Music Department Alumni Sing CWU’s Praises

CWU Music graduates who have gone on to become professional performers and music educators can’t say enough about how Central’s programs and faculty set them up for success. We asked three alumni about their experiences, in their own words:


Ashlyn Nicole Wilson

Degree: Bachelor’s in music (’13)

Hometown: Seattle

Career: Singer, songwriter, composer

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What brought you to Central?
My older brother and I both started Central at the same time; he wanted to study aviation and I wanted music. It’s always been a passion of mine, so it seemed only natural to pursue it as a degree. I also came in as a Running Start student, so I had my first two years of general education out of the way and went all-in on music classes.

I really wanted to keep my options open as a student. I wasn’t a music education major, and I wasn’t a performance major. It was just “music.” I wanted to know a little bit about everything so I could go more into recording and sound engineering. I thought a music degree would give me a solid foundation to build on. I went on and earned a certificate in recording technology and just completed my graduate degree in film and game scoring.

Where has your career taken you?

After graduation, I stayed in Ellensburg for several more years. I was really involved with the community and taught private piano and voice lessons. Eventually, I started working in my own music studio.

In 2018, my husband and I moved to Los Angeles for his graduate work. But it was a huge opportunity for me to get more into music production. I also joined an urban folk band, Welcome Home. In 2020, I released my first single, “Just Be.” In 2021, I released my self-titled debut album, “Ashlyn Nicole.” I’m working on my second album and hope to have that out in the next year.

What’s next for you?

I’m spending time building my portfolio and networking. Seattle has a big video game industry, and I’m connecting with other alumni who are working in the industry here. I think that’s the beautiful thing about music; there are so many different aspects of it to pursue.

How did Central prepare you for a performance career?

The faculty there gave me such a strong foundation to build on. They worked us really hard. There was this expectation of excellence that makes you rise to the occasion as a musician and take the work very seriously. They challenged me and helped me take ownership of my artistic voice. That’s something they can offer to any musician—they care about you and see a potential in you that maybe you don’t see for yourself.

I owe a lot to Central and professor Vijay Singh. He really encouraged me and brought out that jazz voice that I didn’t know I had.

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Stephen Pickard

Degree: Bachelor’s in music education (’12); master’s in conducting (’20)

Hometown: Everett

Career: 10 years teaching at Rogers High School in Puyallup. Also teaches fifth- and sixth-grade band.

What brought you to Central?
I had middle and high school teachers who were both alumni, and they were people I really respected. They said, “If you want to do music, you want to go to Central.” Right from the beginning, I felt like the faculty and staff presented an environment of warmth and positivity. You were drawn to these professors.

When did your love of music begin?
I started piano lessons right before my eighth birthday. I sang in children’s choirs in elementary school, and then continued singing. I also joined band in middle and high school. It’s been a constant in my life. I’ve always appreciated the community that music provides.

Did a love of teaching follow?
I originally did not want to teach. I was interested in film scoring and composition. But then one of my professors was taking a group of music education majors to a state music teacher’s conference, and I decided to go. To see education as a teacher in training—and not from a student perspective—was a real turning point for me. It made me connect some of the dots—music has provided a lot of opportunities for me, and I’m grateful for those. This is how I give back and foster positive opportunities for students.

Do you perform outside the classroom?
For several years I played with a well-known Seattle group, The Jazz Police. I also play in the Tacoma Concert Band and have a conducting fellowship with them this year. The fellowship builds on the experience I had getting my master’s in conducting, which was a very positive experience.

How did your time at Central influence your career?
One thing that I always appreciated about the experience that I carry over to my work now is about rehearsal. The professors made rehearsal spaces thoughtful and a team environment; critique was always positive and motivating.

Another thing I use all the time is trumpet professor John Harbaugh’s motto: “Nothing is difficult; only unfamiliar.” If you go into anything with the right mentality, you are going to overcome it much faster.

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Brittany Stevens

Degree: Bachelor’s in music education with a choral emphasis, minor in middle-level math (’16)

Hometown: Moses Lake

Career: Third year teaching music at Eastmont High School in East Wenatchee, and seventh year overall. Also taught ninth-grade math at Wenatchee High, and elementary school music.

What brought you to Central?
I was really involved in choir in high school, and we spent a lot of time in Ellensburg. We went to the Fall Choral Classic every year, and then the solo and ensemble state competition each spring. When I started looking at colleges to study music, Central already felt like home.

I didn’t want to get lost in a big university sitting in a big lecture hall. Sitting in my first-year music theory class with 25 other students, I could feel how invested my instructor was in me. They knew my name.

Did you always want to teach?
I knew from my freshman year of high school what I wanted to do. I’ve always enjoyed helping people and I try to make sure everyone is learning together. When I took my first year of choir in high school, I knew I didn’t want to do anything other than music.

How did your time at Central influence your career?
Central really acts like a hub, which is so important in the music industry. You have to have that network. I have so many colleagues now that I met during my time as a student, people who were students with me, or professors or visiting artists, or alumni—even other teachers who came to the festivals.

What do you love about teaching?
I love working with teenagers. I love watching them grow into capable, compassionate young adults. I love seeing the way music changes their lives. There’s a lot of people who say choral music is dying, but I don’t see that. If you have teachers who are passionate about what they do and they love the work, then there’s no reason for students to not continue pursuing choral education.

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