Moved by the melody: Jessica Butler leaves students on a high note


Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz

Low brass professor Jessica Butler, left, works with masters student Weston Mayer, of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, in her office at Altgeld Hall. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

By Isabelle Rogers

Jessica Butler has been immersed in music all her life.

She grew up in a musical family in Georgia, where she took piano lessons with her siblings. Butler said she followed in the footsteps of her older sister when she first joined her middle school band as a trombone player.

Butler is a lecturer in music history and the coordinator for low brass collective, a musical ensemble made up of SIU students and community members that play trombone, euphonium and tuba.


She said she became serious about music when she started taking private lessons in 7th grade. In her junior and senior year in high school she began taking lessons at the University of Georgia and became involved in the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra.

“I got exposed to a ton of really great music that I never would have been exposed to otherwise,” Butler said. “From there, I just figured I enjoyed it so much I tried my best to pursue it in my education.”

Butler continued playing trombone in her high school band and in 10th grade, met her husband Christopher Butler, who is also a music professor at SIU.

“For us, it is the perfect situation,” Christopher Butler said. “ We have a situation where we can both do exactly what we want to do as far as our jobs and our roles, … but the fact that we pursued our own research and interests and passions and the fact that we can both have that here at SIU is pretty serendipitous.”

After receiving her master’s and doctorate from the University of Iowa, Butler said she found the “perfect job” here at SIU.

“I’ve always liked school and studying and the academic setting,” Butler said. “I figured if I could make a career doing that, it would be really fun.”

A couple of weeks after offered the job at SIU, a position opened for a percussion professor, which her husband applied for as he was finishing his doctorate at the University of Kentucky.  


Jessica and Christopher Butler have been working at SIU together for four years now and have an 18-month-old son named Clark.

“We feel so thankful to be here together doing, honestly, what we absolutely love, and we can’t imagine doing anything else,” Jessica Butler said. “A lot of times we say to each other, ‘I can’t believe we get paid to do this.’”

Butler said in her career she has noticed most trombone players are male. She did her doctoral research on a female trombonist named Abbie Conant, who is a well known feminist in the music industry.

Conant’s work explores the creative identity of women as well as performing many of feminist musical works.

“Being a female trombone player, it’s still a little unusual to people because when [people] think of trombone players, they think of a guy,” Butler said. “I’m just enjoying the experience of being a female brass musician.”

Butler brings new and different aspects of music and teaching to her students in multiple ways, said sophomore Riley Wagner.

Wagner, a computer electrical engineering major from Danville, has Butler as a professor for low brass collective and said she makes an effort to introduce her students to new music.

“We play chamber music but she finds music that’s out of the ordinary, it’s not stuff that everybody has heard a million times,” Wagner said.

Though Butler makes an effort to find new music for her students, Wagner said it is not her only aspect that is refreshing.

“I think it’s [inspiring] that she is a younger teacher,” Wagner said. “She’s more relatable to students. I think that’s very cool.”

Cameron Taylor, a senior music performance major specializing in euphonium, said he believes Butler’s persona is unique.

“Her overall personality is just so light hearted and humble that she just brightens up the room,” Taylor said. “Her personality and teaching style is always very forward and very enlightening.”

As Christopher Butler works with his wife, he said he gets to see her see her find harmony among all different aspects of her life.

“I think with everything she does, with how she balances becoming a great musician with becoming a great teacher with being a new mother as well, there is a ton of preparation that goes into it and there’s a lot of work,” Christopher Butler said. “She consistently strives to do the best job in every aspect of her roles. I think that’s what makes her extremely unique.”

Staff writer Isabelle Rogers can be reached at or on Twitter @isabellearogers. 

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