Student carries family music tradition

Musician from South Carolina grew up with percussion, found love for it in high school through band assignment


Meg Tolley, a master’s student planning to become a music teacher, plays Cameleon by Eric Summut on the marimba.

MINDY MALONE, Evergreen copy chief

Music has been the beating heart of Meg Tolley’s life since she was young.

Meg Tolley, a master’s student at WSU, will perform tomorrow with the WSU Symphony Orchestra. Post-graduation life lies not too far in front, and her journey has been long in the making.

Her mother, Susan Tolley, was an elementary school music teacher who specialized in percussion instruments and performed in her off-time.

“I grew up with it. [My mom] would take me to rehearsals with her,” Meg said. “I haven’t really known any other life.”

Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, Meg expressed more interest in piano than percussion. Susan Tolley said she thinks Meg stayed away from percussion in South Carolina because everyone knew Susan Tolley, and Meg did not want a comparison to be made between them.

That changed when her family packed and moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington when Meg was 15. She called the band director of her new high school and introduced herself. She said she was a piano player, but she was interested in joining the band.

“I think I really just needed something to latch on to,” Meg said. “Something I was familiar with because at the time I was unfamiliar with everything else.”

The band director assigned her to the percussion group, specifically the marimba. Meg had grown up watching her mom play the marimba. She began taking lessons and it slowly became her instrument too.

After high school, Meg decided to attend WSU and pursue a career in music and music education — the same as her mom. Susan Tolley said Meg would come home for winter or spring break while Susan Tolley’s classes were still in session, and she would play for her mother’s elementary students.

“I feel blessed that we had this really close relationship,” Susan Tolley said. “I loved getting to share her talent.”

After graduating in 2014, Meg spent time teaching music in Seattle area schools. She made friends with other musicians in the area, and in their free time, they would rehearse and perform concerts together.

She returned to WSU in fall 2018 to begin her master’s program.

Her adviser, former WSU music professor and composer David Jarvis, taught her as an undergraduate and said he enjoyed watching her grow in her craft and that she has discipline.

Jarvis laughed sharing a memory of Meg. In 2012, she performed “Flight of the Bumblebee” from classical artist Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

“We did a special arrangement for percussion ensemble so she could play that piece,” Jarvis said. “She did it so well.”

Meg plans to return to the Seattle area after she graduates in the spring and pick up where she left off.

“She is the most focused and dedicated musician I know,” Susan Tolley said. “I value her as a friend and as an educator — I’m looking forward to her graduating and coming back to her teaching job again.”

Meg will perform tomorrow Sept. 26 in the season premiere concert of the WSU Symphony Orchestra. The event will be held in Bryan Hall Theatre from 7:30-9:30 p.m.