Music Student Profiles
Equally at home on the concert stage performing, in the recording studio writing and producing her own original music, or backstage at First Ave. hosting touring artists as the Minnesota College Marketing Representative for Sony Music Entertainment, music business major Maxee Whiteford is living the busy life of a student on the move.
Maxee took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about life at St. Thomas, and her burgeoning career as an artist and music industry professional.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you find music?
I grew up in Rosemount, a suburb of Minneapolis. I have vivid memories of hanging off the back of my mom’s grocery cart singing “Tomorrow”from Annie. Not the whole song, just one line over and over. I took piano lessons for a long time. That’s really important to me. I’ve been classical training on voice for ten years. I had vocal lessons all throughout middle school and high school. I also did musicals and community theater, but I didn’t start writing [music] until I got to college. That was a big step for me.
I thought performing in musicals would be my calling when I was in high school. When you’re playing a character, you get to express feelings that aren’t your own. That translates into what I’m doing now because I can write songs [about things] that I have personally experienced, or I can write songs [about things] that I could see happening. I’m still exploring that.
What motivated you to start writing your own music? What is your songwriting process?
Nick Meyerson was one of the very first people I met at school here. We didn’t know each other, but we knew of each other through All-State and high school honor choirs. We ended up hanging out, talking, and connecting right off the bat. Nick has aided in my spiritual and musical growth so much. We took a songwriting class my first J-Term at St. Thomas. I started to gain confidence that I had something to say that I wanted people to hear. Nick and I haven't collaborated on music yet, but we’re there for each other providing feedback during every step of the songwriting process. He’s really supportive and validates me, reminding me that what I have to say isn’t stupid and that I’m worthy.
I write lyrics first. I mostly write when I’m driving; sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to write. That’s one of the weird things a lot of songwriters do. I start with lyrics and then I find songs I really admire. I learn the chords and change them to fit my music.
How did you find St. Thomas? How did you end up here?
My first year in All-State, I was in Dr. Broeker’s choir. She talked about St. Thomas. I came to UST as a vocal performance major. From there things really evolved. The fact that the music business program is developing offers such a unique opportunity. At the same time, you hear success stories about alumni like Rachel Siteman doing such great things. It’s so encouraging.
Tell me about your work at Sony. It’s pretty unique for a student to have a position like that. How did you find out about it?
My sophomore year, Rachel Siteman approached me about working for Sony Music Entertainment. I knew she was always crazy busy and I admired that about her. She described [the job] as gaining experience in the industry we’re trying to break into. It inspired me to be more involved and engaged with what I want to do. It was the push I needed to be more serious about all aspects of the industry, not just about myself as a performer. Knowing the other sides of what it takes to make a successful album is really important.
I’m the only Minnesota rep. I’m in charge of covering tour dates and reporting on what artists are doing when they come to town. I get to meet and talk to artists. I do online marketing, blogging, social media, and promotion of developing artists’ upcoming projects. I also do street marketing with posters and promotional materials. We gave away guitar picks at the Hozier show. I did a bunch of sidewalk painting for the Passion Pit show. It’s challenging, but really fun.
Tell me about the music industry club and your role in it. Talk to me about this project you did with KUST.
Music Industry Club is getting revamped this year under the direction of Nick Meyerson and myself. We’re building on the relationships that already exist within the community here. We’re looking to tap into the students’ talent and enthusiasm. This means connecting, networking, finding out peoples’ strengths, and identifying possible collaborations. We create a positive, safe environment where people can explore the industry before they dive headfirst into it. 60-70% of club members are not music majors. The Music Industry Club has been the best musical experience I’ve had thus far. It’s a really loving, positive environment. It’s cool to see it grow and see people so excited to talk about shows.
Since the Cities 97 Sampler is so successful, KUST saw an opportunity to work with Music Industry Club to create an album completely comprised of original student work. It’s an exciting project because it gives students a medium to share their work with other students. There are so many styles of music on it: rap, acoustic, doo-wop, instrumental, and R&B. I’m really proud of it.
You have music training, you’re a singer/songwriter, and you have a pretty high profile college job in the music industry. Where is this going?
I’ve always seen myself as an artist, but my vision has evolved as I’ve gone through school. I’m really passionate about my music, especially with the sampler coming out. I’m revamped knowing that I have something to show for the writing I’ve been doing, that I’ve finished at least one single. Career-wise I’m considering staying in marketing for the major labels or going to a smaller label for artist or tour management. I’d like to get more experience in live events.
What is one word that describes you?
What is one word that describes your original music?
David Billingsley knows the arts can save lives. He’s helping Twin Cities youth overcome poverty, hopelessness and gun violence through music, dance, theater and art. When it launches this fall, the Billingsley School of Music & Arts (BSOMA) will be one of the nation’s only nonprofit organizations that provides free arts access to underserved youth. Billingsley, who has been a worship pastor and toured nationally as a pianist, is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in music education at St. Thomas.
Our interview with David was featured in the spring 2014 issue of CAS Spotlight.
Q: After touring the globe as a professional musician and teaching music at several area schools, why was it important for you to further your own education by pursuing a master’s degree?
A: I learned at a young age that education is essential to getting anywhere in life. I grew up in the inner city of Racine, Wis. We didn’t have a ton of money; that was our reality. Education was the only way to get out of that reality. That’s why it’s important, especially for inner-city kids like me. Education is your lifeline.
Q: How has the St. Thomas master’s program helped you garner the skills needed for your leadership roles as founder and executive director at BSOMA?
A: Discussions with my St. Thomas professors gave me hands-on, tangible solutions to professional issues and things to think about that helped me develop the model for BSOMA. The program also made me look at my teaching philosophy and identify what it is I believe in, while examining why I do what I do and why I am who I am. It challenged me to work harder and think differently. It also opened doors to a lot of professional networking opportunities.
Q: How does founding a school of the arts for at-risk young people connect to the missions of the College of Arts and Sciences and the University of St. Thomas?
A: It is the mission. There is a huge achievement gap; we’re seeing a generation of young people wasted. The purpose of BSOMA is to change students’ lives through access to the arts. We have a responsibility, through the arts, to teach students what they need to know
to lead healthy lives, essential lives and lives that matter. That’s what St. Thomas is all about: advancing the common good, changing lives and improving them for the betterment of the people and the society we live in.
Q: What core values influence your philosophy of teaching the arts?
A: Arts instruction should be fun, relevant, engaging and impactful. I also believe in proficiency, creativity and improvisation. I feel like there’s a huge disconnect in our arts community. Either you read music or you play contemporary music by ear. Why not both?
The content we teach is what propels students and makes them better citizens. We must teach kids self-worth and what it takes to be both active artists and citizens. The art is just the drawing tool. The message in the art is what’s going to change their lives and help them see the world differently.
Q: Why do the arts matter to young people, especially the community of young people BSOMA serves? What is the need for this type of school in Minneapolis?
A: The arts matter to young people because the arts are universal. At the end of the day all kids want to express themselves. We not only want kids to be in the arts, we want kids to use art as an avenue to tell a story and connect with others in a different way.
The need for this type of school is great. Only 28 percent of Minnesota elementary schools offer all four arts disciplines. If our elementary schools aren’t providing arts education, our kids won’t get it. That’s another kid who could be the next Louis Armstrong, but no one put a trumpet in his hands.
Q: Describe a day in the life of a BSOMA student. How do you see the program shaping the future of your students?
A: Students will walk around our facility and know they matter. They’ll be told they have a voice and that this is a safe place to express themselves. They’ll mix and mingle with some of the best teachers and the most talented students in the city. It will be rigorous, and it will be fun. It will be relevant to them and their current living situation. They’ll hear music and see art forms from their time, art they relate to and that has an impact on them.
I see the program healing students and allowing them to dream again. When you give a student an instrument or put ballet shoes on their feet, it gives them a new reality of what they can become. That one moment could change a kid’s life forever.
Q: You started thinking about founding this school when you were 14. What prompted you to set this goal at such a young age? What has kept driving you to pursue this goal?
A: Growing up, I saw the effect music had on people, how it changed and inspired people. I also saw that I was the only black kid in my music classes. I grew up in the ’hood, but I just happened to have parents who had enough money to pay for lessons, to make that investment in me. That made me realize this was my calling.
The arts are the only reason I’m here today, successful and doing what I’m doing. They exposed me to different people and places I otherwise would have never had access to or been involved with. I know if the arts changed my life and helped me get out of poverty, they can do the same for any other kid.
Read more from CAS Spotlight.