Meet the Musician: Violinist Jessica Dan Fan

Photography by Ning Fan

Where did you grow up? Did you grow up in a musical family?

I grew up in Sichuan, China (where the hot and spicy food is from:)). Both of my parents were music professors. I started to play when I was 3 years old, and my first violin was personally made by my dad. I was admitted to the pre-college division of Central Conservatory Of Music in Beijing when I turned 10. That year, there were 12 students admitted to the school after 4 rounds of national auditions. There were 6 violins, 2 cellos, 3 pianos and 1 harp. In order to study in the prestigious school, I had to bid farewell to my parents and my hometown to live on campus which was a 3 hour  plane ride away. Music has been a major part of my life since then.

Jessica at 3 years old holding her first violin which her father made for her

What is your position in the orchestra and when did you join? 

I play in the violin section in the orchestra. I joined in 2002 after serving 4 years in the U.S. Airforce Strings.

What brought you to the states for your job?

I left Beijing to come to the States right after the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989. At the time, I had just graduated from the pre-college division at the Conservatory and decided not to continue my studies there. Though I received excellent training, I have always believed that Western music has to be studied in the west.  

What has been your most favorite musical experience at KCOHO?

The 10 years of working with Director Domingo has been my favorite experience. His unparalleled performances, especially his passion and love for opera and music in general made me feel so fortunate to be working for the KCOHO.

What made you decide to play violin and where did you do your musical studies?

I have to attribute my first love of violin to my parents. I started to learn from my father at three. I was told that I had such a tomboy personality, my parents had to find me something to occupy my time so I wouldn't get into trouble otherwise. Spending my formative years in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing pretty much solidified my path to becoming a musician professionally. I went to The University of Miami, School of Music on full scholarship after 8 years in the pre-college division of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, to study with Prof. Tom Moore. Upon graduation from Miami, I came to University of Maryland for my Master's degree in violin performance and studied with Mr. Arnold Steinhardt.

Do you hold any other positions outside of the orchestra? 

I really enjoy teaching. My students are seen in AYP, TCSYO, VA All State Orchestra, Fairfax Symphony etc. I have taught at the Levine School of Music, the NSO Summer Music Institute and have been teaching at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival for the past few years. Teaching is such a rewarding experience when I see my students grow both musically and personally.  I also regularly give solo and chamber recitals with my long time friend and colleague, pianist Narciso Solero. And when schedule allowed, I have played with BSO, Wolf Trap Opera and National Gallery Orchestra etc.

Have you had any other jobs prior to KCOHO?  

Before joining KCOHO, I was a member of the United States Air Force Strings for 4 years. It was an unforgettable experience, from the 6-week long boot camp  to traveling the world on military airplanes ( C-130, KC-135...and I have even been on a retired Airforce One once), to playing for the presidents and the dignitaries in the White House...Nothing comes close to the demand both physically and mentally and the fun and comradeship you can build with your friends and fellow musicians.  

Jessica performing as a part of the Air Force Strings for Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit

Jessica on a European tour with her Air Force Strings comrades waiting for take-off on a KC-135.

Do you have any "hobbies" outside of music?

I enjoy yoga and meditation very much. I really try hard to make it a daily practice.  After nearly 2 years of practicing, I find myself being able to do the poses that I would never imagine doing. I am now more flexible than when I was in my college years! It helps me tremendously with my strength, balance, flexibility and a peaceful mentality which is much needed for the challenging job we have as opera orchestra musicians! My other hobby would have to be cooking! I love to cook when I have time. Though I'm from Sichuan, China, my cooking style really is a mixture of southern and northern Chinese cuisine. Last but not the least, I love travelling, especially doing so with my husband Ning and 2 kids Tommy and Leia.  Things to experience, people to meet, and new food to try always leave me mesmerized after each trip. If music is a universal language that can unite us all, then travel makes one modest, and you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world!

Some of Jessica's favorite Chinese dishes that she cooks.

Jessica with her husband Ning in Iceland