It is not typical of the average college student to end a long day of classes with long hours in the recording studio, but for junior music composition major Ethan Watts, this is second nature.
“Music has always been my thing,” Watts said.
Though he considered the occupations of doctor and artist as a young child, Watts feels like he’s always known that he would one day study professionally the passion which he has held close his whole life.
This was evidenced in the process of selecting his college major.
“(Music composition) is pretty much the only major that appealed to me,” he said.
Watts has been musically inclined since childhood. This journey started with piano lessons at age three and has only taken off. Watts has since become proficient in several instruments including guitar, bass and drums.
Considering he does not come from a particularly musical family, Watts’ gift is special. It was not long before his musicality manifested itself in more than just playing instruments.
“You can’t go very long playing an instrument until you start wanting to write your own things,” Watts said.
As an 8-year-old, Watts co-wrote his first song with a mentor from his church. It was based on the encouragement found within Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you.”
Watts’ skill for writing and playing quickly translated into service when he took a role on the worship team at his home church — something he has continued to do in the years since.
At Taylor, Watts has been involved in some capacity with a chapel band since freshman year. He currently leads a band alongside senior Andrew Edwards.
Watts imagines himself one day turning his love for music into full-time ministry.
“I would love to be a worship pastor at a church someday,” he said.
In his collegiate years, Watts has struggled to figure out how to balance a full class load with the demands of songwriting and composition for his own projects, which have recently taken a lot of his time and attention.
In this respect, time management came easier to Watts in years prior, when he had been homeschooled. Before his time at Taylor, Watts’ creative energy propelled him toward the release of two full albums.
“I was able to just lock myself in my studio and work on (them) all day,” he said.
As more has been piled onto his plate, Watts has had to learn how to prioritize both his studies and music-related ambitions. He has found that splitting his time throughout the day has been helpful amid new projects — doing what he can with composition when he can give it the time and dedication it requires.
Ultimately, Watts is grateful for this busyness as it has given him the chance to look at his work in a new light.
“I think it makes it more polished because I spend more time on it,” he said.
Watts is anticipating the release of his fourth full album later this fall. His music can be found on most popular streaming platforms such as Spotify, iTunes and YouTube.
For this body of work, Watts has drawn a lot of inspiration from the writings in the Psalms.
“I love the Psalms and how they had musicians in the temple always writing and composing music to be sung, and they had their own hymnal, in the Psalms, even way back then,” Watts said.
Watts has been especially moved by the truths found within Psalm 139. As the psalmist reflects in verse eight, the Lord is always there, even in the heights and the depths.
This album provides encouragement for the soul who may have a hard time tracing the hand of the Lord in the mundane parts of life.
“He’s still always with us,” Watts said.
With the past four albums, Watts has mostly flown solo. However, he continues to be involved with successful collaboration projects.
One notable piece that he worked on was an arrangement for Taylor’s chorale and orchestra, “When Old Words Die Out.”
Two summers ago, Watts collaborated on this project with Reed Spencer, assistant professor of music and director of choral ensembles. They received a grant to write the piece, which premiered last spring.
Another professor that Watts has worked closely with this year is Todd Syswerda, Taylor’s newly hired composition faculty.
As for secular musicians, Watts is inspired by the work of 29-year-old English singer-songwriter and five-time Grammy award winner Jacob Collier. He also admires classical French composer and pianist Maurice Ravel.
Watts emphasizes the importance of leaning upon the encouragement of others as a creative — something that’s been instrumental in considering the musical success he’s had over the years.
“Don’t be afraid to share even the little ideas that you have with people,” he said. “It can be the scariest thing in the world to just be starting out and have to share it with someone, but when you share it with someone, they can just pour life into it, and it makes you that much better.”