Baldwin wears many musical hats
MARIETTA — In one first floor wall of Jessica Baldwin’s home are French doors. Another wall has pocket doors. When both are closed, Baldwin has her own little studio. In the room are a piano and an electronic keyboard.
Her early 1900s home sits on the corner of Second and Washington streets. “It’s a very busy corner,” she said. “It’a very loud corner. It’s not ideal to do professional work in but it allows me to do some video work, some social media recording as well as some recording for piano students. If I need some professional recording, I’m headed to a studio.”
Baldwin’s stack of musical hats ranges from performer, educator, instructor and probably others she didn’t take time to mention. Baldwin is perhaps Marietta’s best known musical performer as well as an accomplished piano instructor. Professionally, you can sometimes find her with the name “Jess” as well as Jessica.
“I think, for me, it would be impossible to choose one over the other so I always do both. To me, each helps me be better at the other,” she said about being a music instructor and performer.
“Learning to teach is as important as performing because it’s a craft and a skill,” she said. “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you can teach it. You have to understand how to communicate with, and understand, people. It’s what the student needs to understand to blossom as a student.”
For the would-be student, the sooner the better. “I think the best musicians I have met are people who grew up doing music,” she said. “It’s a language all its own. It’s like a person who grew up learning two languages. For an adult to learn a second language is much harder than the child.
“For the kids who get the head start, they learn to speak the language and process it,” she said. “The kids have the encouragement of an adult. The kids see the work that goes into it and it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot to doing it. There are no shortcuts.
“And what they’re going to find is everyone stunk at it at one time or another. And that’s one of my biggest hurdles is to make students understand. They’re going to be bad at it before they become good at it,” Baldwin said.
So what kind of music attracts the listener who makes her living with music? “Jazz, soul, indie (independent) ,” she said. “Artists who have moved away from the large labels where they could have more creativity and who found the labels were getting a lot more of their money than they were. Some of those artists would be Regina Spekotr and Bjork.
“The indie people are the out of the ordinary, eclectic, quirky who think outside the box when it comes to music and song,” Baldwin said. “But ‘indie’ is this large umbrella over a lot of music. I think indie pop is who I seem to be drawn to.
“I think I naturally gravitated to that as a listener,” she said. “What I like to listen to has fed into what I like to sing.”
The independent appeal didn’t come along until college, which was at Alderson Broaddus. “I found musicians who do really complicated songs with lyrics and music which appealed to me,” she said. “The songs I sing are the ones which have appealed to me.”
One of the things which Baldwin will do to a song is break it down to the lyrics and melody and change everything else. “The melody and lyrics can stay but the chords and feel can change significantly. If I take away eveything else but the lyrics and melody still appeal to me then that’s a song I may do a cover for.
“If we fall in love with a song and it was good in the first play but you don’t put something of yourself in it,” she said talking about covering a song, “then why bother.”
And the song doesn’t need a full orchestra for Baldwin to adopt a song. “Oh no,” she said, “some of my favorite songs are just a vocal and a single guitar, whether it be acoustic or electric. Sometimes, it’s the simpler the better.
“Sometimes it’s the subtle details,” Baldwin said. “I’d rather it pull you in than come at you. There is a time and place for that I like the being drawn in by the little details, like being subtle in voice from one phrase to another to indicate a chance in emotion… the way instrumental tones weave together. It’s feeling, it’s emotion. It’s music.”