I first met Jessica, well, actually I cannot remember when I first met Jessica! She served at the summer camp I attended, and I had the amazing opportunity a few years later of serving under her as a staff member. When I was brainstorming dreamers to ask to guest write for “let’s dream” I thought of her right away. Jessica is one of the most passionate dreamers I know, I think we could all learn a lot from her story!
“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” -Proverbs 16:9
I have waited for a lot of things in life. Waiting for adventure, waiting for my college degree, waiting for someone to find a cure for PCOS, waiting to fall in love, waiting to get married, waiting to…win an Olympic gold medal. The concept of an ultimate lifelong dream is quite interesting to me at this stage of life. When I was younger at one point I wanted to be a figure skater. I used to stand in the kitchen and lift my leg up in the back and say: “Look mom! I’m Michelle Kwan!” To this day, I still adore cheering on people in the Olympics. I think it is so exciting that people’s hard work and sacrifice have paid off and they are going for that dream of the gold medal and representing their country to the rest of the world. (Can you tell I’m pumped for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics??)
I also loved dance class and playing soccer in my early years. But then came the car accident. I got stitches on my forehead and took many trips to the chiropractor to have my spine aligned just to be able to walk without being in excruciating pain. Seven years later, a settlement was finalized (we didn’t have health insurance so we had to wait for the needed treatment) and I was able to have surgery on my back. Needless to say, I was never going to be a ballerina or Michele Kwan. I have had back troubles ever since regardless of my eventual surgery but I have learned to just deal with it.
A few months after the accident, my music teacher approached me about auditioning for a National Tour of the Broadway musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Donnie Osmond was headlining and they needed some kids to perform in it. That experience was life-changing for sure. I loved bringing stories to life, allowing people to escape from the world for a brief moment and to maybe even help them see things from a different perspective. It was also so refreshing to have discovered my voice and form a new dream to work towards. After my time performing in the tour was over, I started singing in advanced choirs and winning vocal competitions.
Ultimately, I ended up in Boston attending a Conservatory there. During my time in Boston, I really was able to cultivate my raw skills into professional-quality performance capabilities. I was eventually granted a fellowship with an opera company and things took off from there. With each new person I met and each new opportunity I got, my road would twist and turn and my dream with expand or sometimes even take a new direction. It was not an easy path. Injury, heartbreak, and loss were interwoven almost every step of the way. But, I would just continue to pray and ask the Lord to guide me. I started to see my calling as someone who could be a blessing to others in the performing arts industry. I wanted to encourage others and give them the hope and joy I had found in Christ. Eventually I was led to New York City where I got to perform with some of the world’s most talented musicians, actors, and directors. I was directing, producing new works, recording a new album, and working as a Teaching Artist when I started to realize a few things.
1.) When you say “yes” to something, you are always saying “no” to something else. In the midst of my years of intense ambition, I had neglected to set healthy boundaries for myself and others. I have always struggled with being a people pleaser and so I couldn’t say no to things. This left me exhausted and lonely. Time is definitely more precious than money. In both the fuzzy warm feeling way of spending time with your loved ones over making lots of money but also in the everyday decision making. What I mean by this is, in the performance world, you’re told to seize every opportunity that comes your way. But, that comes with a cost. You miss out on consistent relationships, birthdays, holidays, and even your own sanity. During my final year in NYC, I started to say no to certain gigs that would have made me some nice money or led to some wonderful industry connections because I needed to actually get sleep, exercise, and have some kind of a social life.
2.) There are seasons of life. Sometimes your dreams and goals start to shift as you meet new people, gain new knowledge, enter a new season. For example: I got engaged seven months ago at the age of 33. My fiancé and I met online and dated long distance for many months. When we started talking about moving forward in the relationship, he said he would be open to relocating to NYC and even started looking at a few jobs in the area. But, after a lot of prayer, we came to the conclusion that one of our biggest dreams is to eventually foster/adopt a child. How can we claim to be pro-life but not actively do things to make a difference for the children who have been told they are unwanted and desperately need an advocate in life? If we stayed in NYC we would not be putting ourselves on a path that led to that being a reality. There were (are) also student loans to pay and a family member in dire need of our help.
3.) Once you hit a certain age, you are not exempt from your faith-based convictions. Since being engaged and moving to Wisconsin, several of my Christian friends have questioned why my fiancé and I aren’t just living together already. “It will save you money before the wedding!” I have been renting a room from a lovely family about a 15-minute drive from his apartment. Both of us believe in waiting until marriage to be sexually intimate because of our commitment to Christ. This is not something that just goes out the window because we’re not being supervised by our parents. It is not easy, especially when you have waited so long. And we have 60 days to go!
I have come to realize that my ultimate lifelong dream is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind to the very best of my ability. (See Matthew 22:37). Whether that’s on a New York stage or in a classroom in Northern Wisconsin, the aspiration is still the same. When I first moved to NYC, there were several churches in need of worship leaders. I was excited to tell my friends in Nashville who had been growing frustrated with not being able to use their gifts and talents in the church. They were capable worship leaders but when push came to shove they would not leave Nashville. They were comfortable there and I couldn’t convince them how much joy they would get by coming to a city that truly needed what they had to offer.
Now that I am here teaching music and theatre on a Native American Reservation, I feel so saddened that more of my colleagues throughout the years are not all over the world teaching as well. There is a shortage of schools across the US that actually allow for the arts in the curriculum to begin with but the ones that have them are struggling to find people to fill the teaching positions! I think of how incredibly talented so many of my friends are and how they would just thrive in an environment that is so hungry for all that they have to offer. Their strong voices, captivating storytelling, impressive dance skills are all things that children can greatly benefit from throughout their schooldays week in and out. Let me make it very clear that I know that not everyone is cut out to be a teacher and we need great performers who dedicate their time and energy to that. My prayer is that those who find themselves sitting in a culturally saturated city like New York or LA, being depressed by lack of artistic opportunity or dodging sexual harassment at the hands of casting agents and directors, would go to a community who really needs the arts.
The act of waiting in life never ends. I think ultimately because we are waiting for the return of a Savior. All we can do in the meantime is live a life filled with love, passion, and integrity. And when people ask you why, you share what Jesus has done in your heart and let them consider it in their own time. We must be the hands and feet of Christ in word and deed and trust that the Lord will bring people alongside us to encourage and others who will be open to the message of hope we have to share.
Jessica L. French, M.M, B.M
moved to NYC after graduating with her Master of Music in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from Belmont in 2011. (Previous to her time at Belmont she attended Interlochen Arts Academy for high school followed by The Boston Conservatory for her Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance). While in NYC, she served as a Teaching Artist for The Metropolitan Opera Guild, Broadway Bound Kids, and Christian Youth Theater. She served for two years as an assistant for The Metropolitan Opera’s National Educators Conference.
While maintaining a private vocal studio she performed with Regina Opera, Chelsea Opera, and Opera America. She also served as a vocal coach for Sockeye Media and founded an intensive summer music theatre program for youth ages 7-18. In 2016, Ms. French launched a music theatre album entitled “Songs I Can Sing from Roles I’ll (Probably) Never Play” on iTunes and Spotify. She performed a Cabaret style album release concert at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on 42nd Street.
In the summer of 2017, Ms. French taught a music theatre masterclass at the newly opened Studio Paulsen, the first ever professional actors training center in Guayaquil, Ecuador. She recently accepted a full-time position on a Native American Reservation teaching music and developing a music theatre program for the youth.
For more information or to contact Ms. French directly, visit her website:http://www.jessicalynnfrench.net