Melissa Dunphy

Area of Study: Music Composition
Current City: Philadelphia, PA
Graduation Date: 2009
Current Occupation: Freelance composer and performer, owner of The Hannah Callowhill Stage (coming 2016)
Personal Website:

Why did you choose WCU and/or the School of Music?
I decided I wanted to become a composer when I was 24 and living in Central Pennsylvania, working as a full-time actor and company member at Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival. I knew that I needed a Bachelor of Music to put me on the right long-term track, and after researching my options, I decided WCU was the only school for me. Not only did the School of Music offer a dedicated major in composition with excellent and engaged faculty in an ideal location, WCU's status as a public institution meant the tuition was affordable, and I was able to transfer general education credits from my local community college before becoming a full-time WCU student when I was 26.

What training or education did the School of Music provide for you that relates to your current occupation?
Given that I majored in composition, and I'm now a composer, everything I learned at the School of Music relates to my occupation! I can't think of any music subject that wasn't relevant or important, from private composition lessons to music history to ensemble participation.

What is a typical day like for you?
Since much of the work I do is freelance, I tend not to have a typical day-to-day schedule. On any given day, I might be working on a commission, composing or recording music for a theater production, attending rehearsals, practicing, leading workshops, teaching private lessons, or performing live as an actor, violist, or on electric mandolin in my band Up Your Cherry. My husband and I bought a small theater in Old City Philadelphia this year, which we hope to launch as a multidisciplinary venue called the Hannah Callowhill Stage in 2016, so in recent months I've also spent a lot of time liaising with builders, banks, lawyers and architects. I try to catch at least a little downtime every day with my four cats and Netflix.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to enter your field?
Be flexible and open minded, and always look to the future, even as you respect the traditions of the past. Engage with your colleagues and other performers; music is almost always collaborative, and we need each other to make it happen. Cultivate your skills and interests outside of music because they will almost always help you make better art, and will help your career. Have informed opinions and speak your mind. Risk. Fail. Risk again.

What is your favorite memory of being a student at WCU and/or in the School of Music?
I still smile when I think of the heated discussions in my theory classes. I was so overjoyed to finally find nerds of a feather who were willing and eager to spend 45 minutes going head-to-head with me over different interpretations of chord analysis.

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