Local Musician Brings Classical Music to Youth at Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall – Santa Cruz Sentinel


SANTA CRUZ — Ever since Rebecca Jackson-Picht studied classical music, she’s been trying to find new, creative ways to share it with her community.

As soon as she and her sister mastered their first melodies as children, her mother began driving them around Santa Cruz County on vacation so they could bring the music of Bach and Mozart to the halls. retirement homes and assisted living facilities.

“Those are some of my most vivid early music memories of the impact music can have on people, on listeners,” Jackson-Picht recently shared in a phone conversation with the Sentinel. “My parents really taught us that everyone has a gift and…the importance of sharing that gift and making an impact in your community.”

Jackson-Picht, who grew up in Santa Cruz, went on to study music at the Juilliard School in New York and became a talented and accomplished violinist in her own right as a regular performer with the San Francisco Ballet and a former acting member of the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. But the real gift she has to offer her community is an unwavering devotion to music and an awareness of the lasting impact it can have. It’s a gift she’s cultivated since early childhood and has continued to share in all manner of performance settings across Santa Cruz County.

For nearly eight years, Jackson-Picht has regularly visited youths serving their sentences at the county juvenile center in Felton. Prior to COVID-19, she typically visited every two weeks for the first five months of the year to perform various classical music pieces and lead a class discussion about its impact. While Jackson-Picht has always prepared a few short solo pieces on her violin, she often asks a fellow musician to accompany her with a different instrument – such as cello or viola – to help bring in a new sound and perspective to share.

When COVID-19 hit the county, Jackson-Picht set up a music stand in her living room and pivoted the program to Zoom, where she’s been able to host more than 30 programs since 2021. But last Tuesday marked her second in person performing at Juvenile Hall since 2019 and a return to an audience that inspires her as much as she hopes to inspire them.

“They’re part of creating the unique performance experience that occurs in the program,” Jackson-Picht said. “I was really nervous about going in…because I really care, I want them to feel like they matter and just as much as I’m getting ready for a performance in a formal venue, I want them to have a great experience.”

Jackson-Picht was joined last week by colleague and friend Alexandra Leem, who played viola alongside her. They performed for two separate classes of around 10 young people each and after each piece the students shared their feelings and reactions to what was heard.

“Fire,” replied a youngster after being asked what he thought of a French chamber song. “Like the crackling of a fireplace.”

There was a sense of wonder and inspiration among the young people in attendance, one of whom told the Sentinel he was an aspiring musician who enjoys practicing the guitar in his spare time. “It’s probably my favorite program,” he says. “I’m surprised people want to come to a juvenile hall because I feel like a lot of people think of me as a bad person. So it’s nice to see someone say, ‘I’ll come and do some music” and stuff like that.

Several staff members from the facility were also present for the performance and expressed their continued surprise and delight at how well the performances resonated. “It surprises me every time – how engaged the young people are, how much the young people show up,” Juvenile Hall superintendent Sara Ryan said. “It’s a huge impact to see the community see who our children are and what their potential is.

Ryan said the detention center works with a variety of programs and people in the community who volunteer their time to visit and interact with youth. Some other creative arts tour programs include creative writing, art classes, poetry workshops, and ukulele performers.

“I think it’s a two-way street. It’s not just our students who get something out of it,” said Jennifer Izant Gonzales, director of alternative education for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. “When I speak with our partners, they love coming here…they have so much to give and vice versa.”

Classical music performances presented by Jackson-Picht at Juvenile Hall are one feature of a larger Santa Cruz community music program she directs, called Music in May. The nonprofit, founded by Jackson-Picht in 2008, brings classical musicians to Santa Cruz each May for a week-long music festival that aims to broaden the genre’s audience and expose young people from around the world. county to renowned artists and performers.

In addition to her years working in Santa Cruz County, Jackson-Picht has also traveled internationally in her quest to bring live classical music performances to underserved and marginalized communities including Ukraine, Romania, in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nepal, Lebanon and more.

But no matter where she goes or who she performs for, Jackson-Picht knows that the music she has dedicated her professional life to will always be a gesture towards community, connectedness, an opportunity to be understood on some level. .

“Through music, I keep reminding myself that we are all just human and more alike than different,” Jackson-Picht said. “Music is this wonderful tool that gets you to this point faster than anything I can think of.”


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