Madison Bailey, Correspondent
Jacksonville State University flute professor Jeremy Benson will compete in the final round of the 2021 Music International Grand Prix Competition, which is set to take place in May at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Benson was in the midst of quarantine and binge watching Netflix when a friend sent him information about the competition.
“[My friend] thought this would be a great opportunity for me,” Benson explained. “I never expected to advance far — my biggest goal was to advance from the recorded round.”
The first round of the 2021 Music International Grand Prix Competition involved a virtual submission. From that round, Benson advanced to the quarterfinal round followed by a live virtual semifinal audition.
Benson performed the required music selection — a competition piece titled Fantaisie for Flute and Piano — with Rachel Park, a piano professor in the JSU Music Department. He was then announced as the first prize winner of the semifinal round within one of the U.S. locations.
“Performing with [Dr. Park] was an awesome experience,” said Benson. “She is a real pro and one of the kindest people I have ever met. I never expected to advance in the grand prix competition, so nobody was more surprised than I was to learn of our awarded efforts after the semifinal round results.”
Semifinalist winners from all over the world will compete in the final round at Carnegie Hall, if things go as planned.
Carnegie Hall is currently closed due to COVID-19, but the 2021 Music International Grand Prix Competition is scheduled to be one of the first events hosted there should it open at the end of April. There is still a possibility for the final round of the competition to be held virtually, but there are high hopes that competitors will return to the stage for live performances at Carnegie Hall.
This is not the first time Dr. Benson has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall. He performed at Carnegie Hall in the 2011 Alexander & Buono International Flute Competition and was even announced as the first prize winner of the competition.
“When I performed at Carnegie Hall ten years ago, I remember being very nervous, very intimidated, very overwhelmed, and very cold (it was late October),” Benson remarked. “I have often thought if I had the opportunity to perform there again that I would try to take in more of the atmosphere — looking out into a sea of spotlights, remember walking out onstage, remember taking a bow, and just to enjoy it more.”
Benson is also looking forward to the opportunity to perform with one of his close pianist friends, Christopher-Joel Carter.
“We perform concerts regularly around the country, and he performed with me the last time at Carnegie Hall,” said Benson. “We will perform some of the most challenging music that I have ever had to play — he makes everything sound so easy when he plays — he’s amazing.”
Benson is an incredibly talented and knowledgeable flautist, but he initially wanted to play the drums while in beginner band. However, he was one of the only students in his class that could get a sound while playing the flute. His band director encouraged him to stick with the flute, and he quickly began to advance at district and even state levels.
“Once I started playing harder music, I loved the challenge and loved playing in the band at school and the local youth symphony,” he said. “Like in the Harry Potter stories where the wand chooses the wizard, the flute chose me.”
Benson earned his bachelor’s degree in music at JSU. He then earned his master’s degree in flute performance at Florida State University and his doctorate degree in flute performance from Rutgers University.
After graduating with his doctorate, Benson joined the JSU faculty in 2011 and currently holds the title of associate professor of music and conductor of JSU Orchestras.
Benson also holds several titles outside of JSU. He serves as the vice president of the Flute Association, principal flutist of the Gadsden Symphony Orchestra and music director at Heflin First United Methodist Church.
The roles of professor, conductor and performer of music are not just Benson’s occupations; they are also his passions.
“The one common element that all these roles have is the ability to take smaller pieces of a larger puzzle and put them together,” he said. “I think professors, conductors, and performers are all some form of a teacher, so when I find myself in these different roles, I hope students and others around me can experience that I have a love for what I do.”
Benson views the opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall again as not just a competition, but a chance for him to take the information he gives to his students on a daily basis and apply it himself.
“I enjoy performing and sharing music with others,” he said. “I haven’t thought much about the ‘competition’ part of this experience. Whenever my students throw themselves into a competitive arena, I always remind them that it is okay to lose, but it is not okay to be defeated. This way of thinking helps to keep me encouraged and not focus too much on winning or losing. I’m just happy to play.”