Acclaimed pianist Jill Montgomery Upchurch to perform at Link Centre in Tupelo
February 2nd – TUPELO – Jill Montgomery Upchurch first fell in love with the piano at her grandmother’s side.
“My earliest memories of the piano are of climbing onto the bench at Nana’s house begging to play,” Upchurch said, speaking of her early years in North Carolina and spending time with her grandmother, a working pianist and organist . “Honestly, I’ve always loved it. My whole life.”
But it wasn’t until her family moved to Tupelo, when Upchurch was 7 or 8, that her love of music solidified and became a bit more formal.
Today, the 49-year-old is a professional pianist herself with an impressive list of achievements. Over the years she has performed at private and corporate events for guests such as President George W. Bush, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan. She has performed as a soloist with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, the Monroe (Louisiana) Symphony Orchestra, the Louisiana Symphony Orchestra and the Centenary (Louisiana) Chamber Orchestra.
She is also an accomplished music teacher, having given group and private piano lessons at the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts, the University of Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts, and the Louisiana State University Laboratory School, among others.
And this weekend she will return home to play for her family, friends and the community that has nurtured her love of the arts.
A homecoming performance
The Link Center in Tupelo will present “An Evening at the Piano with Jill Montgomery Upchurch” on Saturday February 4th at 7:30pm. Their performance will include a special performance by the Golden Wave Quartet.
Tickets are $18 in advance via eventbrite.com or $25 at the box office.
Although she has played a few private events in Tupelo over the years, this weekend’s performance will be the first public concert in Upchurch’s hometown in almost 30 years.
“I’m very excited,” she said over the phone from her home in Dallas.
She said she began putting together the pieces of what would become this weekend’s show as soon as she received the invite in April.
“Part of it was just putting a program together,” she said. “I wanted to do a show with beautiful classical music … But I have something for everyone.”
Although she has returned to Tupelo several times since leaving (her husband Robert Upchurch is from Tupelo himself), Saturday’s concert will be a true homecoming.
In a way, Jill Montgomery Upchurch’s career – or at least the way it got there – started in earnest in northeastern Mississippi when she began studying piano at the age of 8 under the tutelage of teacher Linda Kinsey.
Those were formative years for Upchurch, who looks back on them fondly.
“I think what really shapes my life as a musician and performer is growing up in such a wonderful community that is so supportive of the arts,” she said. “It’s so incredible that a city the size of Tupelo — this isn’t a huge metropolitan area — has the Tupelo Ballet, the symphony, the Tupelo Community Theatre. I was involved in all of these things. It’s such a nice, supportive community. “
She made her first public appearances at the First United Methodist Church, under the tutelage and support of longtime organist Beverly McAlilly, when Upchurch was 11 years old.
Later she played at other events, both small and big. Those moments inspired an enduring love of performance in Upchurch.
“I just feel very fortunate to have had all these opportunities to be involved in different types of activities,” she said. “Just having the opportunity to perform and just making it a part of everyday life. It’s really a beautiful place to grow up and be nurtured.”
Upchurch expects many of the people who have helped guide her through this parenting process will be in the audience on Saturday night, including Kinsey – her first formal instructor – who is now in her 80s.
For Upchurch, there are few things more exciting than performing for her hometown audiences.
“It’s the honor of my life to be asked to come to your hometown and put on a show,” she said. “I’m so excited to see the people I grew up with… I can’t wait to hug most of the audience.”