Central music composition grad finds success in ITAM

Nick_Terrel_Prof.John_1BY Adam Wilson

Scene Editor


John Durham’s master bedroom is filled with memories of music.  Scribbles of songs he’s written, some of which are 10 years old, fill the drawers of his dresser and the boxes above his closet.  Countless unfinished pieces accompany the dozens of complete works in this hideaway in his Ellensburg home.

It’s been several years since Durham, a Central master’s graduate of music composition, sat down to compose music. Now his time is spent raising three kids with his wife, teaching web design at Central and managing his at home bakery.

“I just don’t feel like I have the time to anymore,” Durham said. “I can’t just sit [and compose] for an hour or two. I need to sit down for a day, or two days or a weekend, and just write.”

During his college career in the early 2000s, Durham’s creative process would lead him to the Starbucks on University Way. For stretches that lasted up to 10 hours at a time, he would sit hunched over the tables with papers, pencils and rulers scattered all around him, scribbling down the music he imagined while drinking as much coffee as he could pay for. His short, curly black hair ruffled against his hands while he thought of the next measure.

But now, 10 hours are hard to come by for Durham.  If he’s not at home taking care of his 7-year-old daughter or his 4-year-old twin sons, he’s in his office, answering emails or grading HTML code turned in by his 110 students each quarter.

A typical day starts with him waking up at 6:30 a.m. to make breakfast for his family. In the morning, he will play with his twins Beckett and Braeden when they’re not at preschool.  By the time his wife Katrina is home from teaching at Valley View Elementary School, he is in his office and typically doesn’t come home until 10 p.m.

Durham is not new to a life of working long hours.  Five years ago, he worked 80 hours a week between managing Hollywood Video, serving at Dakota Café and teaching business writing at Central.

It was not what Durham had in mind when he got his bachelor’s degree in music composition from Central in 2003.  He sent applications to over 10 universities for master’s programs, but the people who promised to write him letters of recommendations backed out at the last minute, leaving Central’s program his only option.

“It’s the type of situation that really I don’t have any closure on,” Durham said.  “I don’t know why. I didn’t really get an explanation.”

Durham knew from the outset that he didn’t want to teach music when he finished his graduate degree in 2005, but composition jobs were hard to come by.  He ended up working sales at the local U.S. Cellular – a job that would eventually lead him down the track to teach information technology and administrative management.

Through U.S. Cellular, he learned about cellular networks, and through managing Hollywood Video, he got first-hand experience in financial analysis and retail management.

Durham’s wife helped him get a job teaching for Central’s ITAM department. In addition to teaching classes for the department, Katrina also teaches fourth grade at Valley View Elementary School in Ellensburg.  When their twins were born, she had to make more time for them and recommended Durham to the department to replace her.

“John’s really good with computers,” Katrina told the department. “He’s smart, he’s patient and he’s got his masters degree.”

Durham started out only teaching one class – business writing – in winter 2009. Five years later, he teaches full time: basic and advanced web design, as well as an introduction to information technology.

Being in the ITAM department requires Durham to teach both online and in-person classes.  He describes himself as an introvert who preferred online classes at the beginning of his career, but as time has passed he now enjoys face-to-face class time.

“I really enjoy working with the students and being able to physically see them get something,” Durham said. “[Getting to work] with a student and finally seeing it click … I can’t see that online.”

Even though he doesn’t have time to compose music anymore, Durham doesn’t regret the countless hours he spent in Hertz Hall studying music. It wasn’t what he set out to do with his life, but he understands the necessity of an education in information technology.

“Technology is ingrained in our lives. There’s no way to get around technology anymore,” Durham said. “With ITAM you get the fundamentals you need to learn about technology, and at the same time you’re picking up the soft skills of the management side of things, and that’s what employers want.”