Success Stories and Testimonials
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Here is a just a small sample of stories from current and past students about their time at Shepherd University.
One of the most outstanding qualities that Shepherd has to offer is its attention to individual students. The Music Department has remembered a fundamental quality of a good education that many colleges and universities have forgotten. It’s the idea of “How can we help you to become the best at what you want to be?”
If you aren’t quite sure, then Shepherd has caring advisors who are ready to help you explore different paths. Many students when they begin college have an idea of what they’d like to do, but they don’t know the path to take or all the options or opportunities that may be available to them or play to their strengths.
I came to Shepherd as a very non-traditional student. I already had an undergraduate degree in music and had spent several years performing professionally as an oboe player. I always had a love of film music though and wanted to shift my focus to music composition for film. With no background in composition, I wasn’t really sure how to begin. I came to Shepherd in order to build a strong foundation in this new area of music before applying to graduate school.
Following the submission of compositions I had completed as preparatory work at Shepherd, I was accepted into the MFA program in Music Composition for the Screen at Columbia College Chicago, one of the largest film schools in the world. I completed my degree in 2009 and moved to Los Angeles in order to pursue work in the film music industry.
In addition to playing and pursuing my own musical activities here in LA, I’m currently working as an independent contractor on special projects with the Walt Disney Music Preparation and Library Services Department, which is stationed right on the studio lot. This department not only cares for many of the scores to the Walt Disney films, they also act as an intermediary between the film composers and the studio scoring stage by physically copying, proofing, and preparing the music for many films and television shows (some recent claims to fame include UP and the series Lost). Speed and accuracy are essential and copying can include everything from orchestration to transcribing, working with MIDI and sequencing software, transferring manuscript, or extracting parts through notation software. It’s high pressure, but the teamwork of the musicians there is phenomenal.
Remember, college isn’t about going to a place for a few years to grab a finite skill set and a piece of paper. It’s about learning foundation skills so that you can begin life’s long journey of heading down the path you think you want to go.
Returning to school as an adult is filled with its own challenges and there’s no doubt it was tough to go back. Support and encouragement are essential, just as they are for the traditional student. I’m sitting here in sunny LA with some of the finest musicians in the country because the faculty and staff at Shepherd said, “you can do this and we can help you get there.”
Class of 2006
What I remember the most about my experience at Shepherd was the available access. The professor’s doors were always open. If I had a question, needed help or an opinion on something there was always someone to help me figure out the right answer. The second thing that sticks in my mind was the the willingness for the teachers to let me find and express my own musical voice. I spent the majority of my time at Shepherd defining and refining my own musical voice instead of competing for a chair in an ensemble or trying to fit my playing into a strict musical technique. By the time I graduated from Shepherd, I had a strong musical voice and knew how to perform in a variety of ensembles. The greatest advantage I received by going to Shepherd was that by the time I graduated I was already making a living as a professional musician. The professors at Shepherd were always sending musical opportunities my way. In a small school, there are big opportunities. Every time there was a lesson or gig that one of my teachers couldn’t do, they would send it my way. By the time I graduated, I was working full time and in demand throughout the Baltimore/DC area.
I didn’t realize how great of an education I received at Shepherd until after I had graduated. I ended up on several gigs with musicians from the “big schools” (Miami, Eastman, Berklee, North Texas, etc.) who didn’t have nearly as much experience or ability. They spent all of their time in college competing for a chair or trying to fit their style into the rigid techniques of their school. Subsequently, they were still searching for their sound and were not every experienced playing out in the real world. All the time I spent in the practice rooms of Shepherd lead me to where I am now in my career.
Since graduating I have had many unbelievable musical journeys! I have released two CDs that have received national radio airplay and write ups in music publications such as Jazz Times magazine. I have performed solo and side work with: Bela’ Fleck, Little Feat, Warren Haynes, Jackson Browne, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Bootsy Collins, Lenny Pickett, Billy Bob Thorton & Vesta Williams. I have also shared the stage as an opening act for: Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Leanne Womack, Joan Jett, Natalie Cole and Huey Lewis.
In the recording studio I have performed for numerous major motion pictures, television shows and commercials. Some highlights of my session work are: FOX, MTV, Scrubs, Universal Pictures, Punk’d, The Family Feud, Bones, Crossing Jordan, Everybody Loves Raymond, MGM Pictures, National Geographic Channel, The Dog Whisperer, Geico, BGE, Miramax, Friday Night Lights, Lions Gate Films, Focus Feature Films, XM Satellite Radio, 20th Century Fox, Vh1, The Perfect Man, Chuck, Dirty Dancing Havana Nights & Macy’s. The biggest highlight of my recording session career has been a session that required 3 notes which was the NBC jingle played on saxophone before the show “Scrubs” last season (2007).
In addition to my performance & recording career, music education has always been a part of my life. I have been teaching saxophone lessons since my freshman year at Shepherd. Many of my students have gone on to have very successful music careers of their own. In 2000 I wrote and self-published my first jazz method book “Break It Down – Jazz Concepts for the Saxophone.” In the fall of 2008 I am releasing my first high school big band jazz arrangement of my original composition “From Within.”
I believe a big part of my success has been due to the experiences I had at Shepherd. Because Shepherd is a small school, I was a part of everything that went on in the program. I had such a wide variety of experiences that by the time I graduated from Shepherd I was already prepared for what the music world had to throw at me. What I am doing now in my musical life is just an extension of what I had started doing years ago when I started Shepherd as a freshman.
Class of 1997
I’ve been a music education student at Shepherd since fall of 2005. What I learned quickly about Shepherd’s music department is that the size of the program enables the faculty to know all of their students. All of my professors knew my name by the end of the first week of classes. Each member of the faculty is very approachable and willing to spend extra time with us if we need help. They care about our educational growth, the improvement of our skills, and our experiences as young adults. I enjoy the serious effort on the department’s part to create chances to gain experience, from weekly recitals in front of our peers to singing and playing in churches and cathedrals on the other side of the world. I feel that the challenge of Shepherd music is certainly preparing me for my career as a music educator.
Class of 2009
When I started Shepherd’s music program as piano performance major in 1999, I wasn’t really sure what I intended to do with myself after graduating, but Shepherd’s program open my eyes to worlds I didn’t know existed.
Besides the rigorous course schedule and private lessons, Shepherd also offered a plethora of performance opportunities. As a Shepherd student, I played with the Marching Band, Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Combo, Chamber Singers, Concert Choir, Masterworks Choir, Wind Symphony, Gamelan Orchestra, and Contemporary Composers Ensemble (which premiered some of my first compositions). I was exposed to a wide variety of styles (classical, modern, and in-between) that helped to define my voice as a musician and composer. I also got to be Billy Joel in the Marching Band one year.
By my junior year, I added “composition/arranging” to my degree. Shepherd was the perfect place for a young composer to be, as there were so many performers and ensembles excited to perform new works. This culminated for me when I got to hear a full orchestra perform part of a Requiem Mass I had written. When my writing interests began to point towards musical theatre, and was lucky enough to have my teachers encourage me to develop my musical theatre writing voice (which is especially refreshing when the world of academic musicians typically tends to snub their noses at musical theatre).
After graduating, I was accepted into NYU’s prestigious Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program as a composer and lyricist, and moved to New York in 2004. There, I was mentored by countless Broadway professionals like William Finn, Michael John LaChuisa, and Jeanine Tesori. Since then my musicals and songs have started to attract attention in New York and around the country. In 2007, I won the Jonathan Larson Award and Frederick Loewe Award for Musical Theatre. I’ve received a few writing commissions, included The Wonderful World of Zidney, which was a Featured Highlight at the 2007 Page to Stage festival at The Kennedy Center. I also had the joy of touring the country as keyboard player and assistant conductor of the Broadway musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I now continue to make my living as a professional accompanist, arranger, and composer in New York. It wouldn’t have been possible without the strong foundation of musicality that Shepherd gave me.
Composition / Piano Performance
Class of 2004
While at Shepherd I had a great number of opportunities to participate in multiple musical activities while still gaining the benefits of a broad liberal arts education. Not only did I relish the wonderful classroom experiences in the music department, I was a member of the band, jazz band, jazz combos, and choirs, but I also had the opportunity to be involved in the beginning of the Shepherd Preparatory Orchestra, which has greatly influenced my career since Shepherd. The varied and demanding requirements and expectations held by the faculty of the music department helped me develop a solid work ethic as well as appreciation for the multiple modes through which participation in music was possible (teaching, composition, performance, academic study). Since graduating from Shepherd with degrees in music education and music composition, I have utilized each of these skills in my effort to grow as a musician, teacher, and academic.
After leaving Shepherd, I attended Northwestern University where I received a Master of Music degree. I then returned to the Mid-Atlantic region where I taught secondary instrumental music (strings and guitar) in Northern Virginia. I then headed west to Colorado where I received a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I am now an assistant professor of music at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where I teach graduate and undergraduate classes in music education and string pedagogy. I also founded and direct the University of Arkansas Preparatory Orchestra, which is partially modeled on my experiences with Shepherd’s preparatory orchestra program. My research has been published or accepted for publication in multiple peer-reviewed journals (Journal of Research in Music Education, Contributions to Music Education, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, Diverse Methodologies in the Study of Music Teaching and Learning, Journal of String Research, American String Teacher, Music Educators Journal, and others). Moreover, I remain active in the profession by serving as president-elect of the Arkansas chapter of ASTA as well as serving on the Arkansas MEA Board of Directors as Research Chair. As well as conducting and presenting research, I also remain an active performer playing in jazz combos, rock groups, and a regional orchestra in northwest Arkansas. Given the relatively little musical experience I had before entering Shepherd, I can only thank the faculty and appreciate the experiences I had for many of my achievements, abilities, and for helping me start on a career that I love.
Joshua Russell, Ph.D.
Class of 1999