Bradley Class, Class of 2012
Music was a thread that remained constant throughout my time at W&J. With four new classes on my plate each semester, it was calming to see the familiar pack of musical activities on the side. I developed a strong rapport with the music faculty and could always count on making progress and having provoking conversations under their supervision. Without musical involvement, I would not have taken a class about Mozart, played in the Intercollegiate Band, or met some of my closest friends. I began to find that my varied interests all played off of one another and were mutually enhancing. Similar practice of theory was necessary in all aspects of study; however, just playing the notes or memorizing facts was not enough. A deeper understanding had to be fostered in order to synthesize notes into music and facts into applicable knowledge.
After graduation, I began to work at the National Institutes of Health. Again, I was at a crossroads between old and new. While I had some similar questions as my pre-collegiate self, I felt better equipped to confront the challenges of a new environment than I did four years ago. I was worried about finding musical opportunities, but I auditioned for the NIH Philharmonic and have been happily attending rehearsals since August. Alone, a melody can be quite charming – however, the harmonic underpinnings impart color, richness, and style to the music, transforming a catchy tune into something emotive and memorable. Similarly, my participation in musical activities supported and strengthened other aspects of my undergraduate career, and vice versa. This strong foundation left me with many pleasant memories, most of which are attached to melodies and made rich by those with whom they were made.
Raelynn Forsyth, Class of 2012
When I tell people that I hold degrees in biochemistry and music, most are often surprised at the combination, but for me, it was one that made perfect sense, and one that was made possible because of W&J. I chose W&J because of its pre-professional reputation, but I also wanted to take full advantage of the liberal arts education. When I received Kyle Simpson’s email about joining the wind ensemble, I knew I had found a way to continue my musical endeavors. Initially, I was worried about how I would time manage playing in the ensemble and completing my coursework, but I soon realized that playing in the ensemble afforded me many benefits. I would look forward to the evening rehearsals because they provided some stress relief and social interactions with people who became close friends. I also was able to improve upon my musicianship, and was advised by the faculty to delve further into music through coursework and private lessons. Before I knew it, I had declared majors in music and biochemistry. I continued to immerse myself in both fields, and discovered that both demanded creativity, critical thinking, and intellectual curiosity. I was able to become a leader within the music department through my activities in Delta Omicron and chamber ensemble, and by being a role model for other students interested in pursuing a similar academic course. Throughout my experience with the music department, I always felt supported, especially when preparing for my senior recital. That culminating experience was one that I will always hold dear because it gave me the opportunity to show the professors who provided me with continuous encouragement how much I grew as a musician and person because of my experiences within the music department. Currently, I am a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and I owe that to my liberal arts education at W&J. In my interviews, I could talk about my research and other relevant scientific and medical experiences, but I always captured the interviewer’s interest when I talked about music. While I don’t play as much now as I did at W&J, I still use music as a means to connect to people, and am hoping to find an opportunity to blend music into my medical career.
Sara Kissinger, Class of 2012
I came to W&J as a biology major hopeful with a singing hobby. However, in my first semester, Dr. Susan Medley welcomed me to the W&J choir and everything changed. Dr. Medley became a trusted mentor, and with her help as my academic advisor, I was able to realize a new passion. I combined my love for music and art, my interest in communications and my business savvy to create a Thematic Major in Arts Management. Along the way, I continued to sing in the W&J Choir, joined the W&J Camerata Singers, took advantage of private voice lessons and became president of W&J’s chapter of the national music fraternity Delta Omicron. I was encouraged to apply for the Matthew Brown Fellowship and I held the position of Music Scholar at First Presbyterian Church for four years. I was also able to take an internship for credit in my junior year, working in Public Relations for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Finally, with the help of the entire W&J Music Department, I programmed, prepared and promoted my own senior voice recital, complete with student and faculty guest artists and Dr. Medley as my piano accompanist. This recital was the capstone to my degree and certainly the ultimate integration of my four years of work at W&J. After four fantastic years, I left W&J prepared to tackle my short- and long-term goals with fervor. I am currently pursuing my MBA and MA in Arts Administration at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and I will be forever grateful to the W&J Music Department for the challenge, encouragement, enrichment and support they provided (and continue to provide) in all of my endeavors.
Shanna McDonough, Class of 2012
When I was applying to schools I considered going to school for music, but over time I realized that I had no idea what I wanted my career to be. I chose W&J over other schools because I knew I could take a variety of classes in a small school setting, and figure out what I wanted to do with my future. Even though I stopped considering music education, I knew that I wanted to continue participating in ensembles. I was happy to learn that joining an ensemble did not interfere with study time, or make time management difficult. If anything, it is the best stress reliever you could ask for in a day.
After a semester in the jazz band I decided to be a music major. It is really easy to double major at W&J. I knew that music is something I loved and I had considered a career in it before, so why not take classes? I knew I still had other options if I found a subject I was really passionate about later. Over my 4 years I did pick up another major, philosophy, but music became my main program. I was able to become a better musician, a better student, and a more well-rounded thinker. Music and philosophy classes have some overlap in discussion—more than you might think.
My experience as a W&J music major made it possible for me to explore all of my options in this field instead of being stuck in one particular path. I finally decided I wanted to pursue music therapy. Now that I am in my music therapy certificate program I am on the path a great career that would not have been possible if I chose a different school or major. I am so glad that I spent my undergrad at W&J and I am grateful for all of the opportunities participating in music has given me.
Fran Burt, Class of 2002, with wife Heather and their daughter.
I entered W&J with aspirations to eventually attend medical school, and like many of my colleagues, I majored in Biology and completed the pre-medical core curriculum. The premedical program was rigorous, but I had other interests that I wanted to pursue, including studying piano. I studied piano since the age of 7, practiced the piano 1 – 2 hours a day in high school, and was very active in my high school music program. When I arrived at W&J, I had the opportunity to continue to study piano at a high level throughout my collegiate years with Susan Woodard. While studying with Dr. Woodard, I matured as a pianist and as a person. I even had the opportunity to give performances in Pittsburgh and on the W&J campus during my senior year. Throughout my four years of college, I was able to successfully complete my academic goals, and at the same time continue my extracurricular interests. Eleven years later, I just recently finished my cardiology fellowship and I am now starting my medical career. To this day, the piano continues to be an important part of my life, but instead of playing Rachmaninoff and Chopin, I play Sesame Street tunes with my 18-month old daughter. I hope the student who is considering W&J recognizes the unique opportunity to pursue his or her academic dreams, and at the same time continue to pursue or acquire interests in other disciplines within the college.
Andy Rinefierd, Class of 2006
When I first came to W&J, I didn’t plan on majoring in music. My only real plan was to take advantage of the liberal arts nature of the college, trying out different areas of study, exploring my interests, and ultimately forging some sort of career path. Throughout high school I had been actively involved with music, so I did expect to play in W&J’s Jazz Ensemble and Wind Ensemble, at the very least. However, as I began to schedule courses on the basis of which ones sounded the most interesting, I found myself taking a music course every semester. Before I knew it, I was half-way to completing the major.
One of the benefits of W&J’s liberal arts curriculum is that it encourages the pursuit of double majors. By the end of my sophomore year, I realized that I was interested in both History and Music, but didn’t necessarily foresee a future musical career. Nevertheless, I reasoned that my enrollment at W&J provided a great opportunity to work closely with a dedicated music faculty and learn all that I could about a subject that interested me, and so I declared a double major. I found that the coursework for my two majors never really interfered with one another. And because music was something that I particularly enjoyed, my musical assignments provided a nice counterbalance in my schedule to other courses that felt less fun and more laborious. As an instrumentalist, the experience of taking private lessons for four years had a profound impact on my development as a musician, and performing a solo recital as a senior was perhaps the most rewarding musical experience of my life.
After graduation, I started working as a professional fundraiser because I saw a way to utilize skills that I practiced while studying history: research, writing, communication, etc. What I soon discovered, however, was that many arts organizations depend on these kinds of jobs to raise significant funding in order to balance their annual operating budgets. And so I have actually managed to combine my two fields to some degree and work within the arts world, first for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and currently for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
The great thing about music as an art form is that it can become a lifelong practice for anyone. If it is something you love to do then you find a way to make it part of your life, regardless of whether you ultimately become a music teacher, a lawyer, or almost anything in between. In my free time I continue to play music where and when I can, and recently began performing with a Pittsburgh area jazz band. And I know that every time I pick up my horn I’m applying skills that I learned as a music major, and will continue to develop for the rest of my life.
Michelle Marshall, Class of 2007
Studying music at Washington and Jefferson College was one of the best choices I ever made in my life. The professors I encountered made an immense impact on me through their love, knowledge, and dedication to music. My musical talents were enhanced and I was introduced to diverse musical genres through the curriculum provided. Recently, I have been appointed as the head choir director at my church. My studies at Washington and Jefferson College have prepared me enough to conduct, rehearse, and arrange voice parts to fit my choir. As a career, I have been working in a social field as a therapeutic staff support for the past six years. I assist teachers, parents, and staff with youth who have mental and/or behavior health diagnosis in a school, home, or community setting. Within this career, I have had the opportunity to help plan and run a summer day camp for special needs teens for the past four years. Most of these teens had physical, visual, or speech disabilities that often presented a challenge to be able to therapeutically reach them. I incorporated music into this summer camp and was amazed at the positive affects it had on these teens. Music gave them the voice they never had and the feelings they were never able to express. It gave them life. If I were to enter a graduate program, I would love to study music therapy. Studying music at Washington and Jefferson College does not end on graduation day. I have been able to keep in contact with my professors who still inspire and encourage me to achieve great things. A seed of what I experienced by studying music at Washington and Jefferson College had been planted in me and will always be a part of my journey through life.
Ryan Booth, Class of 2006
In high school I was heavily involved in music and played saxophone and clarinet in the wind ensemble, jazz band, and marching band. I really enjoyed it, and made a lot of great friends in the process, but as I started college, I wasn’t sure how strong of a role music would continue to play in my life. I joined the W&J Jazz ensemble right away, but it wasn’t until I took an intersession course titled “Improvisational Music” that I realized I wanted to keep playing in some capacity for the rest of my life. After that I began private saxophone lessons through the music department, while continuing to participate in the jazz ensemble until I graduated. For a time, I considered minoring in music, but in the end graduated with a physics major and a math minor. I went on to complete a Ph.D. in physics at Carnegie Mellon University, and while there played occasionally with small campus jazz combos. Last year I began playing saxophone seriously with a Pittsburgh-based rock n’ roll band named Grand Piano. Now I’m playing more than I ever have, and loving it!
I often wonder how different my life would be if I had not attended W&J (the only small, liberal arts college I considered). Of all the people I played music with in high school, very few still play. I derive so much pleasure from music, and have met most of my closest friends through it that I can’t imagine life any other way. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to perform with ensembles and study music while at W&J, even though my major was in a completely different field. I believe strongly in the value of a liberal arts education. Mine has served me well so far, and I don’t expect it to let me down in the future.
Ian Stalker, Class of 2008
When I began attending W&J in the fall of 2004, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with myself. Every class I took was intriguing, but the first that really drew me in was an intersession course called Film Music. I had a long background in music, having studied piano since preschool. It was no surprise then that I was finding myself drawn toward the music department. Once I began taking piano lessons with Dr. Susan Woodard (who is fabulous, by the way), playing in the jazz band, and singing in the choir, I was spending about fifty percent of my time in the Olin Fine Arts Center. As many students do after a few semesters, I looked back and took stock of my situation. It seemed that the majority of my coursework outside of humanities requirements had been spent in the music department. So I put my cards on the table and declared my major in music. I still have fond memories of the sights, smells, and people of Olin, as well as of the campus in general. Currently, I’m working in NYC as a math textbook editor, and I still practice classical piano as much as I can, including a recent community performance with a dear friend who is working on her doctorate in post-1950 contemporary viola performance in Ohio. That’s a mouthful, I know. All of my deepest friendships are founded on relationships that grew out of playing and studying music together, including but not limited to the unique bond I have with my mridanga instructor. Look that up; it’s cool.
Allison Johnston, Class of 2008
My experience with W&J’s music department has been one of the most profound experiences in my life. I transferred to W&J my sophomore year from another liberal arts college with a reputable music program. I had found the other program wasn’t a fit for me and decided to give W&J a try.
It can be difficult transferring into a school during your sophomore year as most people have already formed their circles of friends during freshman year. However, the music department provided me with a warm and welcoming faculty and I soon made friends through choir and other music activities and classes. I found it very refreshing to be in an environment that really was what I thought a liberal arts experience should be. The choir was not only music majors, but had math majors, football players, sorority girls, etc.
I did form great friendships with fellow music majors and instructors due to the small class sizes. Looking back, that was the most important thing that I gained (other than what I learned from my studies) from my W&J experience.
My music education at W&J provided me with an opportunity to be under the instruction of highly respected musicians. I still pull from my experiences with them regularly, as I am now working as a music educator. It has even been my privilege to perform with a few of my W&J educators as a member of The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh!