For Jennifer Mendez Daffinee of the United States Air Force Band of the West, success in the service has come from dedication, determination, patience and persistence. An Airmen, a musician, a Doctorate and a teacher, Daffinee has proven that staying the path of her goals has resulted in her rise in the ranks throughout her career, and you won’t find her settling for anything other than continued personal and professional growth. She shares on her unique and inspiring journey, her passions off-base, and the clarinetist who serves as her musical muse and empowerer.
On her career journey:
My career journey has been uniquely defined by the dichotomy of my heritage. Maternally, I am the granddaughter of Clarence George, an Air Force Korean War Veteran P-51 Pilot. Paternally, I am the granddaughter of Manuel Mendez, a Mexican Immigrant who worked in the cotton fields of the South, later serving in the United States Navy. When the winds of life blow, I rely on these roots to keep me grounded in grit and dogged determination. Growing up in the 1980’s, social norms perhaps suggested a female mix-race minority would not succeed. However, I was blissfully ignorant to this notion because my parents and teachers ensured that I conceptualized life ahead of me as an opportunity to doubly embrace the world, to see things as both Anglo and Hispanic. I have always felt empowered by my heritage. I have double the inspiration, double the opportunity, and double the resolve to meet any challenge laid before me. This dichotomy continues today: I am both a musician and an Airmen, an expressive spirit and a conformist to the chain of command, an artist and a defender of freedom. I do not define or box myself into a singular role because I have never known that life, and I would not have it any other way.
On what makes her unique in her industry:
I strive to set myself apart in music and the military by the same philosophy: my actions will follow the path defined by my mind. If I can conceptualize it, I will achieve it, no matter how long or hard the road may be. I have found that setting and staying the course have proven fruitful, but consistency is key. It took me seven years to win the audition for the Air Force while facing multiple obstacles, and eight years to complete my Doctorate of Musical Arts degree while serving on Active Duty, but traveling these long roads helps me show others they can do the same–chase their dreams and not let anything hold them back. I believe in the power of education and the freedom that comes from working in a field you are passionate about. I strive to make improvements to myself daily, to press forward, and work to make each day better than the last.
On her passions outside of work:
One of my favorite quotes is, “We will know a culture much more through its Art, than through its history books.” I am passionate about Arts education. I believe in Art for Art’s sake. Music education, specifically, does offer many ancillary benefits ranging from cognitive processing to social development, etc., but humans are beings who must emote. Sometimes there are feelings which cannot be expressed in any other manner except through Art. Although I have pursued my personal performance goals, I have been an active lesson coach, adjudicator, clinician, guest lecturer and guest artist for the last eighteen years working with students in numerous schools throughout Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas.
On her personal female hero:
My hero–and spirit animal–is the trailblazing clarinetist Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, Michigan State University Distinguished Professor and founding member of The Verdehr Trio. Her biography, teaching philosophy, and methodology are the subject of my dissertation. Although I did not study with her formally, I am fortunate to have spent time with her in East Lansing, dissecting the over fifty years of her work to codify her teaching practices and preserve them in printed format for future generations. She took the world by storm and never looked back as she and her husband literally built a medium for clarinet, violin, and piano by commissioning over 225 new works for that instrumentation. When I speak of having tenacity and dogged determination, I don’t hold a candle to Elsa. She is my inspiration.
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Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.