Jersey Bilyeu: Making Her Rounds Across Kennedy Fine Arts

Senior Jersey Bilyeu plays vibraphone with Kennedy Jazz 1.
Senior Jersey Bilyeu plays vibraphone with Kennedy Jazz 1.
River Borgerding

Throughout her years at Kennedy, senior Jersey Bilyeu has become one of the most involved people at Kennedy. She started in band and dance until freshman year when she quit dance.

“I danced for 11 years but ultimately quit because it wasn’t something I wanted to do as a career,” Bilyeu said. “Quitting allowed me to focus more on my percussion skill for my future.”

She started her percussion journey in fifth grade at Novak after she couldn’t play any of the wind instruments.

“I originally wanted to be a trumpet or saxophone player but when my director at the time, Kevin Malkinster, pulled me into sign up, I couldn’t get any noise out of the mouthpieces,” Bilyeu said. “I was taking piano lessons at the time though and that’s when he introduced me to percussion.”

As with many students, COVID-19 affected her freshman year at Kennedy with online classes and limited in-person activities. While online school may be difficult for some, she continued to play percussion and found a deeper love for it during her sophomore year.

“I always enjoyed percussion but it was never really my thing until sophomore year,” Bilyeu said. “That’s when I really ramped up my practice.”

Since sophomore year, Bilyeu has accomplished honors like participating in multiple honor bands, ensembles and All-State.

“Getting into All-State is one of my highest achievements because the percussion audition is so incredibly hard,” Bilyeu said. “I spent almost all my summer learning the five etudes on top of a solo on top of all the technique stuff.”

Bilyeu is also the first female at Kennedy to get into All-State as a percussionist and the second person to ever be admitted for percussion twice.

“From what I’m told, the only other Kennedy percussionist that made it two years was Miles Damaso and on top of that I’m the only female to ever make it,” Bilyeu said. “Learning that was extremely validating.”

Besides these honors, Bilyeu has also been involved in Kennedy’s marching band, jazz bands and winter percussion.

“I think one of my favorite ensembles is marching band,” Bilyeu said. “Marching band is where I really started to get noticed by others for my ‘expressiveness’ while playing. It’s just a really good time and I genuinely enjoy being around my section.”

Bilyeu has been a member of the Kennedy Band’s Leadership Team for two years now and said there’s one big thing she’ll miss.

“Loading the trailer,” Bilyeu said. “It’s so frustrating sometimes trying to leave Kingston at a reasonable time but it really is like one big game of Tetris.”

Bilyeu is also a three-year stage crew member. Never interested in dancing and singing for show choir, she ended up being influenced by friends to join show choir technical crew. There she met Matt Powers, one of the head “tech dads” and a role model for her.

“After you get past the chaos of competition days it’s nice to have someone guiding you through all these crazy tasks we have to do for show choir,” Bilyeu said. “One of the tech dads, Matt Power, also taught me how to use a ratchet strap.” 

Powers explains how her leadership and knowledge of tech help out the team.

“Her leadership is evident in helping make sure all tasks are completed effectively and safely while mentoring the new techs,” Powers said. “We know if she is tasked to do something it will be done correctly and on time.”

Besides show choir tech, Bilyeu was involved in theater tech.

“I joined the stage crew class my freshman year as a filler and I remember going into the [catwalk] for the first time to switch out lights,” Bilyeu said, referring to the area above the auditorium where stage lights are hung. “It was super awesome to see the ‘bare-bones’ of theater.”

Going into her sophomore year,  she then joined Kennedy’s production of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer as a stagehand and went on to Assistant Stage Manage for Kennedy’s Matilda, Chicago and Lion King Jr.

“Spring musical is always my favorite time of the year,” Bilyeu said. “I’m always my happiest when I’m around theater and it’s been such a big part of my life for so long.”

Bilyeu recalled seeing her first show at two years old and continuing to see musicals all her life.

“I used to dream of being an actor but tech was far more my style,” Bilyeu said. “And trying out the musical pit for Sweeney this spring has been even more enjoyable for me.”

Also from stage crew class, Bilyeu met teacher and director Steven Tolly who encouraged her to join Torch. 

“I was always interested in photography, so when Tolly found out he did what he always does and pushed me into Torch,” Bilyeu said.

Joining Torch sophomore year, she started as a photographer and would only occasionally write. Going into junior year she switched roles and mostly wrote while only occasionally taking photos. As a senior, Bilyeu is one of our four editors at the Torch

“My writing skills have gone up significantly because of Torch. I am also a lot less scared talking to people because of interviews and stuff like that,” Bilyeu said.

She said Torch is one of her favorite activities because of its diversity in skills.

“To have all the tools to be a writer, photographer, videographer and designer in one class is something you don’t normally see,” Bilyeu said. “I still love taking photos and I have a new enjoyment for writing, which was otherwise mundane.”

Being involved in so many activities begs the question, what will you do in college? Bilyeu said she will not be pursuing journalism or stage crew in her future years.

“Just cause nowadays, unfortunately, you really have to prioritize how you’re gonna make money and a living,” Bilyeu said. “And music is already an iffy market, therefore I don’t think I’m gonna continue tech or journalism after high school.”

Bilyeu does plan to double major in Business In Marketing and Percussion Performance at Iowa State University this fall and then go on to get a master’s degree in music. 

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