CANDID: Meet Mikyla Jensen
Mikyla Jensen plays the flute well. Really well. She is one of the roughly 3,800 students enrolled in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Graduate Studies. UM Today wanted to get to know her on a more personal, candid, level, so we talked with her to learn why she has over 200 nutcrackers and what it is about the flute she loves.
UM Today: Where are you from?
Mikyla Jensen: I was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, which is about an hour south of Regina. And then I went to school in Regina for four years for my bachelor degree.
Did you study Music?
Yes, flute performance.
Why did you come to U of M?
Ultimately, I really enjoyed my audition day with a tour from band director, Dr. Fraser Linklator, and getting to know my two teachers before the audition even started – everyone was so friendly.
I was looking to choose a variety of music schools and I wanted to pick a few that were within Canada. This is one of the ones I looked at and it was recommended to me by a history prof.
A history prof?
Yes, my music history professor, Dr. Barbara Reul. She has always encouraged me to continue my career in music.
Did the new Taché Hall space have anything to do with your choice? Did you know about the Taché project?
They told us about it at auditions but I think the main thing was getting to know the teachers, and seeing if we clicked well together. Because of course you study mostly with them. But the new space was a nice, added bonus.
Who is your advisor?
My academic advisor is professor Allen Harrington. He’s actually a saxophone player.
And my flute teachers are both sessional: Laurel Ridd and Layla Roberts.
Have you gotten any advice from them?
The main thing I think so far is to try and experience everything. This Faculty has a lot of master classes as well as some different opportunities to play in chamber ensembles with a wide-variety of instrument combinations that I have yet to experience.
How did you end up playing the flute?
My first instrument is actually piano. I started when I was three because my brother was playing it and I wanted to be just like him.
So my parents put me in piano. I was kind of young, but I started playing and I had this teacher until I was 14. We got along really well and she recognized that I liked The Nutcracker – the ballet – which I knew well because I also took dance classes as a child.
My favorite parts in the music of The Nutcracker were the flute lines, which I learned later that some are actually piccolo lines.
When I was nine my piano teacher recommended I start taking flute lessons with a local teacher who was doing her degree in Regina. She was from Weyburn though and taught in Weyburn when she was at home and she ended up becoming my band teacher when I went into Grade 7. Because I was her student, she let me play in the honour band, which is usually for older students. However, since I started so young I was a bit more advanced than my age level and I got to go on a tour with them to Calgary. I heard the Calgary philharmonic perform. It was my first live, classical music performance and they played Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun, which has a major flute solo in the opening. It’s beautiful, and it inspired me to pursue Flute more than the piano.
Do you still play piano?
I mostly accompany my own students now and do some chamber music – I was part of a few groups last year playing piano.
So what is it about the flute you love?
I like that it’s so versatile. Last year, and this year as well, I’m playing sonatas that were written for violin, but there are transcriptions made for the flute. So you can take all these concepts from different instruments and apply them to flute. And all the modern techniques on the flute are interesting – like singing while you play or beat boxing or stuff like that – different effects or bending pitches. There are just so many endless possibilities.
Do you ever carry around your flute like Ron Burgundy and hope you get called on stage?
Haha, I mean, I usually have it with me and I get comments on my interesting “purse”: people asking where I got it, but of course it’s my instrument. But I like to have it on me in case there is an opportunity to use it.
I had a social teacher in high school that would often tease me about that because his favourite movie was Anchor Man.
Have you ever traveled? Because you could always just bust out your flute and make some money busking?
It’s nerve-racking travelling with an instrument. If you take it out of the country you have to do paperwork saying you bought it in Canada so the border guards can’t say you’re taking it from their country or whatever. It’s been known to happen.
I also have to put it through carry on and it lights up like a Christmas tree because of the different metals it is made out of.
I have never had the guts to do any busking, probably because I’m too much of a perfectionist.
Do you ever play for the airport security when they ask you to take it out?
No. I don’t think they’d like that.
Are your parents musicians?
My mom played clarinet in high school but that’s it.
My grandma took one piano lesson and she always jokes about how the cost went up to, 75 cents more. So her parents had to take her out. But she continued to teach herself and to sing at weddings.
So you’re the only real musician in the family?
Actually, my brother did his bachelor’s degree in saxophone performance and did his education degree in music and now has a full-time teaching job. He teaches band, math, social and English in Rocanville, Saskatchewan.
What did you want to be as a kid?
I wanted to be a teacher.
When I was really young I always liked helping people and my teachers always teased me that I liked to be a leader. But after I did my third-year performance recital, which is a requirement of the degree – you have to play a 45 minute solo recital – after that experience, I started to kind of shift. I realized I’m not ready to give up my performance side yet.
When you become a teacher your priorities change. Your music isn’t as important as the music of your students – you’re trying to improve them. So you kind of lose your own performance life, and I just wasn’t ready to give it up.
What is your favourite type of music?
My favourite singer is actually James Vincent McMorrow. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. He’s kind of alternative, very folky. I don’t think a lot of people would expect that of me but it’s something I like to relax to. Sometimes listening to classical music can be stressful because I think about the form of the piece or what kind of instruments are playing, that kind of thing – too many music theory and music history classes under my belt.
What’s your least favourite type of music?
I feel like I could listen to almost anything. I will try anything once. I try not to have super picky standards but I have a hard time with a lot of electronic music. I just feel like I’m so used to producing everything myself it doesn’t feel as real to me. Although I could be really wrong because I haven’t had much experience with it.
Do you play the flute every day?
I tend to take the summers off. I think I played maybe twice a week this summer and not for very long. I like to give myself a break because it’s nice to rework my skills at the beginning of the year and to bring everything back. So I’m continuously growing, but I’m not getting tired of it. During the year it’s every day and my teachers like me to do at least three or four hours a day.
So you grew up in Saskatchewan, when you came here anything strike you as weird?
I think it was shocking to me on the first day of school – a friend of mine was with me, we’re both from Regina. We looked around and it was unbelievable how many students were on campus all at the same time.
It was a huge crowd. It’s crazy.
I have a weird…because I was a dancer and I loved listening to The Nutcracker, I have a small collection of nutcrackers that around Christmas time I like to set up. And my parents give me one every year, it has become sort of a tradition.
How many do you have?
Like 200 and something. It’s ridiculous.
That’s a lot of Nutcrackers.
Well, I don’t set them all up every Christmas anymore. My family, even though it’s not a big part of my life, still enjoys how it was such a big part of my childhood between dance and music.
Dance is also a fun hobby though because I was in dance for over 14 years.
Yeah, I made it up to Grade 6 in the Royal Academy of Dance. I really liked tap the most and I still like taking classes to keep my skills up. I’d like to go back and finish my last tap exam one day just to get the diploma.
What’s your most prized possession?
My new flute. It’s a Miyazawa.
That’s the brand. They are all hand-made instruments so it was rather expensive for me but it totally changed the way I practice and the quality of my sound.
I got to try out different head joints that suited me the most, as well as different trick-keys and different types of metal. It was definitely an expensive and long process but I am so happy with the results.
Do you have a regret?
Um, not really. Nothing that seems substantial enough.
I think if anything I wish I had gotten more involved with classical musical groups growing up.
The tricky thing being born in smaller city is there are not a lot of options. It wasn’t until Grade 11 and 12 that I started driving to Regina to take part in the South Saskatchewan Youth Orchestra, and various honour bands and clinics. I wish I had more of those experiences growing up.
Do you have any jokes?
You have to know about Beethoven’s 5th symphony for this to be funny.
What’s Beethoven favourite fruit?