Starting with violin lessons at the age of three, Jaemi Blair Loeb's eventual transformation into a conductor was all but inevitable. The "beginning of the end," as she puts it, was when she conducted her own composition for her former middle school band at the age of 15. Since then, she's conducted orchestral, choral, wind band, chamber and opera ensembles. She also recently founded the Houston Heights Orchestra, "a neighborhood orchestra open to all" that welcomes members of the Heights community to join and perform standard and contemporary numbers.
A native of Connecticut, Loeb moved to Texas in 2007 to pursue a D.M.A. in Orchestral Conducting at UH's Moores School of Music. But her love of learning new musical skills extends far beyond her broad formal training and helps her to relate to and collaborate with a wide range of musicians.
What she does: "I'm a conductor. I mostly focus on orchestra, but I do a lot of choir these days, too, and have done a lot of opera and wind band in the past. Currently, I'm the Artistic and Music Director of the Houston Heights Orchestra, Choir Director at Congregation B'rith Shalom and Conductor of HaZamir Houston, a chapter of HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir. I try to generally move and/or shake in the Houston music scene on my lifelong quest to break that silly glass museum case that too often surrounds art music. I'm also an announcer on Classical 91.7 FM.
Why you like it: "Basically, it's fun. Leading a group is an honor and a privilege and gives me the chance to connect with people in a very special way. I get to use my analytical side, my emotional side and my social side all at once. I admit, there is something thrilling about being in charge in general, and multitasking on such a high level is always a rush. But, working with a group to prepare for a performance is a singular opportunity to create a community of people all working towards the same goal."
What inspires you: "When music-making goes right, it is intensely spiritual. When a large group of people do the same thing at exactly the same time, in exactly the same way, it's like a sort of telepathy. The thing that keeps me going no matter what obstacles I might face is those moments where the universe just seems to align differently and all of a sudden, everyone in the room is perfectly connected to each other and the music. Sometimes that happens when performing a Beethoven symphony, sometimes it happens jamming in the back yard with friends. Either way, it's a reminder that the world can be a spectacularly beautiful place. Those moments make me feel both very lucky and completely obligated to try to bring more of that beauty into the world."
If not this, then what? "I'm not really sure what I would do if I weren't a conductor. I got bitten by the bug fairly young and it's more of a way of life than a job. I've done various things to earn a living over the years. I like to keep a large batch of random extra skills in my back pocket to enrich my music-making and land me a day job when needed. But, I suppose if I really had to choose, I'd be an academic music professor. I hope to be an orchestra director at a university some day, since I love the academic environment as a place to make music and I love teaching. So, if I couldn't conduct, focusing on the teaching and the academic side of music would be the next best thing. But I'd probably still think of myself as a conductor without an orchestra."
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If not here, then where? "At the moment, I'm pretty snug here in Houston. But I would like to try out the Pacific Northwest or maybe Canada. I like places that are vibrant, but socially laid-back. Someplace cooler (weatherwise, of course) would be a nice change."
What's next? "Right now, I'm buried under a mountain of last-minute details for the Houston Heights Orchestra concert on April 15 (at 3 p.m. at All Saints Catholic Church on 10th Street). The next weekend I'll be giving the keynote address at the Tau Beta Sigma sorority convention here in Houston and conducting a performance for Holocaust Remembrance Day at Congregation B'rith Shalom. Then I think I get some time to sleep, but I can never be sure. There is definitely some exciting planning to be done for Houston Heights Orchestra's next season."
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