From IWU Magazine, Winter 2014-15 edition

Creative Careers

Music alumni speak on versatility and passions in an ever-changing field

Story by Tia Patsavas ’16

Alumni panel

(From left) David Rayl ’77, Shawna Lake ’87, Alicia Levin ’02, Kate Tombaugh ’07 and Kyle Pfortmiller ’92 dispense wisdom and encouragement during a career panel for music students.

For the modern-day music major seeking a career in a constantly changing field, the path may not be evident. Students should be open to taking an unforeseen path. “Keep the persistence going and stay open to the versatility and the growth that can come,” encouraged freelance opera singer Kate Tombaugh ’07 at a music career panel during Friday afternoon of Homecoming weekend.


David Rayl ’77, Shawna (Cornwell) Lake ’87, Alicia Levin ’02, Kyle Pfortmiller ’92 and Tombaugh shared their experiences with current students.“You have to be open to what the universe is willing to throw your way, and your career might take the path that’s not quite what you thought it would be,” said Levin, who didn’t anticipate teaching ear training for a few years after earning graduate degrees. She is now an assistant professor at the University of Kansas School of Music.

According to Rayl, who works in higher education at Michigan State University, the career path a student has in mind today might drastically change in the future. “I think there are many, many ways for a person to be happy and fulfilled and make a meaningful contribution to the world we live in with the kind of degree that you’re getting, beyond what you might think you’re going to do,” he said.

For Illinois Wesleyan students, their liberal arts education can help them determine what path they will take. “It is not the job of an undergraduate degree to fully form you as professional musicians,” said Rayl, who added that it helps aspiring musicians develop the set of skills, talent and attitudes that may set them along multiple possible career paths.

Lake, who earned a master’s degree after graduating from IWU, added that Illinois Wesleyan provided her with an array of choices. “You can’t expect an undergraduate degree to be exactly on the money as to where you’re going to be in 20 years,” she said.

When asked about what career advice he would give to current students, Pfortmiller encouraged students to embrace their mistakes. “It’s the mistakes you make now that will in turn make you a better artist,” said Pfortmiller, who has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera and numerous other companies. 

Lake, who is now president of Oboe Chicago and a freelance professional oboist, said that in her own experiences, failures that she thought were major turned out to be times that she had to look for a new direction.

“Your failures do shape you and help you focus on the next thing that will keep you excited,” Lake said.

But Levin reminded students that musicians often run the risk of their whole lives becoming about their work. “No matter what discipline of music you work in, it’s not 9 to 5,” she said. Strike a balance between work, passions and life, she said. “It’s important to remember to come up for air once in a while. Go for a run, or find yourself a hobby or something so that passion can stay with you.”

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