Crystal McCay – Artist and Software Developer Going Places
My Name is Crystal McCay
By Christine Albers
Meet talented musician and upcoming software developer, Crystal McCay, who majored in music at the University of New Orleans and joined the Masters in Software Development (MSD) program with an interest in applying her studies to her background in music. Crystal aspires to deepen her involvement in more aspects of her musical process, from writing and performing, to recording and sharing her own music. Remember her name – Crystal McCay – because this artist is going places!
CA: Tell us about your background, Crystal.
Crystal: I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and I am part of the first generation of my family to be born in America. Both of my parents and the rest of my family were born in Liberia. My mom arrived in 1986 and my dad in 1991. My dad earned his degree from Tennessee State University and has had a long and dedicated career as a respiratory therapist. He started the year I was born, so that makes 22 years. My parents met after arriving in the USA, and they were married near Nashville.
CA: Did growing up in Nashville have an influence on your love of music?
Crystal: Actually, the Nashville music scene was not the main influence on my musical journey. Music did not become a central focus in my life until I was 19. However, my high school had an excellent music program that I was fortunate to be part of. Our band director, Dr. Ripani, got me involved in workshops and opportunities to perform that really expanded my musical foundations and personal growth. I was a vocalist in our school’s jazz band, and I attended summer programs for vocalists at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. Looking back, I remember experiencing treasured moments of freedom, lightheartedness, and reinvention when I performed those songs. Those moments turned out to be hugely formative.
CA: How have you been involved musically recently?
Crystal: The Covid pandemic created a pretty big shift in my musical activity. At the start of 2020, I was in a jazz band group, but this was quickly interrupted when Covid derailed society. The jazz band at school became virtual via Zoom, which is not a viable medium to play live with other musicians, so we did other projects instead. However, by the start of the spring 2021 semester, the rock band group was authorized to meet in person with masks. I joined, and this turned out to be a hugely expansive experience where I started to surmount many of the inhibitions I had faced while singing in the jazz band.
CA: Were you interested in pursuing music as a career while in high school?
Crystal: My main focus in high school was on science and math. By the time I was a sophomore, I set my sights on pursuing naval architecture and marine engineering, a field of engineering that focuses on ships and seafaring vessels. That was the interest that led me to the University of New Orleans.
CA: So, you started out as an engineering major but changed to music? What caused that change of heart?
Crystal: After my freshman year of college, in May 2018, I started to practice yoga. This was my first exposure to meditation. As I continued my practice over the next several months, many elements of my life came together for the first time in a striking way, providing the context for an unfolding of a transcendent experience in October. That’s when I discovered music. Seeing that it should always be a big part of my life, the very next month I applied to be a music major.
CA: So you discovered that music was your calling. How did you end up at MIU studying Computer Science?
Crystal: While I was working on my Bachelors in Music, I discovered there are often more layers to musical activities beyond performing itself. I recognized that technology is a powerful tool for sharing and delivering music. I’m interested in exploring the ways that software development intersects with music technology and how that knowledge and background in technology can enhance my ability to be more independent with my creativity.
CA: How do you expect that the Master’s in Software Development will help you reach people musically?
Crystal: Today, the process of sharing music is largely based on the Internet. Music streaming apps are installed on our phones, and for many people, the computer is the main way to experience music daily. With knowledge of technology, I can reach more people and realize more creative possibilities. Another area where music software is used is in the production of music recordings, and that is also a way to expand my skill-set as a musician.
CA: I love the song you wrote, “Transcendence,” during your first course at MIU, “The Science and Technology of Consciousness.” Is this an example of what you hope to do with music and technology?
Crystal: Transcendence is the first time I produced my own song using recording software, and also my first time writing a complete song from start to finish. I am glad for the song to be what it is, a very first step made by an amateur producer in a dorm room, sharing a personal message. If I do discover interests in working more with this aspect of music technology, then I hope to create more evolved products as I evolve in the art form.
Click to hear Crystal’s original song, “Transcendence”
CA: How did you hear about MIU?
Crystal: I was familiar with MIU for a long time because I saw Facebook ads for the university while I was still in high school. As someone who was so influenced by yoga and meditation, the fact that these things are important at MIU was one of the main attractions for me.
CA: Are you happy at MIU?
Crystal: There are a lot of things I like about the university. I am definitely enjoying the block system which allows me to focus on the current course so I can deeply explore and spend time with the work I’m doing and achieve a better understanding. I also appreciate the presence of holistic ideas in this community, and I’m relieved to be in a place where vegetarian options are not auxiliary but are the main servings at meals.
CA: Is there anything you’d like to say to students who are applying for the MSD program?
Crystal: I’d say it’s a great idea to challenge your cultural comfort zone because there are so many people here from many cultures and there is something to learn from everyone. You can form relationships that you might not have known were possible, so I would recommend being open to all the diversity that is here.