At the Underground with Jen Fitzgerald

Bonnie Alger

Lawrence Fellow in Music Composition Jen Fitzgerald is a native East Coaster. She was raised in New York City, attending high school in Flushing, Queens, and went on to study music as an undergraduate at Tufts University in the Boston suburbs. “East Coast people are very devoted to the East. I like the Midwest in a way I never thought I would,” says Fitzgerald.
Despite her family’s musical background – her father is a bass trombonist and mother is an amateur singer – Fitzgerald’s original intention was to study medicine in college. This didn’t last long. “It wasn’t for me. I found myself paying way more attention in my music classes.” She had been playing piano since she was seven years old, and in her senior year at Tufts took a class in composition. She ended up staying in Boston for the two years immediately following graduation, living with her composition professor and his family, and working in the accounting department at the New England Conservatory. Highlights of those two years included taking composition lessons for free, attending composition seminars, and meeting composer Joan Tower.
She eventually attended Duke University for graduate work in composition. It was here that she first learned of Lawrence. Composition professor Joanne Metcalf, a Duke alumna, gave a presentation at the school, and Fitzgerald also knew a few other Lawrence alumni. She decided to apply for a Lawrence fellowship because she didn’t want a traditional job. “I received my Ph.D. in December. I was on the market, which makes you sound like domestic cattlery. [The fellowship] is teaching, and I can continue to compose.”
Her thoughts on Lawrence so far? “I love it! You have a great environment, really ambitious and so strong,” she says. “I love the atmosphere of conservatory within a tiny college.” How about Wisconsin? “The lake here makes it almost coastal. It’s cold. I’m having trouble finding good cheese here, though,” she says.
Fitzgerald has several goals for her life after Lawrence. “I used to have a life goal of marrying Bill Gates, but now I’m really open to anything,” she jokes. “It would be great to be in a place where I could compose and teach. I want to travel. I want to at some point not to rent an apartment.”
Her dog is a chow chow and golden retriever mix (“schizo, as you may imagine”). She also has a cat. “It’s like politics,” she says about those who consider themselves “dog people” or “cat people.”
Any random things she’d like the Lawrence community to know? “I have a secret love of writing for orchestra.” Will she compose anything for the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra? “Only if [orchestra director] David Becker lets me!” she says. “Also, I’ve killed every garden I’ve ever tried to grow. Some horticultural society should come after me, although it’s nice to have something you’re bad at that you still do.”
Fitzgerald is currently teaching eight composition students while Metcalf is on sabbatical. She will be teaching Gender and Music Scenes during second term, and more composition students third term. She will also be co-directing IGLU with predoctoral fellow Marcos Balter after this term.