Musician finds opportunity through YVC
Some children are born into musical families, with parents, siblings and other relatives singing or playing a variety of instruments.
That wasn’t the case for Yakima native Austin Pledger ’22 .
No one in Pledger’s family played an instrument, but after “Guitar Hero” was first released in 2005, he quickly took to the video game.
“I thought, ‘I could do this for real,’ so I got a guitar and started doing a lot of my own self-teaching, just figuring things out with my ear,” Pledger said.
Pledger started playing guitar with his church band around age 12, in addition to playing tuba and trombone in school band, but it wasn’t until he started focusing on his studies at Yakima Valley College in 2019 that he began more formal training in guitar.
“I wanted to learn all the stuff that I had been hearing in my own playing, the music theory behind it all,” Pledger said. “And I had a lot of opportunities pop up from the beginning.”
That included receiving financial assistance for playing bass guitar in the YVC Jazz Band. For the first year, Pledger felt like he was barely treading water because, while he possessed raw talent, he didn’t understand what the other musicians in the ensemble were doing.
“At the time, I was more into rock. But in jazz the other musicians are really relying on you to set the foundation,” Pledger said. “But I grew to like it quite a bit. I liked the danceability of jazz, it was fun to be a part of creating that experience for an audience.”
Moreover, he found the skills he gained performing with the band could be applied to other genres of music.
Pledger would go on to play in the pit orchestra for the college’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and also get involved as an audiovisual technician, helping run sound systems and stage technology for YVC’s music ensembles, including helping produce multiple recording projects during the COVID pandemic.
YVC faculty also helped Pledger work toward becoming a professional musician.
Prior to the pandemic, Pledger played lead guitar with a band that regularly performed at local wineries, but when YVC’s Yakima Tasting Room opened in the summer of 2021, a recommendation from Music Instructor Jeff Norwood led to a regular gig.
Then, mid-way through his final year at YVC, Music Instructor Steven Slusher recommended Pledger for a job teaching guitar and bass at Guitar Center in Yakima.
“I landed that job purely by recommendation, I didn’t even apply for it,” Pledger said. “I’ve had so many opportunities to meet people and network thanks to YVC. I didn’t think all of this would come from coming back to school.”
Pledger’s goal is to make a living through music — whether that’s teaching, performing, composing or some combination. In the near-term, he’s in the process of releasing his first song, something he hopes will lead to future releases and opportunities to collaborate and perform with other area artists.
“When I’m playing for other people it’s fun to see smiles on their faces. It’s fun to see movement and dancing. I love to be part of that creative process and experience.” — Austin Pledger
“The best part of music is making it, the creation,” Pledger said. “And I’ve grown to appreciate two parts of the creative process.
“The thing that jazz taught me is improvising music on the fly. That was something I thought I was good at before coming to YVC but I discovered that I could really improve. The other half is the planning — it’s like making a sculpture and looking at a piece of marble with a vision in mind of how you’re going to make that marble what you want it to be. They work together when you’re making music, being in the moment and having a plan.”
While Pledger completed his associate degree at YVC earlier this year, he plans to continue to perform with the YVC Jazz Band and Community Band. And though Pledger doesn’t know exactly what the future holds, he hopes to find success as a musician in the Yakima Valley.
“When I’m playing for other people it’s fun to see smiles on their faces,” he said. “It’s fun to see movement and dancing. I love to be part of that creative process and experience and that’s what I’m hoping to achieve here.”
Learn more about Pledger and his music on Instagram.