Music alumna finds niche in teaching, performing
Alexandra Sessler has just finished a day at the office teaching students and, while most working people are heading home for the night, she is now rushing to her nighttime performance. Teacher by day and performer by night, SF State professor and recent alumna Sessler has a true passion for her singing.
Since Sessler realized her dreams as a student, she’s participated in multiple performances for various companies, started her own music ensemble and taught for three years at SF State.
Sessler may have an accomplished music career already under her belt at 27, but that choice wasn’t always clear to her.
“I went to community college first for psychology, and I was getting all A’s, but I was pitifully bored. I excelled at it, but I require a challenge, I enjoy challenge. After a year, I was like, ‘What else am I good at?’ and I was like, ‘I think music could be good.’ It’s kind of hard, the academic side of it is difficult for me, but performance-wise I’ve always excelled,” Sessler said.
With the change in direction, Sessler found herself at the University of Miami. After attending for her bachelor’s of music in classical voice performance, Sessler worked her way to SF State for graduate school.
“I had the goal of finding a school where I would have the opportunity to perform and to teach, and SF State had a small enough program where I would get that individual attention,” Sessler said.
While Sessler was attending University of Miami, Joshua Habermann came from SF State to become head of the University of Miami choral department. Conversing with Habermann opened Sessler’s eyes up to the possibilities at SF State.
“He made it sound like SF State was exactly what I had wanted to reach those specific goals, so I came in feeling like, ‘Okay, this is what I want and I’m going to make it happen by going to this school,’ and luckily everything fell into place,” Sessler said.
As a student, Sessler taught private lessons at Bronstein Music starting in 2008 when she first moved to San Francisco. She later began teaching as a graduate assistant for Professor David Xiques in Fall 2010, and then moved on to become a teaching associate to teach with Professor Cyrus Ginwala.
“When she was still a student, Alex demonstrated so much leadership in the voice area of the School of Music and Dance. In my teaching, I often encourage and depend upon student leadership and I am grateful for her expertise in vocal production and in language pronunciation,” Xiques said.
During her education, Sessler performed with many local music companies including Lamplighters Music Theater, Golden Gate Opera and Opera Cultura. Xiques also encouraged Sessler to join the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, of which she is now an American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) union member.
Sessler graduated from SF State in Summer 2012 with a master of arts degree in music, concentrated in classical voice performance, which advanced her to a “lecturer” title.
“I’ve always felt that singing, many times, is really a night job. Rehearsals are at night, performances are at night… I wanted music to be my day job, and I wanted my day job to be teaching: teaching music, teaching private voice, teaching voice in a classroom setting,” Sessler said.
Though she has achieved her goal of teaching music to college students, the constant challenge she enjoys so much hasn’t escaped Sessler in her career.
“That’s part of what I love about teaching voice: There’s always a problem to solve and it’s different for every person. That’s the thing that keeps me really committed and really interested,” Sessler said.
Pushing for constant change and improvement in her students stems from Sessler’s own philosophy, which her students appreciate.
“The most wonderful part about her teaching is that she always wants to improve. This philosophy also applies in her attitude towards her students: she always wants our best efforts. In return, the rewards are great because we get to create beautiful music,” Rachel Larsen, one of Sessler’s students, said.
“I don’t tolerate anything less than my best, but my best can always get better, unlike perfection that’s like, once you get there, that’s it. What do we get after that? So I just keep on striving for a better best and I encourage the same in my students. I encourage risk-taking, like if you’re afraid of being too loud, who cares? I try to encourage my students that it’s a safe place,” Sessler said.
Along with teaching at SF State, Sessler still teaches private lessons with Bronstein Music, performs regularly with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and has recently co-founded an early music ensemble called Mission Baroque.