Webster University - Classical Guitar Performance
When Alyssa Catlin was only 4 years old she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up. This helped her get a head start on her dream of becoming a classical guitarist. At 16 years old, she was featured on the NPR show, "From the Top," was placed first at the American String Teacher's Association Competition, had master classes with some of her heroes in the classical guitar world, has won first place at the Mid-America Guitar Camp competition and has placed in several other local and national contests. That same year she began studying music at Boise State University.
When Alyssa turned 18, she moved to St. Louis to study at Webster University. She is now an instructor with the Childbloom Guitar Program in St. Louis and has taught there for five years. And the passion Alyssa has for her job must be obvious to others, because in 2010 she was designated as Childbloom's Instructor of the Year.
Alyssa's husband, Chris, also is a talented musician. She says he's her steady support and the heartbeat of her life. Whenever she gets a chance, she loves spending time with her friends and family and inviting them over to her home. A few months ago Alyssa received a mandolin for her birthday. Even though classical guitar always will be her first love, the new instrument has opened some exciting new doors for future musical opportunities for her.
You never know how you might affect a person's life in a small or huge way.
How did you discover your current job?
When I was 4 years old, I looked up at my mother and said, "Mommy, I want to play classical guitar." She looked back at me incredulously. "How do you know what a classical guitar is?" she asked. I answered, "I just know that I want to play classical guitar, and I'm going to do that for the rest of my life." A month after my eighth birthday, my mom signed me up to begin learning classical guitar through the Childbloom Program in Idaho where we lived. Guitar and classical music were the focus of my growing up years.
During my sophomore year at Webster I began an apprenticeship with the director of the St. Louis Childbloom guitar program. Since I had grown up with the curriculum I figured that it would be an easy part-time job as I went through college. At first I only had a handful of students. But the more I taught children, the more I realized that teaching was just as rewarding as being a performing musician. I continued to perform throughout my college years, yet now my focus also was on becoming a more effective teacher.
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
Right now, I have about 55 students, ages 6 to 15. They each have a weekly lesson, usually in pairs or three at a time; some of the students have private lessons. It's so incredible to see how the children progress in their musical development over the course of weeks, months and years!
Besides teaching through Childbloom, I also direct an ensemble of young guitarists called the Six String Players who perform in St. Louis, occasionally perform solo and play gigs locally, teach at an annual guitar camp, and have toured both nationally and internationally with the Childbloom ensemble Bella-Corda. I also want to continue growing as a musician myself, so I spend time every day furthering my knowledge and musical abilities in some way.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
Seeing my students mature as they grow up is a joy; of course, it's always saddening to see a student leave the program, but my hope is that their time with the guitar was beneficial to their growth as both a musician and a person.
The most challenging part of my job is being self-promoting and outgoing. I used to be VERY shy, so it was hard for me to teach confidently or even speak in a loud enough voice to be heard in a classroom! Fortunately, it's become much easier to be outgoing as I gain more experience in teaching, and I hope to always continue to grow in that area.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
Honestly, I can't think of any sacrifices! I have the freedom to create my own schedule since I'm self-employed as a private music teacher and freelance performing artist. That is one of the things I value the most in my life: freedom! I love what I do, so my job doesn't feel like a burden; in fact, most of the time I truly look forward to "going to work," because it's not just about making money but about teaching others how to make music. What a blessing to have such exciting opportunities every day in my life!
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
You never know how you might affect a person's life in a small or huge way, whether a child or an adult, so live with compassion in your sight and grace in your hands.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
In the classical guitar world, female guitarists are outnumbered by male guitarists, and female teachers are even more rare, simply because the guitar used to be such a male-dominated instrument. This is rapidly changing, though, as it becomes more and more evident that musical ability is not based on gender. I would love to see more female guitar teachers bringing their voices to the classical guitar realm!
Who are your role models?
There are so many inspiring musicians out there! I admire a musician of any instrument who can play from their heart.
More specifically, two of my lifetime role models are my mom and my first guitar teacher, Kelli Larson. Both of these women were incredible examples to me of what it means to be a strong, dedicated person who seeks to live according to what they believe is true. I admire my mom for home-schooling me so that I could have freedom in education and focus on music. Kelli was the teacher who laid the foundation for me to become a passionate musician. I hope that one day I will be able to inspire my own children and students just as much as Kelli and my mom inspired me!
What are some of the rules you live by?
This quote has become the words I always turn back to when I want to remember why I am a teacher and musician: "Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, "love me" .... Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear." - Hafiz
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
The best musicians make us forget that we are hearing because we are so enthralled with feeling. If you put your whole self into your music, then it will take on a life of its own. And as any teacher will say: practice, practice, practice!
No matter if you become a music teacher or a performing musician (or both!), always remember to stay humble and listen to critique and advice. When you stop listening to others then your ability to grow stops too. At the same time, be confident in your path to become the person you want to be. The world can always use more true musicians!
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hopefully still teaching classical guitar, continuing to perform music, and raising a family.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Life is short, so live each moment mindfully!