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Cornish adds new music faculty to support redesigned curriculum

 Two headshots side-by-side, on the left a woman with short brown hair holds a bass and on the right a man with shaggy brown hair holds a guitar.
Sydnie Couch of Deer Creek Media/Kimberly West
Cornish College of the Arts
Bass instructor Kelsey Mines, left, and singer-songwriter instructor Ryan Devlin, right, recently joined the faculty at Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts.

Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts, known for preparing students for careers in the arts, has adapted its music curriculum to meet the challenges of the modern music industry.

In the fall of 2020, the college unveiled a redesigned program that effectively eliminates vocalist, instrumentalist and composer majors typical of conservatory-style programs, and instead unifies the curriculum. Each student is now required to learn about music technology, improvisation, and composition. This shift comes as streaming and social media change music consumption patterns.

According to Kaley Lane Eaton, chair of music at Cornish, the inspiration for the new curriculum comes from a 2014 academic paper which reconsidered the relevancy of the conservatory style that silos students into style or skill-specific tracks, like vocal performance or classical composition.

"In today's music industry, no matter what your goals are, you can't really be specialized, right? You have to do everything," Eaton explained, noting the scarcity of full-time performance jobs.

To support the updated curriculum, Cornish hired bass instructor Kelsey Mines and singer-songwriter instructor Ryan Devlin. Mines, a Seattle native and Earshot Jazz Award winner, started filling in for the late Chuck Deardorf, the school’s long-standing bass instructor, in October 2022. Last spring, after Deardorf’s death, she applied for and officially received the full-time position.

"There are these huge shoes to fill. Students tell me Chuck didn't judge them and met them where they were. That style really resonates deeply with me," said Mines.

Mines, a versatile musician who records and performs with an array of Seattle groups spanning from chamber music to Latin jazz, has the adaptable and genre-bending mindset Cornish hopes to instill in its students.

Likewise, the new singer-songwriter instructor, Devlin, has a deep connection with Cornish. He spent many childhood moments there while his mother worked as a student accounts manager at the college. A Tacoma native, Devlin started his musical journey in DIY bands as a teen and later attended the University of Washington on a jazz trombone scholarship. Midway, he switched majors to creative writing, effectively creating the singer-songwriter major he was looking for, but that wasn’t offered.

"My whole music education life the things I was naturally interested in, like pop and rock songwriting, weren't on the menu. It’s exciting to be a part of bringing these offerings to Cornish," Devlin said.

For the last decade, Devlin’s taught songwriting privately while also performing and touring with Smokey Brights, an indie rock group that he leads with his wife, Kim West. Likewise, Devlin composes and records songs for various media in his home studio. His fluency in music business and technology will be a benefit to Cornish students, Eaton said, as many desire to learn how to record and produce their own music.

Cornish credits its updated music curriculum with increasing enrollment and excitement among students and staff. The addition of two new faculty members is also a major boon, as the college aims to produce well-rounded musicians who can thrive in the evolving music landscape.

Eaton, who took over for James Falzone as music chair in January when he was promoted to academic dean, is elated about the direction Cornish is headed. This upcoming school year, Cornish plans to showcase music faculty and students to the larger community at the new Raisbeck Auditorium, a 160 person-capacity concert hall just completed on their South Lake Union campus.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Eaton. "Having more people in our faculty mix that do everything and can show students how to be in the world as a musician.”

Alexa Peters is a Seattle-based freelance writer with a focus on arts & culture. Her journalism has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, Downbeat, and The Seattle Times, among others. She’s currently co-authoring a book on the Seattle jazz community with jazz critic Paul de Barros, due to be published by The History Press in 2026.