We had the good fortune of connecting with Pippa Jarvis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Pippa, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Like many of my baking colleagues, my story of how I became a cake decorator is nowhere near ordinary. Born in Lethbridge, Canada, I began my violin studies at age two with my parents. Intensely focused on my violin studies, I graduated from the Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts in Boston, and the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. I completed my Bachelor’s degree with Honorary Distinction at McGill University, and received my Master’s in Music at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.
I made my solo debut at the age of 16 with the Lowell Symphony Orchestra playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. I took bronze in the 2010 Canadian Music Competition in Edmonton, Alberta, and was the finalist in the New England Conservatory Concerto Competition. In 2011, I was a finalist of the McGill String Concerto Competition, performing the Glazunov Violin Concerto. In the summer of 2011, I performed a solo recital in Rio, Brazil as part of the Concertos Finep series. I also soloed with the Orford Academy Orchestra, performing Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5. During the summer of 2013, I studied with Pinchas Zukerman at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canada. With NEC, I performed in tours in Italy and China. I performed in Carnegie Hall and in 2008, was a featured performer on the National live radio show “From the Top”.
August 2013, during my second year of studies at Rice University, I was diagnosed with a disorder called Focal Dystonia, ending my life dream of becoming a professional violinist. Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder that affects a group of muscles in a specific part of the body, causing involuntary muscular contractions and abnormal postures. In the summer of 2015, I cycled 300 miles in 4 days from London to Paris to raise funds and awareness for the Dystonia Society.
Unable to pursue a performance career, and wanting to retain a sense of comfort in the musical world, I became the Receptionist & Administrative Assistant at the Shepherd School of Music and later took the position of Director of Music External Affairs. Always having an interest in baking and cake decorating, I began to bake cakes for family, close friends, and coworkers on the weekends. What once was only thought of as a way to satisfy my creativeness and desire to always perfect a craft, my hobby eventually grew into a side business and I am delighted to launch Sweet Harmony Cakes in May 2019.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Working with kids to make their creations come true: One of the things I love most about cake decorating is collaborating with kids and helping them make their cake ideas and creations come to life. This is what I mean:
I ask a kid to describe the cake and decorations they would like for their special day. Sometimes they draw a cake with a color grid, or explain the object over zoom or show me their favourite teddy bear. They share with me their favourite characteristics and what they like most about the toy. If it has buttons, I ask them what each button does. I get a lot of joy in watching the excitement and imagination juices flow. I feel as though it is my job and duty to turn their ideas into edible, sweet, colorful cakes.
Comparing baking with years of practicing to be a violinist:
For me, learning to bake and decorate cakes is like learning to be a musician and preparing for a concert. It takes concentration, patience, planning, practicing, technique, artistic liberty, a little bit of risk-taking, and a taste of your own personality. Baking takes concentration with the precise measurements, patience as the batter bakes and cools (can’t rush this part), practice and technique staking the cakes and making the icing layers flat so the cake doesn’t fall over or lean to one side or setting the dowels properly to support the weight of each tier, and taking the risk of decorating the cake with the bold color selections. Luckily icing is more forgiving than a wrong note!
Just like each performance, I learn from each cake. I eventually learned the right ratio of dye to icing, I gradually got more confident with my piping skills, my gum paste roses started looking more like perfectly bloomed roses in the spring. Similar to practicing your scales and arpeggios the days you brush your teeth (aka every day!), having the opportunity to consistently practice my baking skills has been a blast.
I actually made my own wedding cake. I made a three-tier elderflower lemon cake with a citrus filling and handmade each white rose. Everyone said I was CRAZY and out of my mind for making my own cake and would be too stressed the week of the wedding. They were right about being stressed the week of the wedding, that’s for sure! However, shifting my mindset from being a bridezilla to working with creamy butter and flour was the exact recipe needed. Being able to put everything aside and simply create beautiful roses and a creation that represented the happiness and love I felt for my husband was one of the most rewarding (and therapeutic) feelings ever!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Cycling around Houston while trying various dishes and cocktails at local restaurants. I love being active and enjoying delicious food.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to thank my parents, Peter and Susan Jarvis, for being the best and most encouraging parents and for giving me all of the opportunities growing up. and for stocking my bakery!
Thank you to my newly wedded husband, Ernest Flores (Oct 17, 2021) for his constant support and being an honest taste tester.
Thank you to my customers who allow me to bake for their celebrations!