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Music studies are hard, lonely work for Juilliard-trained Utahn, ‘but it’s always worth it’

SHARE Music studies are hard, lonely work for Juilliard-trained Utahn, ‘but it’s always worth it’

When Jossalyn Jensen graduated with a master’s degree in viola performance from The Juilliard School in May and won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Paris, it couldn’t have been a surprise to her neighbors. For years, they had seen the lights on before dawn and heard the music produced by her and her siblings emanating from the house. This was bound to happen, wasn’t it?

The only person who didn’t see it coming was the woman who started it all: Sherri Jensen, Jossalyn’s driven, dedicated mother, who immersed her children in music for other purposes.

“This wasn’t my plan at all,” she said from her Draper home. “It’s shocking to see her graduate from Juilliard. I never envisioned this for my kids.”

Only the elite of the elite are accepted into the famed Juilliard School, and they gladly pay the $60,000 annually for tuition and living expenses for the privilege. Jossalyn Jensen, 24, attended her two-year master’s program on a full scholarship from the school — and while she was a student, she was paid to teach a master’s level ear-training class. She also had a scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to cover living expenses.

“I’ve never heard of anybody getting paid to go to Juilliard,” cracked one fellow student.

Soon, Jossalyn will be paid to continue her studies abroad in the fall. She applied to the Conservatoire de Paris — a music and dance conservatory established in 1795 — and was one of just six invited to Paris for a live audition. That earned her admission to the conservatory. She would have been forced to decline it, but that same week she learned she had won a Fulbright scholarship to study for two years in Paris, beginning in September.

The Fulbright awards are offered to U.S. students to study abroad and are highly competitive. Fulbright winners have included dozens of future Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners, congressmen and other governmental leaders. The Fulbright award is especially difficult to win for study in France because the country offers only 18 of those scholarships and so many students want to study there, most of them in the humanities, like Jossalyn. The Fulbright covers all expenses to enable students to focus on projects of their choosing. Jossalyn will focus on modern and contemporary European compositions to complete a second master's degree. Specifically, she will spend two years mostly devoted to learning four solo compositions.

“People know about them,” she said, “but they’re not played and they’re really difficult. I’ve never heard them performed live.”

She is the second of eight children born to David Jensen, a computer software engineer, and Sherri Jensen, who graduated from BYU with a degree in piano performance and pedagogy. When the kids began to arrive, Sherri Jensen wanted them to study piano, but not for reasons you might suppose.

“I wanted piano for them,” she said, “because I didn’t have a farm.”


“I felt like all the great people in the world came off the farm and knew how to work hard,” she continues. “I live in the city. We don’t have a farm. So I thought I’d make them do music because music is hard work. You have to show up on a regular basis and be in charge of something, you have to be consistent and dependable. Milking cows does that, so we did that with music.”

So they lived in the suburbs, but they lived like farmers, with early morning chores. Sherri Jensen chose piano for her children, but they had other ideas. Josh and Jossalyn, the oldest children, wanted to play a stringed instrument so badly that they fashioned sticks into a violin bow and a violin and pretended to play music.

“I begged my mom to play violin,” Jossalyn said. “It’s so melodic. That caught my attention.” She began violin at 4, and six months later switched to viola.

One by one, all the children took up an instrument — Joshua, Kenna and Kassandra on violin, Ty and Caleb on cello, Jossalyn and Krystal on viola, Tennyson on bass, and all of them on piano. Sherri Jensen put them in private lessons for the stringed instruments, but she spent 10 hours a day giving her own music and piano lessons to each child and lording over their practices. She had to start early to fit in everything, so she got them out of bed at 5 a.m. each day. They were required to practice 1½-2 hours daily. She also oversaw their home-schooling program.

As the children got older, they began to play publicly, which led to paid bookings throughout the West for the family orchestra known as “The Sizzling Strings.” They did this for about five years until the kids began leaving home for college and church missions. They used the money to buy instruments and pay for private lessons.

Jossalyn Jensen first established herself as a rising musician at the age of 17 when she won an audition at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival for the National Public Radio program “From the Top,” which features young classical musicians from around the U.S. She recorded her performance in Salt Lake City and it played on NPR in October 2009.

“It gave me visibility in the music community,” she said. She also came away with a $10,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the first of two the foundation would award her. She used the money to buy a new bow for her viola.

Sherri Jensen urged Jossalyn Jensen to pursue her music studies at BYU, but Jossalyn chose to study instead at the Cleveland Institute of Music, which awarded her a scholarship. During the next four years, she earned her undergraduate degree, studied in Paris for one semester and spent her summers at music camps throughout the U.S. and Europe.

“I didn’t want them to go to music school when we set out,” Sherri Jensen said. “I just wanted them to become responsible adults when they grew up. But Jossalyn always had a plan for what she wanted to do and how to make it happen.”

To gain admittance to Juilliard’s master’s program, Jossalyn had to submit video recordings of her performances, which earned her a live audition in New York in 2014. She graduated in May in a class of 147 (which included another Utahn, Andrea Ashedown of Brigham City, who completed a master’s program in violin performance).

“It’s been a lot of hard work, but I’ve been really blessed,” said Jossalyn, assessing her music studies. “My mom was really strict with me growing up. I practiced every day, and it gave me a good foundation for my technique and musicality later on.”

She practices some four hours a day, which doesn’t include orchestra or chamber group practices.

“It’s my time to work on my craft,” she said. “To be alone for a long time is never that fun. It’s a mixed bag. Sometimes I’m excited because I have an idea for some new approach I want to try on a piece of music I’m working on. A lot of times it’s this is what I need to be doing, not necessarily what I want to do. But it’s always worth it.”

Email: drob@deseretnews.com