A prolific composer and musician, those in the Music department know first-generation student Jessica McCutchen, from Springfield, for her dedicated work ethic and her impact on the WOU music community. We talked to McCutchen about her passion for music, her time as an RA, and the best spot on campus to enjoy a good book.
What was your Major?
A Bachelor of Music in Music Composition.
Are you a transfer student?
Yes! I transferred from Northwest University
Why did you choose WOU?
I was recovering from carpal tunnel and the Music department at WOU was the only music department in Oregon willing to give me a chance and audition.
What do you love most about WOU?
There are so many things. The campus is absolutely beautiful. All the professors I have had are accessible and really care about the students. I love how accepting most people are and how WOU is constantly working towards being as inclusive as it can be.
What do you love most about the major/minors you completed?
We get a well rounded education in the Music department. You take classes for all sorts of mediums so you can find what you really enjoy and excel at. While it’s a lot of work, being a music major is so much fun. I get to spend a good part of my day doing what I love to do. Composition is my focus. The coolest part of my time here has been preparing for my senior recital and hearing music I wrote come to life. It’s strange and wonderful at the same time.
Outside of the classroom, what have you been involved in?
I have been a resident assistant for three years. This year, I took on more of an advising role and mentored residents in Landers/Barnum who want to become future leaders. They put on programs and events for the community that help promote Housing’s core values. This takes up a lot of my free time, but it’s worth every minute. It rarely feels like a job or a major time commitment. I get to spend my days being a part of people’s lives and caring about them.
What has been your biggest achievement, success or accomplishment in college?
Academically, it’s writing all the music for my senior recital.
Has there been a class or professor that has been particularly inspiring to you?
I have three. Dr. Baxter because she listens and doesn’t take any excuses. She makes me want to improve and be the best pianist I can be. Dr. Walczyk because he challenges me as a composer and makes coursework fun. Dr. Velez because he is so passionate about teaching and makes flute and composition lessons my favorite part of the week. He listens to students and genuinely cares. These professors inspire me daily and have helped keep me sane throughout my entire undergraduate degree.
What will you miss most about college?
The people and how beautiful the campus is.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan on getting my master’s and doctorate in music.
What advice do you have for current and future Wolves?
To follow your dreams and always search for ways to challenge and better yourself. Western Oregon can be a great home if you make it one.
What do you know now that you wish you knew your first term in college?
Learn how to say no to people. I took on way too much trying to find my place here. I ended up getting super stressed out and couldn’t produce anything to my best of my ability. Make sure you make time to enjoy your time here or else you will regret it.
What is your favorite spot on campus and why?
The field outside of Landers hall because it’s a great place to lounge and read a book (when it’s nice outside, of course).
Did you have any funny mishaps or moments of confusion when you first started at WOU?
I walked into a yoga class searching for my public speaking class. I didn’t want to make my mistake obvious, so I stayed for the whole class. It was actually a lot of fun!
What’s the most important lesson you learned about yourself while in college?
To be yourself and to take risks. I learned how to love who I was as a person and to go outside of my comfort zone. You won’t gain much when you don’t take risks and put yourself in a situation that challenges you.
How would you describe your passion for music?
To me, music is as essential as breathing. When I sit down and play, my instrument becomes an extension of who I am. It’s how I express my emotions and share who I am to the world. I can’t imagine my life without it.
What inspired you to start performing and writing music?
My sister taught me how to play Heart and Soul on the piano when I was four-years-old so that we could complete the duet. Since I look up to my sister, I wanted to play my part as perfect as possible, so I would practice every day. My family encouraged me to continue. In elementary school, I heard my first live symphony and fell in love. I ran to my elementary school music teacher and told her I wanted to compose a symphony one day. She encouraged me to start writing music for piano and see where it would take me. I performed my first piano composition a few weeks later and practiced composing every day after that. At the beginning of this year, I finished my symphony piece titled 8.13, which is dedicated to my sister who walked me to violin lessons every day and has been my biggest supporter.
What are your tips for aspiring musicians?
Never give up and never stop learning. Seek out opportunities that will challenge you. Learn styles of music you don’t know well and try different areas. Practice develops permanence, not perfection, so practice with accuracy. Most importantly, have fun. Music is a wonderful thing to be involved in. It will take a lot of time and effort, but it’s worth every minute. Music is a mix of talent and skill. You can’t rely solely on either skill or talent. You have to be passionate and work hard to succeed.