LOCAL FOLKS: Nelson finds expression in church music career

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – It’s Easter Monday, and Jessica Nelson plans to be a pajama-clad couch potato, sitting around with her dog, Buck.
The 26-year-old Nelson has been at the vortex of the Christian Church’s marathon, Holy Week, filled with daily services and music as All Saints’ Episcopal Church’s new full-time organist/choir master.
“Holy Week has just made all my synapses misfire,” she said with a laugh early last week as the observances began. “I’ve been doing good to get my shoes on the right feet the past couple of days.”
Coming home to Tupelo, after college at Millsaps and graduate work in Chicago, has been a pleasant surprise.
“It never occurred to me to work for my home parish,” she said, “but the job came open when I needed it. I think it’s a good professional move.”
She’s brought back a nearly 3-year-old lab-mix, Buck, a shelter adoption, and he’s getting acclimated, too.
“He’s a city dog, he’s adjusting well,” Nelson said, noting they like to take lots of walks. Buck attends doggie day care and “is working on his social skills.”
Before her adult return to Tupelo, she completed graduate work at Seabury Western Theological Seminary near Chicago, then played the organ on Sundays for a Florence, Ala., Episcopal church.
Now that she’s made it through her first full-time Holy Week responsibilities, she’s focused on more choral work and a summer Evensong/Recital series, the first to be held in June and featuring classical guitarist Michael Boyd.
“All Saints’ has a great history of high-quality choral music,” she said. “It’s what brought me back.”
Nelson, who comes from a musical family, primarily was a pianist with the foresight to take an organ class at Millsaps.
Now, she’s playing those foot pedals like it was second nature. “One day, all of a sudden, I figured out what to do with my feet,” she recalled.
And she admits to liking the organ more and more as an instrument.
“It’s so much more expressive than a piano,” she said. “It’s described as a choral instrument because it has such a wide variety of voices.”
She also admits she likes to play it loud and favors its oboe sound, which she terms “very expressive.”
When she’s not working on service music or with All Saints’ choir, she teaches young piano students and an adult organ student.
From her childhood antipathy for practice, she says it’s become “a kind of spiritual discipline” and she looks forward to those good days when she finds herself “getting in the zone” to prepare.
Nelson, the daughter of Bud and Lynn Nelson and granddaughter of the late Daily Journal columnist Phyllis Harper, was born in Meridian, moved here when she was 2 and graduated from Tupelo High in 2001.
She misses Chicago’s diversity in entertainment, culture, shopping and food. But she doesn’t miss its extremely cold weather.
“I had no idea anywhere could be that cold,” she remembered. “I was cold from September through May. It snowed on April 20 and I cried.”
In her free time, Nelson says she’s furnishing her apartment in a style she terms “utilitarian.”
If she could buy anything for it, she says she’d buy more books.
“I’ve never been a grownup in Tupelo,” Nelson observed. “It’s changed since I left for college – it’s more diverse than it was 10 years ago.”
As for today, she’s resting up for the next challenge.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Jessica Nelson info:
– Favorite hymn – George Herbert’s “King of Glory, King of Peace”
– Next major challenge – Arvo Part’s “Beatitudes”
– In her CD player – O.A.R.
– Other favorites – Folky, bluegrass music and Robert Earl Keene Jr.

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