Graduate student Billie Feather's journey in the School of Music comes full circle

Her graduate studies in the UNCSA School of Music mark the completion of a journey that Billie Feather (M.M. '21, B.M. '06, H.S. '02) started back in 2001 as a high school senior, then undergraduate student, in the guitar program. After years of performing, touring and teaching private lessons, she decided she wanted to learn more about jazz and teaching methods — and eventually found herself back where some of her earliest music education began.

While earning her M.M., she has continued to balance her teaching work, performing in multiple bands like Hank, Pattie & the Current, The P-90s, and Billie Feather and the Hallway Waltz (not an exhaustive list), serving on the Graduate Student Council and completing her studies during a pandemic. Fortunately, much of that work will transition seamlessly to her life after commencement.

Here, Feather reflects on the ways in which her time at UNCSA has come full circle and how adjusting to the pandemic has impacted her career path.

You earned your undergraduate degree from UNCSA in 2006. What did your path to graduate school 15 years later look like?

After college, I played in bands, toured and ran my own teaching studio — which I still do. At 30, I decided I wanted to return to school to learn more about jazz. I went to North Carolina Central University and pursued a second undergraduate degree in jazz guitar. When I finished that program, I reached out to Joe Pecoraro, who has been a mentor of mine since I was at the School of the Arts, and asked, "Where in the universe would one go to study jazz, classical guitar and teaching methods?" And he recommended UNCSA.

It's been a long arc. The first time I left the School of the Arts, I left with some missing pieces, and now, I feel like everything has been completed.

Billie Feather

It's been a long arc. The first time I left the School of the Arts, I left with some missing pieces, and now, I feel like everything has been completed. I've gotten a lot of experience working with the undergraduates and high schoolers as the graduate guitar assistant. It's been really wonderful to work with them, Mr. Pecoraro and Luke Payne, who was the graduate assistant when I was in undergrad. It's been wonderful to return to the institution.

Tell us about your role at the School of Music Representative on the Graduate Student Council and what you learned from that.

It's been great to meet all of the different students from the different schools at UNCSA and learn more about the different programs. We've only seen each other entirely in person one time. We met on Zoom the entire year and everyone showed up to every meeting. 

To me, that was a pretty life-altering endeavor — getting to know the school administration and finding out what you can change, what's harder to change and what channels you need to go through to make a change.


How long have you been teaching private lessons and what has that looked like during the pandemic?

I've been teaching since I was 18, so almost 20 years. Right now I work with High Strung School of Music in Durham, and my studio is about 32 students.

When the pandemic started there was a big panic at the music school. We were all like, "What are we going to do?" Luckily, we had been hearing from other teachers around the world, especially in Europe, that this was coming. We met before the shutdown and talked about technology and bought all the things we'd need like cameras and interfaces. We were super lucky. 

I lost some students, but I gained a lot during the pandemic. I have a student in Canada, a couple of students in California, students who are children of School of the Arts alumni, students from Alabama. So I've been able to teach students from all over. I did not think I could teach guitar online before this, but now I am seriously considering it as a big part of my career path.

What is a favorite performance or project you were a part of at UNCSA? Why?

My favorite moment was during the recent Guitar Studio Recital, which featured a section of the graduating students performing. One of the ensembles I was assigned to included a student who is graduating high school, Doriana Spurrell, who is one of my former guitar students. We came into the program at the same time and have witnessed the pandemic together. I have been so excited and inspired by her growth.

During the recital, we had a part that was a harmonized line and we had to do it together — it required us to understand each others' phrasing, match each others' tone; some very advanced skills, I feel like, for a high schooler. During that performance, it was so amazing because I looked over and we locked eyes and we just nailed the part! It has been cool to see Dori's arc as an artist and a performer.

If you could say thank you to someone at UNCSA, who would it be? Why?

I want to thank the guitar students. I am so thankful that they gave me the opportunity to work with all of them. Getting to know them has been so wonderful and inspiring and I'm thankful that they put up with my classroom teaching and me learning how to be better at that. I also got to work with a lot of the younger female guitar students. That was empowering because I felt like I was really able to help a new generation of female musicians.

Also, shout out to my guitar professors Mr. Pecoraro and Mr. Payne. I feel like I have been able to be very open and honest with them as a graduate student, and I got such great feedback from all of it. Mr. Pecoraro always took time to talk with me, even if he couldn't do it in the moment, and he's so good at remembering all of the things that I asked him. Having a mentor on that level has been incredible.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you were a new student at UNCSA?

In high school, I wish someone would have told me to really trust my teachers — or at least entertain the advice of my teachers. Listen to those around you more.

As an undergraduate, I would have told myself to really enjoy the time that I was on campus. The time that I really spent in the practice rooms or in the dining hall, that was so important because those people are still with me.

And as a graduate student, I would tell myself to schedule more free time, especially with other students. I was so involved in my own work that I missed out on a lot of stuff happening on campus. Make sure that you're making connections and meeting people and spending quality time with other students.

by Corrine Luthy

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May 05, 2021