Calling the Tune: How Three Music Majors’ Summer Experiences Are Cultivating Their Future Careers

With professors dedicated to Southern Virginia University’s mission to Gather, Lift, and Launch, Knights have the opportunity to receive personalized mentorship from their professors for their chosen careers. Through these professional relationships, several music students were connected to jobs and internships this summer that allowed them to further develop their skills as musicians.

“Our students are incredible, and I love that I get to be one of the people who opens the door so they can put in the work and take full advantage of each opportunity,” said Associate Professor of Music Dr. Kyle Nielsen. “We take the launch part of our mission seriously. We work with each individual student on their goals and strive to give them opportunities that will help them grow and succeed.”

Julia Evans

Walden School Creative Music Retreat

From Tennessee, Julia Evans (‘24) has been composing music for three years and is majoring in music with concentrations in music history and literature and music industry. At the encouragement of her advisor, Assistant Professor of Music Megan Mason, Evans applied and was accepted as a participant in the Walden School Creative Music Retreat in New Hampshire. The retreat is a week-long summer composition-focused event where participants learned techniques and heard their compositions played by professional musicians. Since then, Evans has worked closely with Dr. Nielsen to refine her choral piece, “I Am Running Into a New Year” for submission to a composition competition.

“I had started composing this piece in the spring,” said Evans, “but I had two weeks to really refine it. So I brought it to Dr. Nielsen and he gave me some really good advice on how to make it more singable from a choral director’s perspective. It was nice that I could just go to his office and have a meeting with him where he would give me pointers, encouragement, and generous feedback on my work.”

Abbe Pennington

Bryce Canyon Band

Abbegail Pennington (‘24), a music major from Georgia, is planning on a career in writing and performing music. After being introduced to the Bryce Canyon Band last summer through the music program, Pennington returned to work at Bryce Canyon for her second summer in a row and played part-time for the band at the Ebenezer Spartan Grill. There, she had the opportunity to perform live shows as well as at other restaurants, playing not only covers of songs but her own compositions, including her singles, “Never Been in Love,” “Summer,” and “Deep Roots.”

“I’m a performer. I’m a writer. I’m a creator,” said Pennington. “Being able to have training in music theory helped me gain an understanding of music that really helped me out a lot in this job. It has also helped me have close relationships with my professors and coworkers to build my network and help me achieve my goals.”

Zach Shiraki

Professional Singing Contract with Coro

A music major, senior, and Buena Vista local, Zach Shiraki was encouraged to try out for a professional singing contract by Chelsea Helm, the adjunct instructor of applied voice. After a competitive audition process, Shriaki was one of 24 students selected to sing with Coro, a professional chamber choir, for a summer masters in choral conducting at Simpson College in Des Moines, Iowa. In this high intensity choral experience, which included two other Southern Virginia students, the choir learned over 60 pieces of music in their daily rehearsals.

“None of this would be possible without our music faculty,” said Shiraki. “They’ve leveled up the experience of attending Southern Virginia, especially Dr. Kyle Nielsen, Chelsea Helm, Dr. Mackenzie Romriell, and Dr. Eric Hanson. Their emphasis on building a community within their program is the reason why us students have been able to excel.”

“All of the momentum, all the talent, all the preparation, and all the necessary skill is on the students,” said Helm. “There’s nothing more amazing to me than helping all our students in any way we can, like offering a recommendation for a job opportunity, suggesting they email someone with their materials, and preparing them and watching them grow in their chosen fields.”