Jessica McJunkins goes 'On The Run' with Beyoncé and Jay-Z
Fresh from traveling with Queen Bey and Jay’s On The Run II World Tour, McJunkins talks about working as a black musician and artist in New York and how she’s playing her part to help change the face of music on the national stage.
How did you become interested in music and violin?
When I was 8, I was watching an episode of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” One of the guests was a little black boy who looked younger than I was, and he was featured playing the violin. I told my mother that I was “better than him.” She told me I needed to start lessons.
Representation is the reason why I started, but I think it was already unavoidable—my father is a jazz percussionist. Now, his primary craft is visual art, but music never left him and he still plays. My sister and I were constantly exposed to jazz, free jazz, world music etc. I really don’t think I’d be working in the way that I am if it were not for this.
My mother also plays piano. She’s a graphic artist by trade, but that open streak in a musical context is just as much her influence as it is my father’s. In today’s industry, you have to have that kind of flexibility and openness. It’s rare that an artist is able to make a sustainable living doing one single thing. If they’re able, it’s great, but it’s just not the reasonable default among this generation of performers.
Why did you choose UNCSA for college?
I’d narrowed things down to state schools for financial reasons, and I ended up choosing UNCSA both because of the accessibility and because Kevin Lawrence chose me. That was very personally significant, as someone who’d been receiving the majority of my impactful musical education in an ensemble setting.
The idea that you could get a conservatory education with a better balance between learning and competing was also a huge factor. This is extremely rare in arts education.
Can you share a significant memory or campus spot?
The Pickle Jar! Many days spent weeping over a frozen lemonade after fleeing from masterclass. So many nerve issues. I also loved the Caf; the staff always watched out for me, even before they knew I was putting myself through school.
How did UNCSA prepare you for your career?
A common thread among my professors is the idea of teaching you in a way that actively prepares you to learn and evolve on your own. You have to have that as any kind of professional, but especially in the arts, and especially in this climate. Attention spans are at an all-time low, and the cultural tide shifts so quickly; you have to be prepared to adjust, always—and UNCSA prepares you for that.
A common thread among my professors was the idea of teaching you in a way that actively prepares you to learn and evolve on your own. You have to have that as any kind of professional, but especially in the arts, and especially in this climate... you have to be prepared to adjust, always—and UNCSA prepares you for that.
You also simply cannot get as well-rounded of an arts education from any other model. Being part of student-run productions helped me to appreciate crew members on so many stages, and this communication saves time and now introduces me to UNCSA alumni all over the world.
What have been the highlights or most significant moments of your career so far?
Stevie Wonder in 2015, Beyoncé (especially the Coachella shows), touring with the Carters last year, the Fallon performances with The Roots, Radio City with Solange, the Apollo with Lauryn Hill, Sydney Opera House with Max Richter and so, so much of my time playing on a cruise liner was crazy—like nights in Bali and Hanoi.
I love traveling; part of the reason OTR [On The Run Tour II with Beyoncé and Jay-Z] was amazing was because it was my first time in Europe. No words for that. The prep work for Coachella and the tour were also highlights. Rehearsing dance for hours a day, learning choreography from her choreographers, and then adding the instrument, plus pre-recording the shows on our acoustics but performing with electrics, was an insane adjustment. Adjusting to the steep, fast learning curve changed everything about the way I approach projects, people, practice, SCALES… everything.