Bicycle Touring Violinist... and Career Woman - Jasmine Reese, Part 3
When asked if she had a place to call home, Jasmine Reese replied, “In spirit and action, I’m still a nomad.” Yet this intrepid adventurer, who’s pedaled with her dog and violin for over 14,000 miles through North America, is currently taking a break from the traveling life to help out at home.
“In 2016, I decided to get back on my bicycle…I turned the road into the music school I never got to attend.”
In this Part 3 of Jasmine’s interview, we ask what it’s like to have a home base after all that time on the road, and how Jasmine pursues her giant goals (of having a financially stable career, being a mental health advocate, and one day starting a community music school) with just two wheels beneath her.
(Click Here for Parts 1 & 2 of Jasmine’s interview)
Jasmine, do you have a place that you call home, or are you still nomadic?
I have the nomad mindset: adaptable, attracted to change, resourceful in new settings, and drawn to new locations like a fly to fire.
That being said, I recently moved to rural East Texas to help my mom care for my grandparents who both have Dementia. Moving back to help my mom has actually been great for us; my mom and I are best friends. I love spending time with her. She's amazing, and I’m constantly learning from her and being inspired by her. She makes me laugh so hard. I am where I am today because of my mom.
“It's nice to come back to a place where you can let go and be yourself… When I travel, I’m never in a place long enough to attain that.”
Was it hard to adjust to home life after all that time spent bicycle touring?
It's nice to come back to a place where you can let go and be yourself. When you travel, you’re a guest in someone else's community and home. It takes quite a while to get comfortable enough to feel like you're part of that environment, and I’m never in a place long enough to attain that. I’m always walking on eggshells, making sure I know the culture, rules, etc.
I can also work on my personal and career development here. I have three major niches for my brand which I try to tend to - violinist, long-distance cyclist, and now digital nomad. I try to practice the violin about two to three hours every day, and it's just not easy to get in that type of serious, efficient practice when traveling. More and more, my focus is switching to the violin since that is the dream. That's what this has been about. Depression took me away from my dreams and cycling put me right back on the path, so it's time for me to go hard and give attention to what I want most in life.
“I try to practice the violin about two to three hours every day, and it's just not easy when traveling.”
Tell us about the start of your music career. How did you first fall in love with the violin?
Well, I started violin at 14 years old, which is considered "late" in the classical world. Many of my peers had started playing at 4 or younger! When I first heard the violin at around age 8 or 9, I wanted to play it, but I didn't buy my own violin until age 14.
I babysat in exchange for lessons, and I worked very hard to catch up to my peers. Within one year, I moved up from the beginning strings to the intermediate orchestra at the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Orchestra. And by age 16, I was playing in the advanced high school orchestra.
Did you want to pursue a career in music after highschool?
Yes, but following society's push for security and success, I didn't study music in college. I planned to go into pre-med, and pursue music as a concurrent career. I should’ve just followed my heart, not trying to be what I thought others wanted.
Alas, everything was derailed when my symptoms of Major Depression appeared. From about 2008 to 2016, I didn’t have steady lessons, I rarely practiced, and my playing started to deteriorate.
“I didn't study music in college… but I should’ve just followed my heart, not trying to be what I thought others wanted.”
How did bicycle touring help get your music career back on track?
After my cross country bike ride in 2013, I interned for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. I was super excited because I thought seeing musicians day in and day out would encourage me to get back on the wagon. But instead, it depressed me more because I didn't have the time to practice! I was working three jobs at one point. So, from 2014 to 2016, even though I was proud of myself and in a much better place, I was still not living the life I truly wanted to live.
I toyed with going back to school, but this time, it'd have to be music school - no compromise. But my battle with mental health had destroyed my academic career: I’d left the University of Missouri with a 1.9 GPA and academic probation on my record.
That's why in 2016, I decided I was going to create my own path. I'd get back on my bicycle and become a nomad, traveling the world, learning from musicians, getting gigs and using music to spread happiness wherever I went. I was going to turn the road into the music school I never got to attend.
“As I traveled… I was receiving all this great advice and encouragement from professional musicians.”
What has your on-the-road music school been like?
When I first began, it was rocky. I wasn't sure I could be a classical violinist. I’d fallen in love with the violin and knew I wanted to play it for the rest of my life after listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter play the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor. Secretly, I wanted to be a soloist. But even the greatest orchestral musicians had started very young and were little prodigies and whatnot, so being a soloist was unrealistic, to the say the least. So, I started learning traditional folk, bluegrass, and Canadian fiddle tunes, plus popular music, because I thought that provided more room for a person with my unique musical background to make money as a professional.
But as I traveled further, I adopted more of the life motto of not living with regrets. I was receiving all this great advice and encouragement from professional musicians, and after a while, I decided to pursue my true passion. In 2017, I started taking lessons again with my current teacher Daniel Kurganov, and I’m studying traditional classical violin repertoire. I may not ever play as great as I wish, but I’m following the path that makes me happiest.
“I may not ever play as great as I wish, but I’m following the path that makes me happiest.”
More recently, I've had opportunities to play classical music in chamber music and orchestral settings, and in August, I attended my teacher's violin intensive at Boston University. Things are looking up, and I truly hope in a few years’ time I'll be getting regular gigs performing classical music and some of my own compositions.
Success in life is not defined by how much money you make, but how fulfilled and happy you can make yourself and others around you. For the past three years, I've lived on very little, trying to build my own freelance clientele and music career, and I'm happier than I ever was with a stable salary. I’m even happier because thinking outside the box and living minimally led me to where I am now - digital nomad, violinist, and long-distance cyclist.
What’s your vision for the future?
My ideal lifestyle in the next 3-4 years is:
Traveling the world via bicycle, studying and playing the violin in different settings and capacities.
Inspiring people of all ages to start playing a musical instrument.
Appearing regularly as an advocate and public speaker for mental health and depression awareness.
Running a community music school for underserved persons and groups in rural Texas, and hopefully in other rural communities that have little to no access to musical arts and culture.
...And all the while holding a successful career in the SaaS (Software as a Service) industry.
How have you supported yourself financially while traveling?
I've worked hard towards self-sufficiency, making sure I can pay my own way for travel, places to stay, food, and veterinarian and health bills. I've done odd jobs, street performed, and freelanced in writing and other software industry formats.
Previously, I had some wonderful individuals donate to me and help me out in emergencies on the road, and invite Fiji and me into their homes, and I'll be forever grateful for that. But, it was highly important to me to work hard for my lifestyle and not have amazingly kind and generous people support me, especially not for an extended amount of time. I want to pave (and pay) my own way.
Most recently, I decided to enter a software career as a full-time employee. I am so excited about this new chapter in my life in which I can work remotely doing something stimulating and fun, while also being able to pursue all my other passions and adventures.
“Engaging with me inspires and encourages me. I truly appreciate the people who show that type of support.”
What can we do to support your endeavors?
The best thing to do is follow me on Facebook and subscribe to my email list. By keeping up with me and engaging with me, it inspires and encourages me. I truly appreciate the people who show that type of support for my journey & future musical projects: one day, I may have a classical music album! Please buy it. ;)