Musician Behind the Mask: Mark Jacobs, Principal Trombone
To say that Mark Jacobs leads a musical life of many facets would be an understatement! A member of the RVS trombone section for about 25 years, Mark is at home on many other instruments – ancient, modern, and even instruments of his own invention. He performs in several ensembles including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (trombone, ophicleide, lute, hurdy-gurdy, recorder), the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra (sackbut, serpent), the Queen’s Noyse (sackbut), and the Ashland City Band (trombone). Mark is on the music faculty at Southern Oregon University where he teaches low brass, composition, and music theory. His recent composition activities include a score for the short film The Bullet of Time. Originally from Illinois, he holds a Doctorate in Music Composition from Northwestern University. He is married to the RVS second horn player and OB/GYN Doctor Linda Harris.
How has the Covid-19 health crisis affected you as a musician?
In a way the health crisis has put me into “woodshed” mode more than usual. Teaching music is my job at SOU and privately. My assignments include applied low brass, composition, and music theory. I have had to adapt those activities with distant communication software like Zoom to connect to my students. Zoom’s audio quality leaves much to be desired, so with my low brass students I have my low brass students record themselves in addition to meeting on Zoom. We watch and listen to the recordings together in the lesson and learn from them. My composition students all use music composing software like Sibelius and Musescore, so the lessons are largely the same as before the emergency. We look at the student’s work together in the music software (through Zoom screen sharing) and discuss their progress in real time. The main difference is that while we are looking at the same computer screen as before, we are not in the same room.
Are there any aspects of your professional life that are unchanged?
As stated above, composition instruction is largely the same as before. My practicing and composition work is essentially the same. One major difference is that I have less connection with colleagues.
What do you think is the role of musicians now?
I recently wrote an article for the SOU Music Department newsletter “Magnificent Music” that touches on this topic. Keeping the promise and dream of music alive requires the same dedication and hard work that it always has. Finding ways to share performances is more challenging now.
Have you re-discovered an old hobby/passion while in quarantine?
I have maintained my low brass practice of trombone, euphonium, and ophicleide. I have widened my orbit to include tuba and serpent. I also have been working on classical guitar and lute, instruments that I have genuinely missed. I have begun getting reacquainted with the craft of computer programming. I made a living as a relational database programmer for about 10 years starting in the mid-1990’s. My new programming work is related to the practice of algorithmic music composition and computer-assisted composition in general. I am learning the language “Python.” I am finding it to be similar to the “C” language which I used previously in addition to “BASIC.”
Have you read or watched anything interesting that you’d want to share?
There are many good things to watch now, both inspiring programs and “guilty pleasures”. In the first category I would include anything on the CuriosityStream service. On Amazon Prime I would recommend “Tales from the Loop.” It is a series placed in an alternate reality based on the otherworldly paintings of Simon Stålenhag. Hulu’s “Devs” is also worthy of inclusion here. The HBO series “The Plot Against America” is based on Philip Roth’s novel of the same name. It is a riveting alternate history of America in the 1940’s. Back on Amazon Prime, “The Man in the High Castle” is a hair-raising treatment of the eponymous Philip K. Dick novel. Guilty pleasures are so numerous, but I would like to highlight the weekly Chicago horror movie series “Svengoolie” available in the Rogue Valley over the air on MeTV, channel 26.2. And I must not forget the huge body of material available from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
What’s something you’re grateful for today?
I am grateful for friends, family, and community. The fact that I am able to continue my musical work is truly a blessing.
What’s something you’re looking forward to?
I am looking forward to playing in the RVS again. I am looking forward to human interaction in person.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I recently completed a project for the Oregon Fringe Festival that is noteworthy. Starting about 2 years ago, I designed and built a pair of large musical instruments which I call “Fringestruments.” They each consist of 8 aluminum rods of the lengths 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 feet. The rods are caused to vibrate longitudinally by “bowing” them with a rosined leather glove. They vibrate along the length of the rod like a spring. The resulting pitches are approximately E-F#- G#-Bb-c#-e-g#-c#. The small-case note names are an octave higher than the large-case ones. The premiere of the Fringestruments took place on the Oregon Fringe Festival’s video presentation “Fringette Volume II”.
To learn even more about Mark, check out his website: https://markjacobsmusic.com/
Next up: Alexis Evers, flute/piccolo