Young Artist Interview: Jaymee Coonjobeeharry – Versatility helping to open doors
Musicians’ Company Yeoman Jaymee Coonjobeeharry is an award-winning flautist and sought-after piccolo player with a passion for science. Since leaving Oxford University and the Royal College of Music (RCM), Jaymee’s orchestral work, teaching and musical assignments have taken him across the UK, Europe and to many far-flung corners of the world.
“Unlike my brothers, I chose a different route in life. My father, a Mauritian emigrant, came to the UK age four originally with the surname Kunjabiha – immigration officials anglicised it by sticking ‘harry’ on the end – and trained as a doctor. My three brothers are training to be doctors too.
I was lucky to have parents who encouraged curiosity, which is where my flute journey begins. I’d already begun piano lessons for five years, but one day in town with mum I saw a children’s book in the shop window called Why do Flutes have Holes. It had an illustration of a young child much like me holding a flute and it instantly grabbed my interest.”
Jaymee took to the flute quickly and within six months was accepted to the RCM Junior Department where he stayed until he was 18. His love of music developed hand in hand with a passion for science, and on leaving the RCM Jaymee went to Hertford College, Oxford to study Chemistry. At Oxford Jaymee stayed musically active, playing principal flute in the university orchestra, and became President of Oxford University Sinfonietta. He then returned to the RCM for three years where he became a Constant & Kit Lambert Junior Fellow after completing his masters.
“One of the Oxford Sinfonietta’s aims is that ‘no audience member ever leaves one of our concerts without having experienced something new and exciting’. I think new audience experiences are vital for the future of classical music and I love the way the Aurora Orchestra and Multi-Story Orchestra are making the traditional musical model more interactive and engaging.” During his fellowship year, Jaymee, along with the other RCN Junior Fellow and Musicians’ Company Yeoman Jonathan Radford, set up a project called Converge to provide musicians with a space to perform, explore and discuss music in front of an appreciative audience.
Since leaving the RCM, Jaymee is enjoying a busy, varied freelance career and has worked with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Jaymee has also freelanced with the English National Opera, where his friend and fellow Musicians’ Company Yeoman Claire Wickes is principal flautist.
Whilst relishing the experience of a freelance musical career, Jaymee’s dream job right now would be to join a world-class orchestra. “Suffice to say there is no shortage of amazing flautists and jobs are scarce, but I’ve always approached the music profession knowing that versatility is key”. At the RCM, Jaymee developed an affinity with the piccolo.
While many musicians focus on their instrument to the exclusion of everything else, outside the orchestra Jaymee has found playing piccolo as well as the flute has opened many more doors. Recently, he performed at the Transylvanian Book Festival with Frederic Bager (piano) and George Cooke (cello). He will also shortly perform with Frederic at the Davos Festival in Switzerland and in Susanville, California.
Last year, Jaymee was invited to perform a concerto in Kings Place with the Zeitgeist Chamber Orchestra which he co-founded at university. The programme was named after Miles Davis’ seminal album Birth of the Cool, interspersing Monteverdi and Vivaldi with jazz standards. ‘I have always been interested in exploring the link between jazz and classical music, and became increasingly involved in jazz at university’. Jaymee was Musical Director of the Oxford University Jazz Orchestra and last year, through the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO), got to play in the BBC Proms. Jaymee has also just performed his final gig with the NYJO at its annual January residency at Ronnie Scotts. “I hope to return to jazz one day but right now I’m focusing on an orchestral career – it’s time to embrace new opportunities!”
Interview by @suzywillmott