Her Story: Jen Ambrose

Can you take us back to the beginning? What are your earliest memories, and how do you think they’ve shaped who you are today?

Memory 1)
One of my earliest memories happened when I was 2 1/2 years old. My little sister, Jessica, was just a few months old. It’s night in early Summer. I’m outside, next to our car in my red rain jacket. I’m getting wet. There are huge raindrops falling fast and hard. My Mom and Dad are getting Jessica, me and our dog, Samantha, into the car. We need to leave quickly because at the bottom of our dead-end street, the river is rising – and fast! I remember feeling amazed by how much rain was falling, creating big puddles in the grass next to the driveway. We left and spent the night at a restaurant on the hill.

The river rose to just a few houses down from our house so we were spared major damage, but it flooded most of the downtown.

Memory 2)
I’m about 3 years old. I’m in pre-school. I see kids playing together and laughing. I’m painfully shy and I feel left out. I’m finding it difficult to make friends with the other kids. My teacher notices me and comes over to talk to me. She’s really kind to me. I feel seen.

Memory 3)
I have a decision to make. I’m 6 years old. My ballet teacher tells me that I cannot remain in both ballet and gymnastics. I needed to choose one or the other. I saw gymnastics in the Olympics and decided I wanted to be a gymnast so I quit ballet and became a gymnast.

Memory 4)
I’m 10. I just got home from school. I have another intense headache and it makes me feel really sleepy. I’m supposed to be leaving for gymnastics training. I’m so excited about my gymnastics routines and getting ready for the upcoming State competition. If I do well, I’ll make it to the next competative level, bringing me closer to my dream of the Olympics, but my headaches and epilepsy medications make me really tired.

I’m laying on the couch and finally realize that my exhaustion and painare too overwhelming. I need to quit gymnastics. In that moment, I let go of my dream of the Olympics…

What ties these memories together for me is my feelings of facing uncertainty. The threat of the encroaching flood was this very elemental experience of facing the unknown, something scary and exciting, but getting through it with my family, in the end.

My early schooling memory was about facing my social awkwardness. I struggled with this throughout my growing up, but finding an ally in this teacher who told me that I was OK, helped me feel less lonely and feel seen. The positive influence of this one person is something I’ve carried with me my whole life.

My gymnastics story is one of owning my own ability to make choices, even when that choice is painful. Confronting and surrendering to the limits of my physical abilities and then letting go of a cherished passion was devastating for me, but what I gained from that experience was a sense of ownership of my own story and my own decisions. Not my parents, nor my doctors, nor my gymnastics coaches told me that needed to quit, even though they each knew I was struggling. They each gave me the respect to find my own strength and courage to make this difficult decision for myself.

As you reflect on your life, are there any key moments or turning points that stand out to you? What made them significant?

I feel like I have reflected on some of them now, but there was another time in my life, that I touch upon later in your questions, when I was a practicing massage therapist at a beautiful healing retreat center in Oregon called Breitenbush Hot Springs. During that time, I started dealing with eczema that started on my arms then spread to my hands. I was confronting the reality that I would have to stop being a massage therapist due to my health. At that time, a friend of mine, a talented, aspiring stage actress, shared her experience of always knowing that she wanted to act. Her story brought me to reflected on having to stop doing massage and I realized that what I was actually most passionate about was my music.

Then I told her about my first singing experience joining the church choir when I was 4, of learning flute, oboe, piano and guitar and how I would always practice because I loved it so much. I shared how playing music as a young child was the way I coped with depression and social awkwardness, with the difficulties in my health and my personal challenges at home and how songwriting became a way for me to express these deep feelings.

It became clear to me that I had never really allowed myself to reach for this dream, but as a young adult, facing the loss of my work, my friend’s story felt like a sign for me to follow my passion with music.

Who were the most influential people in your life, and how have they impacted your journey and development?

My Grandmothers were some of the most influential people in my life. Both of my Mom’s parents were Sicilian immigrants. My Nana worked in a wool factory throughout her life. After my Nanu (Grandfather) had to retire early from factory work due to debilitating back injury, my Nana began cooking at a local diner that featured her incredible Italian cooking. She was an incredibly talented and passionate cook and had a strong following of customers. She worked into her late 70s when dementia forced her to stop.

My Dad’s Mom had been raised in a convent after her Mother died when she was a young child. She always worked, but after my Grandfather died early, she started her own real estate business. This was back in the early 1950s, during a time when women weren’t “allowed” to have their own bank accounts (legally this not happen until 1974!. She needed a male friend to co-sign on her account. My Grandma spent the rest of her life building up her own business. Later both my Dad and Uncle joined here in the family business. She continued working until her health forced her to stop in her 80s.

Both of my Grandmothers showed me the value of working hard for what you love, and the value of loving your work. They were both loving and powerful women who were respected for their knowledge and talents in their own work. Each of them overcame obstacles and difficulties but persisted through the challenges they faced as they learned how to balance work and family. I adored my Grandmothers. The represented strong women in a male dominated world. They each taught me to value my own talents and dreams and to be persistent and resilient.

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?

For me, the most impactful challenges I have faced have been around issues of my social awkwardness in the world, and also overcoming health for myself and with people that I care about.

My first step in overcoming challenges has been to show up and keep breathing. During my most difficult, uncertain and uncomfortable moments, being engaged in the experience to my greatest ability was sometimes the best could do.

Being willing to try and risk – not just risk failure, but risk succeeding! – has taught me how to be both more humble and more courageous. Reaching deeper inside myself to live a life that feeds my soul, has given me the inner strength to begin performing publicly and the resilience to face my personal losses.

Finally, being kind – to others and especially to myself. When things have been difficult, I have had the tendency to judge myself or others harshly for things I cannot control. Realizing that we are all beautifully and imperfectly human takes away some of the pain of loss and hardship. It has helped me understand that even difficulty has helped challenge and stretch me to become stronger and more resilient and become the person I continue to grow into.

If you were to pick a theme or a lesson that runs through your life story, what would it be?

A significant theme that runs through my life story involves my health and healing and how this has affected my ability to pursue my dreams and passions.

My first experience with this lesson was when I was 10 years old. In addition to being a musician, I was passionate about gymnastics. I became a gymnastic when I was 6 and started competing by 7. My big dream was the Olympics. I loved everything about gymnastics and was quickly qualifying at the New York State level. I was around 9 years old when I began having severe headaches that would make me very tired. After many rounds of brain scans and hospital stays it was thought I was experiencing absence seizures. I was put on medications, but was still experiencing the headaches and the exhaustion became so great that I couldn’t find the energy to continue my training.

Finally, at 10, I made the decision to end my early gymnastics career and let go of this cherished dream. It was heartbreaking to me.

My second healing crisis was during my early 20’s. I had studied massage therapy and was just beginning my practice when I developed severe eczema up and down my arms. When it finally reached my hands, it became clear that I had to stop doing massage. This was another disappointment that changed the trajectory of my life.

My third healing journey was only a few years ago. During the Summer of 2021, I was just about to release my new album. I had a full schedule of outdoor performances during a time that the West Coast was consumed by blistering heat, intense wildfires and smoke. The hazardous smoke conditions ended up impacting my health and I developed vocal polyps that affected my singing voice. By late 2021, I was forced to cancel all upcoming shows, quit my bands and delay my album release. It was devastating.

I spent most of 2022 working with an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, Throat specialist). Through lifestyle modifications, voice therapy sessions and guidance from my vocal coach – Ken Orsow (who is also my songwriting collaborator and producer), I started healing.

For much of that year I wasn’t singing, but performing as an instrumentalist and even did a couple shows in total silence. I took that down time to work with my friend and talented videographer, Antonio Melendez with Heartisan Films. We put together a series of music videos in preparation for my upcoming album release.

It’s almost 2024 and I’m so thankful that my vocal cords are 98% healed — with no surgery! I’m so grateful to be back singing again. I’m finally releasing songs from the Plenty Of Nothin’ To Do and working with my new band: Jen Ambrose & The Mystics.

The process of healing and overcoming my health continues to teach me to take nothing for granted, how to listen and honor my body and my voice. My most recent healing crisis has deepened me into my music and brought me a new level of gratitude for this gift of music…

Are there specific accomplishments or milestones that you’re particularly proud of, and why do they hold such significance for you?

Helping to raise a child into adulthood is a specific accomplishment that I am proud of. When I met my husband he was a part-time parent to his beautiful, smart child. In choosing to be with him, I chose to become a parent to this amazing young person who was only 7 when we met.

At times it was challenging to become a parent to a young person. Sometimes it felt like the movie was already underway and when I showed up and it took me a while to catch up and catch on to who this person was, but being a part of their growing up has been one of the most significant milestones of my life. Through their growing up I was developing as a songwriter and starting to perform locally. But being a parent also gave me the opportunity to care for someone so precious and inspire them to be their best self.

Now, decades later, I am so blessed to witness that they have become an incredibly sensitive, caring and powerful individual who makes this world a better place. I am happy to say that we still have a beautiful relationship and that they are one of the best parts of my life!

Looking ahead, what are your hopes and aspirations for the next chapter of your life story? What legacy do you want to leave behind?

For the next chapter of my life, I look forward to continuing my songwriting, recording and sharing this music with the world. I aspire to have my music in Sync with films and shows. I look forward to some touring with my band and also as a solo live-looping artist, bringing my music to festivals and events, especially events that bring awareness to pressing social issues. I recently put a show together to bring awareness to the unhoused situation in the local community. Merging music with a cause brings me the most joy!

The legacy I wish to leave behind is my music – in the sound recordings, in the voices of others who would sing these songs when I’m gone and in my personal story behind the songs. I am a woman who faced my own challenges and obstacles to be able to share this music. My dream is to inspire others to find their own unique voices and share their own truths and stories with the world. I’ve been inspired by the hard work and dreams of others and I hope to do the same for those to come.

Keep the Flame Alive!!!

Sharing my story through this interview has been a real journey for me. Thank you so much for your very thought provoking and thoughtful questions and for all your support of independent artists! I truly appreciate what you do!

Most Sincerely,
Jen Ambrose


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