Alumni Focus: Jacob C. Alford García
Focusing on composition and computer music, Jacob C. Alford García (Class of 2008) graduated from A&M with a BA in Music through the Department of Performance Studies. Working closely with professors Andrea Imhoff, Jeff Morris, Martin Regan, and Judith Hamera (who now teaches at Princeton University), Jacob credits his time in Aggieland with launching him on what has become an exciting and adventurous career.
After graduating from A&M, Jacob moved to China to study the guqin (a seven-string tabletop slide-zither.) He was awarded a four-year scholarship to pursue advanced studies in Beijing at the Central Conservatory of Music, where he studied under guqin master Zhao Xiaoxia. Jacob has performed solo recitals for guqin in both Beijing and Shanghai, and has been invited across China to share his guqin music. Beyond traditional works, he also performs his own compositions. Jacob previously held a lecturer position at the Central Conservatory of Music, teaching a doctoral course on American music and literature.
Jacob is currently a member of the distinguished faculty at the FaceArt Institute of Music in Shanghai, where he teaches composition and theory. In conjunction with Jill Zheng and jazz pianist Chad Higgenbottom, he also recently launched a new tri-annual, six-week workshop bringing artists from different disciplines together to produce a sound-art concert of six collaboratively composed works. Jacob recently talked with Associate Department Head Daniel Humphrey via Zoom about his time in the Department of Performance Studies. Here are excerpts from that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Dan: Tell us about your current position.
Jacob: I teach at the FaceArt Institute of Music in Shanghai. It's led by contemporary pianist Jenny Q. Chai and Peter Thomas—he’s a Bach specialist. The students range from six years old all the way to master students, so we teach all ages. Most are people who are preparing to study abroad, wanting to go to advanced conservatories.
Dan: What are some of your fondest memories of your time in the Brazos Valley?
Jacob: Dr. Hamera was a guiding light for me when she was department head during some of my toughest years. [Laughs] I spent a lot of time in the office with her and she helped me set a path. She was the one who encouraged me to do the TAMU in Tokyo program with Dr. Regan which ended up changing my entire life trajectory because I became focused on traditional Asian music. I took piano lessons and musicianship with Professor Imhoff. She also encouraged me to embrace narrative in my music making, which has continued to be a central method to my practice.
Dan: Tell me about your study abroad experience.
Jacob: Sure. We learned so much so fast and we got to experience so many different kinds of performance and to see them where they are meant to be performed. I’d seen quite a good amount of stuff through the Performance Studies Program, as they brought in so many guest artists. I really cherish some of those concerts, still vividly remember them. When I finally got to [Asia] to hear the music there, it just blew my mind, to have had those experiences in College Station prepare me for that. [In my study abroad] I experienced Taiko drumming [for the first time] which was pretty cool. We also were given enough free time to experience the city on our own, and so I ended up getting embedded with a shakuhachi group, which is the Japanese flute that Dr. Regan plays. A guy there helped me carve my own shakuhachi which was [laughs] terrible sounding but I learned how to blow it at least and I learned how to make a sound out of it. I ended up taking that thing with me to China, when I moved there, and after quite a few years I built up my level, where I was able to even perform when I went to the conservatory my own pieces on the instrument, so that was cool.
Dan: Do you still play it today?
Jacob: No, because my focus shifted in the conservatory towards the guqin which is now my primary instrument, but I mean all of that was the seed that the Perf Studies professors planted in me. You know the first time we heard shakuhachi music was when Dr. Regan brought it in, I remember the class, and he played for us and compared it to a Japanese painting and showed us these ideas of space, “ma” inside of the art, inside of music. All those inform my compositional choices today….
Dan: What are some of the more unique things the Department of Performance Studies, with its multi-disciplinary focus, offered you? Does anything come to mind?
Jacob: I never find it weird to be cross collaborating with different people from different backgrounds. That was facilitated by Dr. Morris presenting cross collaborative art to us in a way that seemed very natural. Pretty much all the work that I did at A&M [was] cross collaborative. The big pieces that I did involved people from different departments doing different things. It wasn't until I got to China that I found out that that was a bit unique. You know, especially in the conservatories people kind of stick to their own medium and are, especially here in China, hesitant to step outside those spaces. So that's something that I always look back at [during my A&M years] and am kind of thankful for. When I taught a while back in Beijing, I would ask my students, “why don't you involve like… a dancer for this program, bring a dancer on the stage,” and they just looked at me like I was nuts. [Laughs] Like “No, this is a music concert… we're playing piano right now.” So it was tricky to convince the students that they should involve these other art forms inside their work. There's always going to be a couple of students who are just, like, shut down, like: “I can't do that. No.” But a majority really opened up their thinking. It took a semester, but by the end they started saying, “Okay, maybe, there's something to this.” I hope that we instill that in them.
Dan: Anything else stay with you from your undergraduate days?
Jacob: I had some extremely memorable times in the Performance Studies Department, and I think that really has made me who I am as an artist, but also as an educator and so I'm always, always thankful for that and [I’m] hoping to go back to see how this department's doing someday but I'm stuck here until [the end of] COVID! [Laughs]