By: Tyler Kirk
Last fall, Whatcom Community College hired new music instructor Melanie Sehman: professional percussionist, mother, wife, and Washington state native.
After only three quarters at Whatcom, Sehman says she is staying busy as the music department’s discipline lead, advisor for the Music Club, teaching three courses, and staying active as a performing musician.
Sehman, 37, completed her undergraduate studies at Central Washington University. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in percussion performance, Sehman said she moved to Phoenix to get a master’s degree in music performance from Arizona State University.
She then moved to the East coast upon gaining admission to the Eastman School of Music, a professional school of the University of Rochester in New York. There, Sehman completed a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in performance and literature.
After graduating from Eastman in 2006, Sehman moved to Queens in New York City to pursue percussion performance and music education, beginning her teaching career at City University of New York in Queens.
She said that after teaching in Queens from 2006 until 2013, she packed up to move back to Washington state.
Since she began teaching at Whatcom last fall, Sehman has become deeply integrated in Whatcom’s music education, teaching a variety of music courses.
This quarter, she is teaching American Music Survey, World Music, and Music Theory III, which is the last in a three-course music theory series that Sehman has taught since fall quarter.
Sehman said she plans on “using music as a way to connect with the community.” She recently has made connections with the Bellingham Chamber Music Society, a collective of professional musicians in the Bellingham area that formed last year.
The group performs once a month in the community and Sehman says she wants to bring them to Whatcom to perform for the school sometime next year.
Sehman also said she hopes to start a Class Piano course, where students with varying levels of musical experience and backgrounds can come together in a semi-guided piano session.
She said that Whatcom already has upwards of 15 Yamaha keyboards and the only necessary thing to start the course is a room in which to store them and hold the class.
“The class would be open to anybody,” Sehman said, explaining that the class would mainly emphasize “getting your fingers going” rather than music theory or any other formal training.
Aside from her educational career, Sehman is a performing percussionist. She says that while she focused on classical music in college, she started “gravitating toward new music” after college, such as contemporary chamber music, or as she puts it, “weird music.”
Sehman says that although she plays some piano and does some singing, her love is for percussion. “The variety inherent in percussion will keep anybody,” she said.
Sehman is also the advisor of the recently-formed Music Club at Whatcom. The club meets weekly in Heiner 210 from 4-5:30 pm for student-led improvised musical sessions with a variety of instrumentation and musical training.
Sehman said the club is organizing a record sale due to a large donation of vinyl records the club received from a community member, which span many eras and genres.
She said the sale will involve the club setting up tables with the records, allowing anyone on campus to flip through them.
The records will be sold for 50 cents each and all proceeds will go to the Music Club to help fund club activities. More information on the club is available at Student Life.
Outside of her educational and musical careers, Sehman and her husband, Steven, have two boys, a 4-month-old and a 2-year-old.
Steven is a fellow percussionist and music instructor who teaches in Western Washington University’s music department, alongside Western’s Fairhaven College.
She said her husband also took over her classes at Whatcom while she was on maternity leave last winter.
Sehman said that outside of her professional career, playing with her sons, hiking and reading murder mysteries are among the things she loves to do most.
She plans to continue broadening Whatcom’s music department, focusing on “diversifying course offerings [and] responding to student demands,” she said.
She added that she hopes that in the future Whatcom could offer more varied musical courses, such as a History of Jazz or a 20th Century Music class.
“[I want to] have music be a bigger presence on campus,” Sehman said. “That’s probably my biggest goal.”
More information on Melanie Sehman including her current and past projects, recorded music, and video-recorded performances can be found on her website, www.melaniesehman.com.