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Teaching by example

By Mindy Poder

Nov. 20, 2006 9:00 p.m.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Well, not
always. Jennifer Jester, a graduate student studying the euphonium
at UCLA, puts this aphorism to shame.

At the age of 3, Jester started playing on her mother’s
piano. Though the piano dominated her earlier years, she began
playing the flute and the euphonium, a type of brass instrument, in
school band. Eventually, she focused on brass and studied the
euphonium at both Arizona State University and California Institute
of the Arts.

Though juggling is one of the few performance arts she does not
do ““ she sings, dances, and plays a plethora of instruments
““ Jester has managed to effectively manage her time between
performing and her other passion, teaching.

“I love teaching. It’s definitely something I want
to do later on,” she said.

Currently, Jester is a teaching fellow for the general education
cluster course “Inside the Performing Arts: Interdisciplinary
Explorations of Performance in Society and Culture,” which
focuses on music, theater and dance. Though the class contains a
heavy load of reading and writing, Jester’s comprehensive
theatrical expertise allows her to add an element of hands-on
learning that is missing from many classes at UCLA.

“I just did a big drum lesson with the freshman cluster
course,” Jester said. “We talked about their midterms
and then I taught them some Brazilian things and African songs and

The course covers a varied range of subjects dealing with
theater arts, and Jester’s interest and experience in music
is similarly diverse. She has performed in salsa bands, written new
wave euphonium compositions, and facilitated African drum circles
for children. In addition, she loves jazz and traditional Balkan
brass music. Jester’s many passions fuel yet simultaneously
relax the classroom atmosphere.

“I have a little acting background, so with that, along
with the dancing and music, I can supplement what (my students are)
learning. We just did “˜The Bacchae’ by Euripides so I
was able to do workshop-type things with that,” Jester

“With the music, I introduce them to different types of
music and have them try it. These are science majors so it’s
cool because I can bring in all my experience and open their eyes
to a new world.”

While Jester hopes to continue teaching college students, her
musical passion transcends age boundaries. In addition to
performing for children in interactive drum circles, she teaches
musician empowerment workshops which concentrate on setting goals,
intelligently dealing with the business elements of being a
musician, and, strangely enough, teaching acting skills.

“A lot of times musicians learn their craft ““ they
know how to play the piano well ““ but there’s some
elements that are missing just as far as personal expression.
Acting is huge,” Jester said. “If you talk to any pop
singers and ask them how they learn to sing, or the fact that many
actors become singers, this draws attention to the show element. I
think it’s kind of overlooked a lot.”

As a teacher, Jester takes a proactive interest in shattering
the dichotomy between teacher and student by getting students to
participate. She said she is a strong believer in experiencing,
rather than just learning, about theater.

This hands-on approach stems from her performing experiences.
Jester said she believes the performer, like the teacher, has a
responsibility to engage his or her audience to interact.

“I think there is a correlation between doing and being
interested” she said. “I have a passion for audience

Although Jester’s hands-on approach to teaching has proven
successful, she is currently looking for more ways to engage
audiences during theatrical performances.

“I think that recitals as we know them and concerts as we
know them are going downhill, and I’m really interested in
how can we get people more interested and involved,” Jester

“In my dissertation, I am going to look at a lot of
things, like the Blue Man Group. They do a ton of audience
participation in their (performances). I am looking at elements of
those and why they work and how they work and why people like

As a serious performer who wants to teach, Jester’s
concerns as a performer complement her fresh method of teaching.
Whether she is instructing or performing, Jester said her intention
is to make sure everyone else is getting something out of the

“Anyone can move. It’s really about lowering
people’s inhibitions,” Jester said. “Instead of
having them sit in the back with (their) arms crossed, it’s
about getting them to want to try it.”

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Mindy Poder
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