A classically trained instrumentalist, vocalist and musical educator, Julian Jones, talks to BayouLife about his commitment to the community and encouraging arts education in North Louisiana.
article by Mary Napoli | photography by Brad Arender
Melodies flow from pianist Julian Jones’s finger tips as freely and naturally as water flows down the Mississippi River. A classically trained instrumentalist and vocalist and musical educator, the NELA native has traveled the world to perform, but remains true to his North Delta roots.
Growing up in the Monroe-West Monroe area had a definite effect of the formation of his musical foundation. Music almost constantly filled the rooms of his childhood home, where the family could often be found singing hymns of spiritual music. The son of a minister, Jones and his brothers received exposure to praise music early and often. Together, they would spend a considerable amount of time preparing music for worship services or special events for their church home.
His parents valued the arts and encouraged Jones’s interest in diverse genres of music. As a child, he developed a love of and talent for singing, and soon developed aspirations to learn musical instruments. His parents supported these interests by enrolling him in band as an early elementary student and in the school choir, beginning in junior high. He remained active in band and choir as a teenager at West Monroe High School, where he excelled under the tutelage of Sheila Martin.
Martin, who served as choral director at WMHS, played a pivotal role in young Jones’s education. The student-teacher bond they shared gave Jones the assurance to reveal to Martin his plans to enter a career in musical education. Even as a fifteen year-old sophomore, Jones felt certain that this was the path he was meant to follow.
“When I divulged my plans to Shelia Martin, she suggested I contact Deborah McClung-Guillory and get enrolled in piano lessons. Music majors have a series of piano proficiencies to complete in order to graduate,” recalls Jones. “Shelia’s wisdom in guiding me to this step forever changed the course of my life.”
Soon after, he began formal piano lessons with Deborah McClung-Guillory, who is currently Associate Professor and coordinator of Group Piano and Piano Pedagogy at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. McClung-Guillory holds a long list of musical accomplishments and was trained at the Manhattan School of Music and Carnegie Mellon University. Although Jones learned to read music through his grammar school band a choir experience, studying McClung-Guillory provided him the foundational skills to excel and take full advantage of his natural talents.
Jones was certain of his desire to continue working with McClung-Guillory, even after high school graduation. He enrolled as a student at ULM to continue his studies with her and to learn from other talented ULM faculty. During his time as a student at the University, he also refined his vocal talents by formally studying with the gifted vocalist, Joann Luebkeman.
Jones explains, “Joann Luebkeman was a student of Virginia Botkin from the University of North Texas. Shelia Martin has also been a student of Ms. Botkin, who at that time was a leader in the field of Vocal Pedagogy.”
Jones earned a bachelor’s degree from ULM in Music Education, K-12 certification and an added concentration in Piano Pedagogy. He also holds a Master of Music in Choral Conducting from ULM. Even though he is incredibly talented, he continues to develop and refine his vocal talents by studying with Dr. Loraine Sims from Louisiana State University.
Our region has been fortunate to keep Jones in our area. Currently, he serves as an Instructor at ULM where he is able to share his knowledge and talent with students, as well as the arts community. As Instructor of Voice and Staff Collaborative Pianist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, he fulfills many needs at the academic institution. He serves as pianist for all choirs at ULM and for voice and instrumental studios in the School of Visual and Performing Arts. He is the rehearsal pianist and musical/voice coach for all major stage productions. These contributions are meaningful to the musician in a myriad of ways.
“Being on the faculty at the University of Louisiana at Monroe as Instructor of Voice and Staff Collaborative Pianist has been a dream come true. It’s extremely humbling. I work with people who have been all over the world, who are brilliant in their field, yet they love Monroe and want to give back to the community. I learn daily from my colleagues and students. ”
Like his colleagues at the University, he has a strong desire to work within the community. Known for his tremendous talent, amiable demeanor, and expertise in educating and training young performers, Jones maintains a flourishing private voice and piano studio. Students from all areas of the region seek out Jones for his noteworthy expertise.
Tommy Usrey, President and CEO of the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council, views Jones as a treasure within the community not only for his talents, but for the outreach he provides to his students.
“Having worked with and observed Julian for several years, I have been extremely impressed with his desire to make a difference in the lives of students as they prepare for careers as performing artists and music educators,” explains Usrey. “He is truly a caring individual in addition to being a gifted performer himself, which I think is primary when working with performance students.”
Many of his pupils have succeeded in placing in the regional competitions for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). His students are dear to his heart, and the recitals and concerts that he has a hand in are meaningful and special. However, one collaboration in particular provided a true once in a lifetime moment.
Jones has served as accompanist to Margaret Ann Zentner, a vocal prodigy and local musician, for over a decade. In 2013, he accompanied Zentner to New York City, where the duo performed Mozart’s Das Veilchen (The Violet) at Carnagie Hall as part of the American Fine Arts Festival and Golden Voices of America. The journey began years prior, and the opportunity to perform with a pupil on the hallowed stage was an incredibly moving experience. Zentner was a sixteen year-old sophomore at Neville at the time, and gives Jones credit for helping her to realize a life-long dream.
“Julian has played for me for various events since I was 6 years old, and it has been nothing short of an honor. In the crazy music world, he has always been a source of encouragement, a mentor, but most importantly my best friend,” shares Zentner. “That’s why when I received an invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall, I couldn’t think of anyone more special to share that experience with. When we walked on stage for the rehearsal, both of us could barely breathe, we looked at each other teary-eyed and asked, “Are we really about to do this?!” His talent and humility made it one of the most memorable moments of our lives and for that I am forever thankful!”
“It was the best weekend of my life from the time we got to the first dress rehearsal, to being in the hall,” Jones said. “That was an unbelievable opportunity for me.”
It may be tough to beat Carnegie Hall, but Jones consistently delivers outstanding performances from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland to various local stages. The musician has performed with the professional opera company, Louisiana Opera, since its inception, and received accolades for his performances in supporting roles in Rigoletto, Cavaleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Dialogue of the Carmelites and The Barber of Seville.
Recently, he was chosen as collaborative pianist for a Master Class with Broadway veteran Adam Pascal in Natchitoches, LA. For the past several summers, he has worked as rehearsal pianist for Broadway choreographer, Kelli Barclay at the Twin City Ballet’s Intensive Dance Workshop.
His extensive involvement with the arts community is remarkable, yet he remains devoted to the gospel music and spiritual life that has continuously shaped his life since his beginning. Jones is dedicated to his church, First United Methodist Church in West Monroe, where he serves as part of the Music and Worship Staff.
During his education, Jones was a student of Dr. Richard Seiler, noted Professor in the Department of Music in the School of Visual and Performing Arts at the ULM. Seiler has a lengthy list of professional achievements and accolades, yet is generous with his time and serves his community in many capacities, including organist and choirmaster of his church, Grace Episcopal.
Of Jones, Seiler says, “I have known Julian for nearly 19 years. He is a Monroe gem and an artistic treasure. I can’t say enough positive things about him. He is a wonderful collaborative pianist, devoted voice teacher, gifted church musician, and a consummate professional. In addition to his musical talents, he is extremely hardworking, selfless, and a kind gentleman. I am honored to have been a part of his training and development.”
He credits many artists in the community for encouraging him on this career path, especially those who have supported him along the way. In particular, he appreciates the twenty-one years of support from brothers Frank and Jimmy Hewitt, and their wives, Bunny and Kathey, for allowing him to maintain his private studio in Monroe inside Paul Hewitt Music Company on Lamy Lane.
Due to committed artists and regional talents like Jones, the Monroe-West Monroe arts scene is thriving and continuing to grow. What our area lacks in size, it makes up for in talent.
“There is so much to offer in Monroe: we have opera, we have ballet, we have theatre, we have jazz, we have gospel, just to name a few…I am thankful to be a part of it.”