Interview with Jerry Junkin
Conductor at the University of Texas at Austin Wind Ensemble and Dallas Winds
by Rachel Watkins
In Jerry’s World, making beautiful music is the real way to score big.
He may have gone through a phase of wanting to be center-fielder for the New York Yankees, but now Jerry Junkin is at the top of his own game as one of the world’s most highly regarded wind conductors. Having conducted All-State bands and festivals in 48 states and five continents, he’s truly brought his world of talent to places both far and wide.
Home for him, though, is Austin where he’s spent nearly 30 years on the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin and currently serves as the Professor of Music and Conductor of Texas Wind Ensemble. He also has 25 years to his name as the Artistic Director and Conductor of the Dallas Winds. He’s conducted the Hong Kong Wind Philharmonia since 2003, is the recipient of multiple teaching awards, and his students hold major music positions across the world, too.
But, you won’t find Jerry tooting his own horn. The humble talent finds some of the greatest reward in teaching others, and he’s an enthusiastic advocate of public school music education. Here’s what else he had to say.
How do you get ready for the big show? Any pre-show rituals?
Not really anything all that interesting. On the morning before the show, I just try to focus on the music and do another last-minute review so I’m feeling my most confident. Really, I am usually just looking forward to starting the concert!
What advice would you give to young musicians?
As far as being a conductor specifically, I would say that it’s important to learn to play your instrument really well. This is first and foremost. Then, listen to as much music as you possibly can in all genres. The best conductors always seem to have broadest repertoire of music knowledge and appreciation—the wider the knowledge, the better.
Did you play any instruments while in school?
I played piano from the time I was 6. Then, in junior high, I learned the clarinet.
If you weren’t in music, what would you be doing?
I’m glad and eternally grateful that I’m in a place that I can do this job—this passion—and do it well, because I’m not sure what else I could do well enough. I mean, I love to play golf, but that doesn’t mean I’m all that great at it. I could have never have been on the PGA tour!
" Listen to as much music as you possibly can in all genres. "
Other hobbies besides golf?
I love to cook; it’s fun and therapeutic. My wife and I love going to restaurants and trying new dishes. Then, we attempt to replicate them at home—with varying degrees of success. She cleans, and I cook; it’s a good arrangement, if you ask me!
Most memorable performance story?
It’s challenging to pick one specifically important moment, but a few come to mind. They mainly go back to the people and cultures I’ve encountered along the way more so than the performance itself. But, the first time I went to Hong Kong—about 15 years ago—was life-changing. We were making music in a different culture that I was completely unaware of at the time, and that discovery process was so compelling. The same thing happened during my first time to Japan; traveling there was so unique and quite the adventure. Little did I know then that I would develop deep and longstanding friendships with some of the people I met.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a conductor?
There are so many rewarding aspects, but I truly love teaching. I love the day-to-day contact with students and watching them grow and develop. Their youth brings enthusiasm and they are unjaded and optimistic; it’s a beautiful thing. But, on the other hand, as a different kind of experience, I love the month-to-month contact that I have with the Dallas Winds as the membership is consistent—they are like old friends and colleagues. It’s been a continuing relationship with many of them for 25 years now, and that is so rewarding, too.
What’s next for you?
We always have a big performance each May for Commencement here at the university. Now that it’s over, I am leaving soon to Hong Kong for two weeks of teaching and conducting workshops. Then, I head back to Austin to teach high-school kids at a camp before heading to UCLA for another workshop. At that point, I’m off to Schladming, Austria for the Mid-Europe Festival. I finish out the summer by teaching at the World Youth Wind Symphony at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan before heading to Dallas to make a recording with the Dallas Winds. That puts us in August—just in time for the start of the new fall semester at UT.
" The dry-wicking material is sensational for a conductor especially for one who is known to generate a fair amount of moisture. "
How did you find out about Coregami?
That’s a rather ironic story, actually, as I first met Kevin Yu when he was a student here in Austin. I just happened to see an ad for Coregami and ordered a shirt—then, another and another, as they truly are so great. Totally unbeknownst to me at the time, Coregami was Kevin’s company! I received a nice note from him in one of my orders, which clued me in. It was just one of those serendipitous things. That said, I was not bribed by the offer of free shirts!
What’s your favorite quality about the Coregami product line?
First of all, the dry-wicking material is sensational for a conductor especially for one who is known to generate a fair amount of moisture. Of course, the machine-washable, no-fuss quality is also very beneficial. And, I can personally vouch for it, too. In a fit of not very good decision-making, I was enjoying a coffee before a performance while wearing the shirt. Naturally, I spilled it all down the front of the shirt. I took it off, ran water over it, and the coffee stain came right out—and it dried in a flash, just in time for the concert.