Professor of music
First year teaching at Luther: 1985
Important distinction: Rarely refers to members of her studio as students--"they're my singers."
Reason for the M*A*S*H poster in her office: She and her husband, retired German professor Peter Liermann, know nearly every word of dialogue--her mom used to tape the episodes so she could listen to them in the car while driving to gigs.
Ongoing research: 20th-century music by female composers--she orchestrates an art-song jamboree each year that entices the composers to campus.
In her work as a professional voice coach and accompanist, Jessica illuminates the relationship between soloist and supporting instrumentalists. "Accompaniment provides the 'other' half of a piece of music. It's a lot of detail work--you have to understand what a singer needs. I prove to myself more deeply every year that the relationship is incredibly important; it's never passive."
This synergy is key to masterful public performance, she says. "There's a level of comfort that comes when you're at ease with your partner and you've made peace with the music. You've seen the terrain, and you're comfortable with it. The type of music doesn't really matter."
Off-campus, Jessica collaborates regularly with soprano Christine Seitz. She also fills high-profile accompanying gigs, performing alongside soloists in the National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Award competition and the Metropolitan Opera regional auditions.
To encourage her craft among Luther students, she mentors interested musicians and promotes the annual Distinction in Accompanying and Collaborative Keyboard Performance Award. To compete, sophomore and junior pianists perform before a panel of music faculty. Finalists give a recital in May, with the winner receiving the $1,000 scholarship.
"I know I've succeeded as a teacher when I've made singers or accompanists comfortable enough that they can exceed themselves--when they're using resources and tools we've practiced without inhibition, and they've made the music their own."