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Tell me about your work: Tahira Clayton

Tell me about your work is a new interview series published by the Division of Jazz Studies at UNT. We're interested in knowing more about the work life of our alumni, what role their musical education plays in the work they do, and what their musical lives are like now. Knowing this will give current students a broader sense of the career paths they could follow, and could suggest ways to prepare for them while they are still studying at UNT.

John Murphy


Tahira Clayton

B.A. in Music, 2015

Tahira Clayton singing in a recording studio

Breaking news (June 2017): Tahira Clayton and the AMP Trio won the DC Jazz Prix at the Washington, D.C. Jazz Festival

What sort of work do you do?

I am a freelance musician (instrument: vocals) and early childhood educator.

What led to you doing this sort of work?

As a 16-year-old, I booked my first professional work with a corporate variety band as their lead singer. During my time at UNT, I started performing with my own groups as well as being a side-woman with other small groups throughout Denton and Dallas. Now based in New York City, I realized quickly that if I hustled hard enough and diversified myself, I would be able to sustain a living being a musician. The early childhood education came during my UNT years as well, sort of out of necessity. I didn't realize how much I enjoyed teaching younger kids until I started doing it and have stuck with it.

How did you prepare for it?

I don't know that I consciously prepared for life as a freelancer. I was fortunate enough to gain gig experience at an early age that undoubtedly prepared me for present day. Getting a degree in music certainly gave me skills I would need to be diverse as a musician and educator.

What's a typical day like?

Lots of travel! My time is spent a little differently every day, however a typical day for me right now involves teaching chorus at 2 public elementary schools in NYC, then heading to a music academy in Long Island where I teach private voice, piano, and early childhood classes, and usually ending the day with a gig (either my own or a private event type of deal) or a rehearsal of some kind. That being said, today I did none of those things and was in a recording studio for most of the day. A little different every day.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

I can go home knowing that I shared a little bit of the joy I have for music with someone else, whether it be a student, client, collaborator, or audience member. I get to see folks' reactions to a new original song, or old standard, and celebrate with a student or choir when they've learned something and applied it to their own music. That will always be cool to me.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Money is certainly the first thing that comes to mind, but even more so dealing with the personalities of different people in different situations.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

Though I was playing before UNT, I didn't really know anything about music except for artists and songs I liked. The UNT environment shaped me up on theory, vocal technique, sight-reading--all things that help me do my work well. Also: a major shout-out to my jazz keys teacher and all my applied piano lessons teachers. I never knew I would be playing so much piano/sight-reading now!

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?

I would have definitely take more pedagogy and music education courses.

What else would you like readers to know about your work?

Don't be timid to do music full time. It is possible. Diversify and conquer!

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

I did have a brief stint at a neighborhood grocery store my first summer in New York City. Word got out to the customers that I was a vocalist, and I would sometimes sing for some of the older ladies when they came through my check-out line. That was a fun time.

Music can be found at my website: www.tahiraclayton.com.