"What Can You Do With a Music Degree?"
My name is Clay Colley, and I’m a pianist, educator, composer, arranger, entertainer, and vocalist. My journey with music started on the piano when I was twelve years old, and has been characterized by diversity from the beginning.
Soon after I started taking lessons, I joined a local church’s praise band, learning how to improvise and play by ear while also studying the music of Beethoven and other great composers. During this period, I also learned how to play guitar, bass, drum set, and sing, all skills that I still use in my career today.
I hold a Bachelor of Music Degree in Piano Performance from Youngstown State University, where I studied with Dr. Caroline Oltmanns. While under her instruction, I also played in YSU’s top Jazz Ensemble each semester, led my own rock bands, and played with other local bands.
In 2012, I was hired at Howland United Methodist church, where I started the contemporary music ministry by forming the church’s praise band Firmly Grounded. In my nine years there, I oversaw all aspects of the music ministry, including the choir, handbell choir, praise band, youth praise band, and the service music on Sunday mornings. Exponential growth in my private studio in 2020 led to my resignation at HUMC to be able to fully focus on teaching.
In 2013 I went on to pursue a Master of Music in Jazz Studies at Youngstown State, during which time I was awarded a full teaching assistantship, and taught adjunct for the Dana School of Music’s music theory department. It was also during this time that I formed my fusion group, the Big Nasty. That group’s debut album, Koba, was the subject of my master’s thesis (and is available to stream on Spotify!). After concluding my studies at YSU, I continued teaching adjunct there, eventually teaching all levels of music theory, a history of rock & roll class, and spending a year as the accompanist for the Musical Theater Department.
During all of this, my performing career was developing. A lot of my experience is in the pop, rock, and jazz realm; I’ve played with countless bands and artists, including JD Eicher, the Vindys, and the Labra Brothers. In these bands, I’ve played piano, EP, Hammond B3, and synthesizer, and with my extensive knowledge of keyboards and software, I am equipped for any musical style.
I have been teaching piano privately for ten years, and have taught students age 3 to age 65. I bring all of my musical influences to my teaching, including classical performance, jazz improvisation, pop/rock improvisation, and songwriting & composition. I currently teach thirty-five students at my home studio in Warren, Ohio.
After finishing my master’s degree, I formed my band Black Wolf & the Thief, with my wife as the lead vocalist. We have been writing and performing for seven years, have recorded two studio albums, and play frequently in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. We have been featured on YSU’s Federal Frenzy four times, were winners of the 2019 Federal Frenzy Face-Off, voted no. 33 on Top Local Bands in Northeast Ohio, and featured on the SummitFM radio station with our songs, “Love Song for Evelyn” & "Dark Thoughts." You can stream our music on Spotify.
I believe it’s the job of every artist to embrace all that their art form has to offer. I have always tried to cultivate diversity in what I do, and my career shows it. Today, I make my living as a private piano instructor, the piano professor at Thiel College, the general music teacher for K-8 at the Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley, a vocal arranger for Re-Creation USA, the worship leader of Poland United Methodist Church, and a freelance pop/rock/jazz keyboardist.
That’s what you can do with a music degree.