coached by jazz pianist/composer Jason Moran, pianist/composer Anthony Coleman, and violist/improviser Tanya Kalmanovitch, performed in concerts directed and/or curated by John Zorn, Simon Carrington, Ran Blake, and Anthony Coleman, as well as taking classes that completely changed the way I perceive music (16-century counterpoint with Lyle Davidson and an overview of the music of Charles Ives with John Heiss).
Since graduating NEC, I’ve become adjunct piano faculty at UMass Lowell, accompanied Boston Children’s Choruses and NEC Prep School choirs, and freelanced around the Boston area. During the summers, I teach at programs like the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, a three-week summer residential program for high school student artists in visual arts, theatre, dance, creative writing, and music, and Next Generation, a week-long piano/strings camp in Joplin, MO for middle school and high school students. Outside of those activities, I also try to regularly play sessions with my musician friends and continue to develop my own original music.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When I was in southern Missouri, the most difficult challenge was maintaining inspiration to continue being a musician. There was definitely a small community of artists dedicated to making and performing high-level music, but the general attitude tended to be dismissive of those pursuing music seriously. If you planned on being a musician, it was expected that it was an addition to your “real job”, or that you would be a music teacher in a public school, if not as a first choice, then at least as a Plan B. Coming to Boston and being part of a community of artists that encourages each other in their pursuit of finding their own voices and making high-level music helped me re-ignite the spark of excitement that I had somewhat lost over the years in Missouri.
Please tell us about Jacob Hiser.
Since I grew up playing many different kinds of music (bluegrass, blues, jazz, classical, rock, gospel), it’s given me flexibility to participate in all different kinds of musical settings, from blues festivals to symphonies to fiddle competitions. I’m also known for being the “emergency pianist”. I have a lot of experience sight-reading music/learning music very quickly, so people tend to call me if they need a pianist at the last minute.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Not necessarily a specific moment…
Summer evenings in rural Missouri. My childhood home is alone at the top of a hill overlooking a river valley, facing the western sky. The setting sun, hot and humid air beginning to cool, fireflies, cicada choruses rising and falling, the smell of venison kebabs and corn on the grill, the dark storm clouds in the distance threatening tornadoes, the cluster of coyote howls at the moon…
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