When Dr. Jason Heald, Director of Music at Umpqua Community College, began his academic career, he had every intention of becoming a lawyer. That all changed when he decided to join a show band rather than go to law school.
“I think (the deciding moment) was when I came to a realization of what I was really mentally putting my energy on,” Heald said. “Yeah, I was in college and I was doing fine in all the classes, but every available minute that I wasn’t in class, I was thinking about music. When I finished my undergraduate, there was a sort of liberation about it that, suddenly, now I can really just do music and not have to show up to class at 8 o’clock in the morning. It was almost a natural evolution.”
Heald grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, which he describes as a cool place for a kid. With a couple hundred thousand people calling it home, Anchorage provided a plethora of learning opportunities. As a classically trained bassist, Heald performed with several local symphonies and groups, but he also spent weekends playing guitar with rock bands on the military bases nearby.
He came to Oregon to attend Lewis and Clark College, where he received his bachelor’s degree. He spent the next 10 years as a professional musician.
Heald began teaching part-time at Oregon colleges in his 30s. He quickly realized that if he wanted to make money teaching music at the college level, he needed more schooling himself. He achieved his master’s degree from University of Portland and Ph.D. in composition from University of Oregon. Heald came to Roseburg in 1998 when he was offered the position he still holds today.
“My first year here in Roseburg was the first year in which I made more money teaching than playing,” Heald explained. “I’ve never done anything else. I’ve never had, as we say in the vernacular, a ‘straight job.’ I’ve always made a living as a musician.”
When Heald took over the music department there were no second-year students. Musicians did not have the option of focusing on their craft while preparing to transfer to another university. Heald saw opportunity for growth.
“To me, the college needed to represent three different things. It needed to both be a place where you could finish your first two years and go on to another college; it needed to be a place where you could get professional training — if that’s just what you wanted, rather than if you didn’t want a degree — and also that it needed to be a source for the community, to serve the community in both producing things that they could participate in and bringing things in,” said Heald. “And Umpqua Community College had structures that were able to do all those things.”
The program has grown under Heald’s leadership. There are four different choirs — the Umpqua Singers, UCC Chamber Choir, the Vintage Singers and the Roseburg Concert Chorale — and three orchestras — the Umpqua Chamber Orchestra, the UCC Symphonic Band and the Bighorn Jazz Band. Heald conducts half of these groups himself. Two are strictly student groups, while others overflow with community involvement. Some of these groups functioned before Heald joined the college, but he has influenced each during his tenure.
“The Umpqua Singers and the Chamber Choir were ones that I somewhat built up and gave some direction. Both Vintage and Concert Chorale were there, although both of them have taken a pretty dramatic shift in recent years,” Heald said. “Neither the community band and the Bighorn Jazz Band and the Orchestra, none of which were really functioning under the umbrella of the college at that point in time.”
Each group is thriving, and Heald is adamant that the structure provided by the college has allowed for the program to become what it is today.
“I think it is even more important now than it was back when I was my students’ age (to have an education). Most everybody who is a full-time musician that I know has what we would call a portfolio degree, in that they do a lot of different things. They will perform as much as they can perform, they may make recordings for video games and things like that, they may teach some ... but most everybody does more than one thing. The idea that you can just go out and perform six nights a week and make a living, most people are not doing that. So this is where, when you have a degree, it sets you apart from the people that don’t.”
UCC now offers a two-year music studies program, including a transfer program tailored for students to make a smooth transition to Southern Oregon University for their junior and senior years.
“One of the things I share with my students is how permanent your music education is, compared to other things. The world is changing very fast and what were marketable skills five years ago are no longer marketable skills now,” Heald said. “If I were to go back and look at my textbooks in Political Science from when I was an undergraduate ... how relevant are those books now? Not at all. ... If I were to go back and look at my music textbooks from the same time period, almost all of them I could use in the classroom right now. ... Very few things have that kind of permanence.”
Heald encourages anyone wanting to pursue music to just do it, though he says it will in no way be easy. Joining a community band or choir and expanding on one’s musical education is his greatest advice.
“You have to love the work, because you are going to be doing a lot of it. For me, that was just never an issue,” Heald said. “That’s why doing things like community music or community theatre are so important, because it’s not necessarily about people and their talent. It’s about whether or not you have the drive and the desire.”
Those with the desire to join a community group or pursue a music degree at UCC should contact Heald at 541-440-4693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.