The Family That Plays Together
May 2021 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
Accomplished St. Simons pianist Michele Jamieson not only fell in love with music at a young age, her passion for song also played an integral part in meeting the man that would become her husband. Playing music together continues as one of the strong bonds she shares with the couple’s four children.
“I started (playing the piano) at age 5. As typical of many Asian households,” she laughed, “there was a piano in our home, so it was assumed I would take lessons. But I loved it; I really loved it. I am going to be 50 this year, so I’ve loved playing the piano for 45 years.”
Michele’s parents, Manuel and Cleopatra Fontanilla, came to the United States from the Philippines and settled in Virginia, where they raised Michele and her brothers Michael and Richard. After high school, she attended the University of Virginia, majoring in biology. While there, she met a fellow student, Timothy Jamieson. “When I met him, he was learning to play piano when he was working on his Ph.D, and that was part of the initial attraction,” she said with a smile. “I thought at first: ‘Is this a pick-up line? Is this for real?’ And it was real. He was learning to play a Chopin concerto, and I thought, ‘this is really cool.’”
Michele graduated college in 1993 and embarked on a career in pharmaceuticals. The following year, the couple married. For the next several years, she continued her career in lab work, as well as drug and vaccine development with different pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson and Johnson, Merck and Glaxo.
Starting A Family
In 1999, the couple made the first of three different moves to Glynn County, and Michele left the pharmaceutical industry. “I was pregnant with Turner (their first child). I thought I would continue work on a consulting basis, but motherhood just took over. I haven’t looked back since,” said Michele, adding the other two moves away and back to Glynn County were for Timothy’s medical career. “We spent one year in St. Augustine, Florida, and almost a full year right outside of Washington, D.C.” They returned to St. Simons for the final time in 2009.
After Turner (21) arrived, the couple welcomed sons Henry (19) and George (14), and daughter Isabella(13). Raising four youngsters became the center of Michele’s universe. She spent a total of 14 years homeschooling before Turner went on to attend and graduate from Frederica Academy, and Henry did the same at Glynn Academy. “Turner and Henry met kids from all the world when they attended IMG Academy (a sports and education preparatory school in Florida), which is probably the most diverse international boarding school in America. We’ve had quite the diverse educational experience,” Michele said, adding that George and Isabella are now attending St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Brunswick.
Michele passed on her passion for music to her children, who all began taking piano lessons at age 5. “Claudia Theise taught piano to all four of our kids, and I was one of her adult students. Every spring, I played piano duets with each of them from the time each of them were 5, until they stopped lessons,” she said, adding that she has two pianos and a keyboard at home for practice. “I also played a trio with George and Isabella. Six hands on one piano!” While the pandemic temporarily stopped piano lessons, she and her two youngest continue playing at home. “George also plays the violin and Isabella the viola.”
Play Ball and Other Traveling Adventures
Michele said her family loves to travel for fun, education and her sons’ baseball aspirations. “We’ve always loved traveling, with or without baseball.” Turner and Henry began playing baseball as small children and excelled at the sport. “We spent a summer in Wisconsin when they played there and spent time in the Dominican Republic when they played there. Travel ball took us all up and down the east coast and showcases took us along the west coast.” The dedicated support to nurture the boys’ baseball ambitions has come to fruition. Turner plays baseball for Merrimack College in Massachusetts, and Henry plays for Bates College in Maine. “We are really looking forward to being able to travel to their games again.”
The family also traveled around the country and the globe as part of their children’s education. “I wasn’t the perfect teacher, but we were able to take some incredible trips. We love the national parks, Paris, London, Vienna and Hamburg. For our 25th anniversary in June 2019, we took them to the Philippines and Indonesia!” The Jamiesons love hiking together, too. While Michele says her husband prefers “fun day-hikes,” she sometimes joins friends on long treks and/or bike rides, including biking a portion of the Great Allegheny Passage and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. “At the base of the mountain, you write your name and what you do. I had recently played (piano) at a couple of events, so I wrote down that I was a ‘lounge entertainer!’”
The Music Goes On
While Covid has pressed pause on many concerts, Michele performed numerous charity concerts and private events around the Golden Isles prior to the pandemic and hopes that will resume one day. Her performances include the acclaimed Five Grands Twenty Hands concerts in 2009 and 2011, where she and nine other pianists performed on five grand pianos. She was partnered with Claudia, her music teacher. “We practiced diligently for six months or more. We would have these two- or three-hour practices. It was a big commitment. My two Steinways kind of fit together, so that’s how Claudia and I practiced together. I would love to be part of it again, but it was a big undertaking.”
Michele continues to be actively involved in the music program at her family’s church, St. William Catholic, as well as the Golden Isles Youth Orchestra (GIYO) “I really love accompanying GIYO and the ensemble.” Whatever the coming months look like, music will continue to play an important role in her life. “There is so much joy in music.”
New Instrument: She recently took up playing the viola. “It’s not going very well,” she said, laughing. “Playing a stringed instrument is so different than playing the piano.”
The Long and Short of It: Timothy stands at 6’ 6” and Michelle is only 5’3”. “Yes, we’ve heard all the jokes. I recall someone asked if Tim was my bodyguard,” she said, laughing. “Here was this tall, white man, with this short brown woman. It was really quite funny.” Now, all four of their children tower above her as well. “They all passed me up at 13 or 14, when they really took off. If we go on a long car ride, I have to sit in the back of our Suburban because nobody else can fit back there!”
Classics: “I love playing the classics, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Bach.”
Family Ties: Michele’s parents recently relocated to St. Simons. “My parents wanted to live here for some time. We found the perfect house for them. It is literally down the street. It is such a blessing, and we’re so grateful.”
Other Volunteering: 100 Women Who Care, the parish council at St. William and Golden Isles Arts and Humanities (GIAH). “I’ve served on the board of GIAH for years. I love supporting them and Heather Heath, GIAH’s executive director. She’s a one woman show!”
Family Pets: Yellow labs, Roger and Max.
Travel Bucket List: Japan and Australia.