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Finding Inspiration In Unexpected Places: Jennifer Christina’s Journey To Broadway

From classical pianist to Conductor and Associate Music Director for Broadway, learn how Christina navigates her passion for performing on "the big stage".

Jennifer Christina is a phenomenal pianist, conductor, and music director. Since childhood, she has been surrounded and influenced by music, especially by her uncles, who were members of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and The Soupy Boys. She grew up around the blues and jazz scene but focused more on classical music, describing herself as...

"...the black sheep of the family."

Her love for music and performance has been evident since she was young. Growing up, she would play the piano whenever she would get upset. She loved performing for anyone and everyone, especially her family. Even as she got older, her passion for performance grew, and she realized how much interacting with people on many different levels could impact her as a performing artist.

"I just thought it was a great social thing," she stated.

She has had a plethora of incredible music teachers throughout her years. Her first teacher was Ann Peters, whom Christina said would "chain smoke cigarettes and play ragtime." Her other instructors included Sandra Irving (her cousin), Donald Rankin, Janice Weber, and Judith Lynn Stillman. Donald "Dr. D" Rankin was an enormous inspiration to Christina, and he taught her for nearly six years, two years in high school and four years in college.

Although she did not seek out so many profound teachers, she realized that being taught by each of them helped her learn different perspectives of playing the piano, and she continues to use their techniques and teachings to this day. Christina believes every student should try to have multiple teachers to learn diverse viewpoints and perspectives.

Throughout her life, she has had numerous influences, one of the most paramount being her first-ever Broadway show, The Phantom of the Opera. She saw the play in high school with a couple of her friends and her music director, David DeAngelis. Despite this being her first musical and what she described as "the worst seats," she was inspired and even cried at the end.

The reason behind such an emotional response was what she heard. In reverie, Christina said,

"The music, it just filled me."

Jennifer's musical career started when she first became a piano teacher, which she did for 20 years due to wanting to stay home with her son and focus on being a mom. She taught many students throughout the years and still teaches one student today. Though her work with Broadway came much later, she was no novice to theatrical productions working with universities and playing musicals like Grease since 2012.

When she first considered working with Broadway, she had a lot of concerns about leaving her son. But once he began college, and with encouragement from her family, she pursued her long-term dream. Her first Broadway show, none other than Dream Girls, touring in Asia. She described her time with the show as "One of the most incredible experiences." Christina shared how her combined love for traveling, playing music, and performing made this experience extraordinary. While there, she showed appreciation during her travels by learning about each culture and getting to know the locals.

Now, Christina is working with the Broadway production Annie. Her work with Annie began when she and her boyfriend, Clay Nordill, planned a move to New York. And some of their friends suggested they send their resumes for the show. With Jennifer being a pianist and Clay being a guitarist, they both decided this would be worthwhile for them to spend time together. "It is great!" she said when describing her experience on the road with Clay.

With her busy schedule, Christina balances work and life by waking up early to see and enjoy each city in between shows. Her life is a whirlwind of travel days, free days, rehearsals, and outstanding performances. She shared that it was hard to balance everything in her life at first, but now she can manage it quite well with support from her family, friends, and partner, Clay. She expressed how finding "balance in yourself" and having the right support system can help you do anything.

For now, Jennifer plans to continue her work touring with Annie. As for the future, her philosophy is to wait for what may happen and be open to new opportunities. Christina's biggest piece of advice for all students aspiring to pursue music as a career is that you should always work hard every day, better yourself, open your mind to different things, be patient, and stick with it.

Written by Kylee Otto, YMU Music Journalism Student


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