INTERVIEW Isiah Jackson '66 and Ben Jackson '03
Isiah Jackson '66 and Ben Jackson '03
Two Generations of Musicianship
By VIVIAN SONG
Harvard is well known for welcoming diversity, especially musical diversity, to its stages, and the performances of the Callbacks and the Pro Arte Orchestra last weekend in Sanders Theatre further demonstrated this tradition. While the musical styles on display couldn't be more different than night and day, they are also as similar as father and son.
Maestro Isaiah Jackson '66, guest conductor of the Boston Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, knows the musical offerings of Harvard well. Graduating cum laude in history and literature of Russia, Jackson began to pursue his musical interest more intensively at Harvard. Although he had been playing the piano since he was four and had sung in the choir at his prep school, Jackson's parents discouraged him from pursuing a career in music. He explains, "It was a long time ago. There simply were no African-Americans in the classical music arena." He found Harvard to be a place "where you dream your dreams and act on it." With mentors such as Archie C. Epps III, Jackson participated in numerous campus musical organizations including the Harvard Glee Club, Leverett House Opera, the Bach Society, Harvard University Choir and the Harvard Band. He even was a music reviewer for The Crimson. After testing his dreams at Harvard, Jackson decided to act on them and soon entered the professional music world.
His son, Ben Jackson '03, also knows the musical offerings of Harvard well. Apart from singing and arranging for the Callbacks, Jackson fils also plays the violin for the Baroque Chamber Orchestra. He loves the fact that he performs with two very different groups with music from two very different centuries. Likewise, Ben's musical background is quite diverse. He began playing the piano at five and within a few years picked up the violin. The Jacksons lived in Britain for several years and in elementary school, Ben sang with the boys choir at his school. Moving to Dayton, Ohio, in 1991, Ben continued his musical interests by playing in youth orchestras and in high school he became involved with in show choir.
But while both parents are involved in musical careers, Ben says that his parents, and especially his father, have allowed him to explore music independently. Isaiah's main advice to Ben is to think of music as a hobby; the career can come later, just as it did for himself. But Ben has come to his father for advice; his father was able to offer great perspective with Ben was faced with tough decision making in picking musical groups at Harvard. Upon hearing his son's offer to play with the Baroque Chamber Orchestra, Isaiah asked, "What do you know about baroque music?" Ben replied, "It's tuned to A-flat, right?" Isaiah laughed and replied, "That's politically incorrect; we say A-392."
Their separate performances last weekend at Sanders is the closest father and son have been so far to sharing a stage. Still, while Ben has never performed under his father's baton, he hopes that he will someday. "It might be weird. I mean, what would I call him in front of everyone else in rehearsal?" he explains. "But my father is a great conductor and I imagine there is lots to learn musically from him."
Perhaps father and son will finally perform together in the future. They may even be joined by yet another Jackson. Ben's sister Kate has been accepted to the Class of 2004, and both father and son hope that she will join them in the academic and perhaps even the musical tradition they have established in their family and at Harvard.
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