With time still on her side, guitarist earns second degree

Macyn Taylor

Macyn Taylor

There was something of a friendly competition for views between the YouTube channels of UWM’s finger-style guitar performance program and one of its recent, youngest graduates, Macyn Taylor.

Taylor reached a million views first.

Video by Chris Baylor

Finger-style guitarist Macyn Taylor will get you dancing with her twist on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”  (View full size on YouTube)

Taylor was the subject of publicity in 2011 when she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree from UWM’s Peck School of the Arts guitar performance program at 17 – one of the youngest UWM graduates in a very long time. This spring, she earned her master of music degree in guitar performance.

Her ambitious long-range plans include performing, teaching guitar students and, someday, teaching guitar at a university.

“It feels like part of my life going away,” Taylor said of ending her time at UWM, which started when she was 12. “I performed quite a bit while I was at UWM, some while I should have been doing schoolwork.”

That wasn’t a problem, according to John Stropes, Peck School’s director of guitar studies. “Macyn was an extraordinary student and an exemplary citizen at UWM. She had the most active performance schedule of any of the program’s students, and she has a generous spirit, always willing to help people.”

Taylor stood out among her peers in the guitar program because of her age and early accomplishments. But Stropes pointed out that “all the students have their stories to tell.”

There are 26 students in the guitar performance program, 16 of them studying in the specialty that Taylor prefers, finger-style. Other styles are classical, jazz and flamenco.

“The program in finger-style guitar is unique, offering the only academic major in that style in the world,” Stropes said. “It has become a model for innovative guitar programs that are now being developed at colleges and universities around the world.” Students come to UWM from as far as New Zealand, Australia and Finland.

Taylor had to make the trip only from her parents’ farm in Racine County. She began playing on the streets of Madison at age 9, in the company of her parents or an older brother when they were visiting her sister there. While she was playing on the UW-Madison Union Terrace on Saturday nights, a UW-Madison professor encouraged her to study at the college level.

Leo Kottke workshop at UWM Aug. 1-3John Stropes will be the instructor at the Peck School’s Music of Leo Kottke 2014 Summer Workshop, Aug. 1-3, at Kenilworth Square East, 1925 E. Kenilworth Place. Macyn Taylor will be one of the assistant instructors.The workshop will focus on the music of the renowned guitarist/composer, with the opportunity to study three of his compositions, “Airproofing,” “Julie’s House,” and “Busted Bicycle.” For more information, including how to register, visit the workshop website.Kottke received an honorary doctorate in music performance from UWM and delivered a commencement address in 2008.

When she arrived at UWM, she had just completed the 6th grade. In addition to being homeschooled, she took 10 UWM credit hours a semester, and attended summer and winter sessions.

Finger-style guitar fascinated Taylor from the beginning.

“The repertoire appeals to me, it’s where I come from, more of a blues/folk style. It’s just more flexible in my mind,” she said. She lists Leo Kottke and the late Michael Hedges as influences.

Taylor never stopped performing, no matter her academic responsibilities. Years of playing and singing in folk festivals, coffee shops and bars have helped her mature, playing a challenging guitar style with seeming ease. Busking as a street performer remains her favorite.

“I never was nervous, even when I first started,” she said. “I have certainly gotten more comfortable and able to relate to the audience. Performing is a different skill set and takes a lot of experience.”

Said Stropes: “With the comprehensive education and training that she has received at UWM, her already substantial career as a performer, and her online celebrity, Macyn’s future looks bright.”

Taylor’s performance schedule – and a link to her self-titled CD – is on her website. YouTube contains seemingly hundreds of her performances, almost always accompanied by messages of effusive praise from fans. Another CD may be finished by the end of the year. A trip to play in New York is scheduled for October.