Jean-Pierre hits all the right notes in the USA

1 Sep 2014 - 17:15

Jean-Pierre Steyn is a well accomplished man with the future, quite literally, in his hands. At 26 this South African College of Music Masters student is already an award-winning composer and songwriter whose work has been featured locally and abroad. Currently signed to the Universal Music Group, Jean-Pierre was recently asked to write music for the American triple-platinum selling artist, Jackie Evancho. 

Jackie Evancho rose to fame on the popular singing contest America’s Got Talent series and has since worked with industry heavy-weights such as the legendary music producer David Foster and artists the likes of Josh Groban and Barbra Streisand. Jean-Pierre’s track Made to dream will feature on Jackie’s upcoming studio album Awakening which is set for release on 22 September 2014. This success is extraordinary for someone so young and it has led to numerous opportunities and talks with other international artists. Humanities News spoke to Jean-Pierre to find out what it takes to make it on the international music stage:

HN: From UCT student to working with music heavyweights such as David Foster, what did it take to get to this place in your professional career?
JP: Apart from working hard and continuously refining your skill/craft, I have since come to realise that success is really the culmination of many little victories along the way. Often, especially at the onset of our career, we wait only for that ‘big break’ and in so doing, we miss many smaller opportunities along the way. For me, it has been these smaller opportunities that have ultimately led to the bigger ones. I always try to do what I can with what I have at the time. 

HN: You were on the Dean’s Merit List in your first year of the BMus degree back in 2007 so its clear that you are a hard worker. Where do you get your work ethic from?
JP: Since my undergrad degree, I have developed a great love for academia. I completed my BMus Hon (with distinction) in 2012 and I am currently enrolled for an MMus degree. Regarding my work ethic, I was fortunate enough to have this modelled to me from a young age by my mother who has always been hard worker. Practically speaking though, I think more than anything, making a success of your studies is directly related to planning and managing your time. Every part of my day is scheduled and colour-coded (even my downtime) and though I don’t always stick to this, I know that every task and activity on my to-do list is accounted for. If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit nothing.   

HN: What would you say to encourage / motivate other music students at the SACM who are considering careers in music after graduation?
JP: I have not always been the most obvious candidate for success – my first piano teacher advised me that I probably wouldn’t be able to study music as I started piano lessons too late. If anything, this motivated me. We ultimately decide where our limitations are, and I have always had the default belief that if someone else can ‘make it’, then so can I. I take great care to protect my headspace from negative opinions and negative people.  My advice to fellow music students would be, first and foremost, to refine your craft and establish your product. Charisma and charm might open a door, but talent will ensure that the door stays open. Secondly, invest in relationships and not only the ’seemingly’ important ones. Your craft will only take you so far – you need people. Befriend your fellow students as they will be your colleagues one day. 

HN: What’s the best thing about your career?
JP: Off the top of my head, I can think of two things that I enjoy most about what I do. I love the creative process (creating something out of nothing); and I love that the end product involves people, from those performing the music, to those listening to the music.  

HN: You’re currently completing a Masters in Composition, what are your future plans once you obtain this qualification?
JP: I intend on enrolling for a PhD in Composition at UCT in 2015. Long term, I hope to pursue a career in academia as well as maintain and build an active career in the professional music world as a composer and songwriter. 

Additional accolades:

  • Jean-Pierre received his first SAMRO commission for a piece for clarinet and piano to be published toward the end of 2014. 
  • One of his art songs was awarded the Afrikaans prize at the 2013 ATKV national operatic competition. 
  • Unisa is to include one of Jean-Pierre’s solo piano pieces in their 2014 piano syllabus to be used in their graded music exams.