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From Music to Self-Identity: The Freedom to Choose

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From Music to Self-Identity: The Freedom to Choose

The journey throughout college as a bassoonist brought recent UMD alumna Evelyn “Evi” Jones to a whole new level. As a bassoonist, there were choices to be made. Evi could either purchase a reed, ready to use, or invest hours on customization. She chose customization and dedicated a full day to crafting a batch of 50 reeds, which lasts about two months. “Reed making is half of the battle in playing a double reed instrument,” she says, “ The other half is playing the thing!” Her undergraduate college career wrapped up on Saturday, May 17, 2014 when she became the first person in the history of UMD to obtain a bassoon performance degree.

In a middle school miscalculation, Evi couldn’t convince her music teacher to repair the school’s one and only bassoon. “They didn’t think I was someone who would go on and play, so they didn’t fix it.”

But she did want to play and was finally matched with a bassoon in ninth grade. “When I started in high school, I played three or four hours a day because I enjoyed it.” All that playing translated into a much-needed muscle memory, especially important for the bassoon, a ten thumb-key instrument.

Evelyn "Evi" Jones

Evelyn “Evi” Jones

Something was amiss. Jefferson Campbell, UMD’s music department head and a bassoon player himself, could tell immediately that something was wrong during auditions. In conjunction, Evi’s high school grades weren’t great, which meant that she wasn’t on Jefferson’s recruiting radar. “She showed up on campus without warning. She just showed up and played really well.” So well, in fact, that Jefferson was able to help Evi secure a talent exemption which garnered her acceptance at UMD as an undergraduate.

As with most things in life, there was an underlying reason for the poor grades. An undiagnosed health problem called a soft palate led to acid reflux; a condition that becomes pronounced in wind instrument musicians. “I knew right away,” said Jefferson, “because when you play, air starts to leak from your nose.”

Evi received treatment for the issue and was well on her way, said Jefferson. “Evi jumped in with both feet. She never hesitated. She was serious from the moment she got here that she knew what she wanted to do.”

Evi also knew who she was. It was an indelible part of her persona since childhood. But no one else, not even her family, really understood. Up until this point, everyone knew her as him; as Kevin.

Introducing Evi
“I knew ever since I was a kid, and I also knew my sexuality as a kid,” said Evi who remembers telling her parents that she was gay and their response of suggesting therapy. “And I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll push that under the rug.’ And I did. For years. I didn’t identify as gay until here because it was definitely not OK.” She credits UMD’s Queer and Allied Student Union (QASU) for making her journey easier.

It’s taken a bit longer for her to come out as transgender. She started going by Evelyn while using female pronouns last year, but re-closeted. “There were a lot of issues with my family; they didn’t really understand but they still love and support me.” Evi spent some time reflecting, affirming what she had to do. “About three months ago, I started taking hormone replacement therapy.”

Again, Jefferson Campbell noticed. As someone teaching student music performance, he has mastered the art of observation. “I see her almost everyday. For me, I’ve been watching it happen gradually. Part of the transition is medical. It changes the chemistry, and I could see that she was having a harder time than was necessary.”

This vantage point allowed Jefferson to offer advice on when Evelyn Jones should be presented to her audience. Evi wanted to announce herself during her senior recital, but Jefferson talked her out of it, explaining, “I wanted the attention to be on the work that she did. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter who we are, it’s what we do that matters.”

“His reasoning not to do it was very sincere,” says Evi. “Jefferson didn’t want the audience attention taken away from my music and be distracted with how I identify. To me, that means a lot. The response really showed not only how much he respects how I identify but also how much he cares.”

Weber Music Hall, located on the University of Minnesota Duluth’s campus.

On Saturday, May 17, 2014 at her graduation ceremony, she chose to reveal her very personal transformation. Similar to her rejection of “one size fits all” reeds, Evi shed a gender that didn’t fit and is telling the story of her evolution from Kevin Jones, her birth name, to Evelyn Jones.

Deciding on graduation as the right time to share her story was a decision steeped in symbolism. She exited Weber Music Hall as Kevin and is stepping into her master’s degree at the University of British Columbia as Evelyn. She is honored with a full fellowship and gives full credit to UMD’s music faculty, “Our faculty could be world-renowned. They’re all outstanding at teaching, performing, and being really good people.”

Evi is especially appreciative of her relationship with Jefferson Campbell, and says he’s the reason that she came to UMD.

Jefferson has no mixed emotions about her moving on. He tells his students that his job is to put himself out of a job, teach them everything he knows so that they don’t need him anymore. His stage with Evi is over. “It’s time. She’s taken everything she can from UMD, and it’s time for her to learn from a new group of people.”

Evi is also reflective, and not just of her time at UMD. Finding the bassoon, convincing others of her calling, finding herself, convincing others of her identity…the lesson throughout? “Don’t be afraid of who you are.”