Graduation 2018: Lipscomb’s first contemporary music grad sets sights on debut album

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Jacalyn Thompson.

Remember that name, because chances are good if you’re a music aficionado you will hear it again.

Thompson has her sights set squarely on becoming a successful musician. And not just any musician, she is aiming for the likes of music giants Brandon Flowers and Paul Simon.

The Cypress, Texas, native is well on her way as she is set to become Lipscomb’s first contemporary music graduate at spring commencement Saturday, May 5.

Thompson is definitely a pioneer on the frontier of one of the George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts newest programs as she has plowed through the program, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in contemporary music with a concentration in songwriting in just three years.

“I'm really glad I came to Lipscomb," says Thompson. "I want the music program to do so well. I've been a part of its transformation, and it is improving all the time. There's not a better moment to join. The people I've been able to soak up information from are so important to me, and I'm grateful for my experiences in and out of class."

Lipscomb launched its contemporary music program, housed in the CEA’s School of Music, in fall 2015, offering concentrations in songwriting and music production. Thompson was one of about 20 students who entered the program, led at the time by founding director Charlie Peacock, a music industry veteran and Grammy award-winning producer.

Jacalyn Thompson_2When Thompson began her college search in early 2015, she came to Nashville because she wanted to pursue a college degree that would help her work toward the goal of a career in the music industry. She said she didn’t know much about Lipscomb at the time, but had heard of the university and visited the school while she was in town.

During her visit to Lipscomb, Thompson says she visited the music department and learned about the contemporary music program that would soon launch under Peacock’s leadership.

“So, I really just fell into it,” Thompson recalls. “Lipscomb felt like home, like somewhere I could belong.”

And the fact that Lipscomb’s contemporary music program is located in Nashville, one of the nation’s music industry hubs, was a bonus. The 2013 Nashville Music Study, sponsored by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Music City Music Council, found that the music industry helps create and sustain an estimated 56,000 jobs within the Nashville area, supports more than $3.2 billion of labor income annually and contributes $5.5 billion to the local economy for a total output of $9.7 billion within the Nashville metropolitan statistical area.

“In Nashville there is a real opportunity for budding independent, entrepreneurial musicians to learn their craft, to gain valuable experience and to pursue careers that will help fill the workplace demand for all facets of the music and entertainment industry,” says Mike Fernandez, dean of the George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts. “Lipscomb’s School of Music is training the next generation of artists and industry professionals by giving them opportunities to not only learn from experts in the field, but to give them hands-on opportunities to experience the many facets of the industry that are right here in our backyard.”

The CEA’s contemporary music program is located across the street from the Lipscomb campus. There, a house is set up with recording rooms, practice areas and editing suites in addition to offices and meeting rooms similar to those found on Nashville’s Music Row, giving students a realistic learning lab.

In May 2017, Lipscomb University was given the historic Sound Emporium, one of Nashville’s vibrant recording studios for nearly 50 years. Through the partnership with the studio, students have the opportunity to work shadow some of the industry’s leading sound engineers, producers, managers and artists in the recording studio setting.

Lipscomb’s School of Music offers Bachelor of Music degrees in composition, classical performance and contemporary music as well as choral and instrumental music education; Bachelor of Arts degrees in classical or contemporary music and an interdisciplinary major in worship ministry; and a Bachelor of Science degree in music.

Last summer, Lipscomb’s School of Music was recognized as one of the top in the country by, released its list of the top 25 programs in the country. Other institutions on the top 25 list include The Juilliard School, Curtis Institute of Music, the New England Conservatory of Music, Berklee College of Music, the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, the Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music among others.

Thompson is a songwriter, a vocalist and plays piano and guitar. She says she “loves lyrics” and “70s Americana and pop — that’s my genre.” She says she wants to create songs that give a nod to classic Americana/pop while writing next year’s music.

"I want to write songs that are so great that excellent players — the best there are — love to play them,” she admits. “It's like with Paul Simon...his live band is crazy about the songs they're playing. And they might just be the best touring band around. I want to write music that great players want to play."

Jacalyn Thompson_350She credits Lipscomb’s contemporary music program with launching her on a pathway to do just that. In September, Thompson won third place and a $2,500 scholarship for her original song “Wanted” in the BMI Foundation’s 20th Annual John Lennon Scholarships, a program that recognizes the nation’s best and brightest young songwriters between the ages of 17 and 24. The John Lennon Scholarships were established by Yoko Ono in 1997, in conjunction with the BMI Foundation, and honor the memory of one of the preeminent songwriters of the twentieth century.

"It's been really, really good for me and the other students (who were in this program when it started) to be the guinea pigs," she says. "We were Charlie's crew. He would let us come into sessions while he was recording, and he gave me so many opportunities that I really didn't deserve. There were times when I blew it, and then would turn around to receive another opportunity. Charlie is very gracious, a great mentor and someone I really look up to. Charlie has changed my view of music. I'm glad to have grown up musically under his direction."

She says a number of her professors had an impact on preparing her to launch as a professional songwriter and musician. Thompson credits Steve Taylor, director of the CEA’s School of Theatre and Cinematic Arts, with “teaching me to love lyrics,” and Donna King, academic chair for the School of Music, with helping her create a pathway to complete her degree in three years and for “encouraging me and keeping me going when I felt in over my head.”

When Peacock passed the baton as director of the School of Music to another Grammy award-winning producer, Brown Bannister, last fall, Thompson says she was both sad to see him leave, but also honored to learn from another industry giant like Bannister.

“Brown is awesome,” Thompson says. “He is the perfect person to come in behind Charlie. He has worked so hard to make the program the best it can be. It’s amazing to me that both producers have been a part of this program. I’m so honored to know them and am thankful I’ve been able to see their heart for music and the way they treat it with such care.”

“‘It’s art first.’ That’s really their mantra. They take artists and do what’s best for them. They have a heart to make each one better. It feels like we’ve been produced a bit,” she laughs. “The producer is truly the best professor.”

Bannister says he is proud that Thompson is the first to graduate from the contemporary music program.

“I couldn't be happier that Jacalyn is the first graduate of the contemporary music program,” he says. “While she is certainly a gifted musician, she also has that special quality that makes people want to be around her. I have no doubt that she will be successful and find her place in the creative community. She exemplifies the type of person we hope to graduate from this program.”

Thompson has been a good pupil as well.

“Jacalyn is a terrific student — not because she is bright and talented, which she is, but because she is both completely focused and endlessly curious,” says King. “She is constantly taking the things she learns and breaking them apart while asking questions and putting them back together again. In other words, she is constantly creating. It's been a joy to walk alongside her the past three years, and I can't wait to see what she will do over the course of her career. I'm thrilled that she's our first graduate from the new program.”

Next up for Thompson is her senior concert set for today, Wednesday, May 2 at 6 p.m. in Shamblin Theatre. All of the songs performed will be original works by Thompson. Some will be performed by her friends, most of whom are current Lipscomb students or alumni, and Thompson will also be performing a few songs.

“I’m very excited for the show. It’s been a huge endeavor,” she says. “It’s kind of odd hearing other people play my songs. But I’m crazy about each performance. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Following graduation, Thompson says she is going to give herself one year to write songs for her debut album.

“I want my debut work to be top-notch,” she says. “So, this year is dedicated to writing the very best songs I can, while saving money for a stout budget to track and promote the record. It’s important to me to have a deliberate pre-production period, quality studio time and good, good people on my team. It’s my debut as a songwriter and a singer. That first impression is especially key to progress as an artist.”

No matter how that first big release goes, music will always be Thompson’s biggest pursuit. “I just want to be happy with the work I do,” Thompson admits. “I love music. I’ll never get away from it.”

In May, Thompson began an internship in Warner Music Group's Emerging Talent Program in the A&R department.

Want to know more about Lipscomb's School of Music? Visit

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