“After seven years, three degrees later, I am graduating this year,” remarked Jasmine Johnson, thinking back to when she first started at SFCM in 2012. “It’s been a wild ride.”
One might describe Johnson, a mezzo-soprano and student of César Ulloa, as an excessive learner—an artist who aims to equip herself with as much knowledge as she can get her hands on as she enters into a professional career.
“[César and I] had a great relationship from the beginning, so we just decided to stick with it,” she adds.
Johnson and Ulloa have enjoyed the rewards of a long and fruitful collaboration as student and teacher, and this is indicative of Johnson’s character as a lifelong learner.
“Sticking with it” defines Johnson, the eldest of 10 children. She’s the type to delve into a passion and not let go of the spark of interest that first beguiled her. Being the only one to study or play music in her family, she set out from an early age to explore the passion she was introduced to early on in her church choir.
When the family moved from Louisiana to Texas, Johnson added in a move from gospel to classical, singing and taking music classes in the Houston school system. (Johnson doesn’t eschew gospel, it is just another part of her repertoire.)
“I was pretty busy with music in high school. I was in Houston Grand Opera’s High School Voice Studio. I was constantly driving down to the opera house, going to rehearsals—we got to see every opera for free.”
Johnson’s direct engagement with Houston Grand Opera, along with taking private lessons in high school, led to her winning the YoungArts Miami competition, and, from there, she knew studying music at the conservatory level was the path for her.
After auditioning at several schools, Johnson felt that she hadn’t come across that welcoming atmosphere she was trying to find—a place that seemed like it was made just for her. After taking an audition at SFCM and being offered a spot in Ulloa’s studio, Johnson’s compass pointed in a clear direction.
“I fell in love with the city,” she remembers. “I fell in love with the school the second I walked in. It just felt like it was home to me.”
And as Johnson progressed through her bachelor’s degree, the benefits of an SFCM education began to show.
“[The Conservatory] was a place for me to truly become who I am today, and it just helped me open a lot of doors that I didn’t know could be opened. The fact that there are so many opportunities here, vocal or otherwise, is the best part about being here. From my freshman year up to now I’ve been performing.”
Johnson notes that those opportunities often come from faculty members. Composition Chair David Conte asked her to sing the solo part to Rachmaninoff’s Vespers in the chorus her first year at SFCM. From there, she got more into opera and musical theatre and started performing roles regularly.
Those first four years instilled in Johnson a confidence that serves her to this day. As she was about to graduate from SFCM and begin a master’s degree, she felt uneasy about her next step. After auditioning at several schools, she decided that staying at SFCM for her graduate degree was the right move.
“I wasn’t opposed to going somewhere else, it just felt like César and I had more work to do. I decided it was the best thing to stay here because I was getting opportunities, and also because I had a really great teacher who was supporting me fully.”
Johnson’s decision to continue past her master’s degree and pursue the postgraduate diploma—her terminal degree at SFCM—followed the same idea, but with a more professional line of thinking.
“With the postgraduate diploma, it was really about having a solid transition into my professional career,” she says. “This year, I’m taking the time to piece out what I’m going to do once I graduate.”
Singing in two operas this year, it appears Johnson is making the transition well. She’s developed relationships with local opera companies and performing arts organizations around the Bay Area.
“I’ve worked with Opera Parallèle, Festival Opera, Ars Minerva … The director of Ars Minerva saw me perform in an opera at SFCM. There are a lot of opportunities like that. Because of the school, I’ve been able to get professional engagements.”
In the immediate future, Johnson would like to continue to perform in the Bay Area. She plans on auditioning for young artist programs next year. And a dream of hers is to sing with San Francisco Opera.
“I love the opera house,” she says. “It’s the most beautiful. They put on some of the best productions. I would love to be a part of that.”
SFCM and the Bay Area have a special place in Johnson’s heart and she’s passionate about sharing that love with other’s looking for the same thing she was.
“If you’re looking for a place that’s going to support you for life, this is the place to be. I can take all of the skills that I’ve learned and apply them to my everyday life. I’ve learned so much about myself and the people around me.
“You’ll always have a home here at SFCM. You can create opportunities for yourself that you can’t create at other schools. Every resource is here.”