Catherine Lucken has surprised even herself.
The Melrose senior vocal music education and vocal performance double major was pondering a question: What advice would you give an incoming freshman?
She thought for a long time before beginning her answer. "If anyone told me I'd be doing all the things I am now, I wouldn't believe them," she said. "I'd say go out on a limb - or two. Try something you don't think you are capable of, academically speaking. You'll never know when you'll surprise yourself."
Lucken took her own advice.
"A lot of times in high school, I thought about going (for a music degree), but I didn't consider myself good enough,"?she said. "When I got here (music professor) Russell Svenningsen said 'You've got enough raw material to be successful, all you have to do is work.' Thankfully, my parents gave me a work ethic."
Lucken is pre-student teaching in Granite Falls, and will be student teaching this fall at Alexandria High School.
The daughter of Mariann and Tim Lucken, she grew up on a hobby farm 20 minutes south of Melrose, a community of 3,000 just off Interstate 94. Her graduating class was about 125. She has five siblings, and brother Peter is an SMSU junior.
"I looked at a couple of different schools, and something didn't feel right," she said of her decision-making process. "When I visited here, we got on campus and it felt like home. I filled out an application after our first visit. I was really decisive about it, although I was indecisive about everything else."
She started out as a vocal performance major, "then I added education once I knew it was something I wanted to pursue."
Lucken is one-quarter of the music group Downtown West, which was created just recently. Also in the acoustic group are Danae Aslesen, Justin Condelli and Luke Nelson.
"We cooked up the idea when we were at a conference for music educators last spring,"?she said. "We were sitting at a restaurant downtown (Minneapolis) that had live music, and said that there's nothing like this at SMSU, and we decided then that if we didn't have anything like it, it was our own fault. We let it sit over the summer, and when we came back in the fall, decided to do it. Since the idea came up in downtown Minneapolis, and we attend Southwest, that's how we got the name."
She describes their music as "acoustic. We don't do anything hard or heavy. It's something you would hear in a coffee shop, with a little bit of quirk to it, too."
Their music includes a guitar, violin and a unique percussion piece that is sat upon when played. The first song they wrote together, "If You Dare," was composed on a snow day.
Her musical talent was passed down.
"My mom sings a lot, and dad was in a polka band when he and mom met," she said. "They encouraged music, but never pushed it. It was an option, but never a requirement. That's how I got into singing, when I was in a church choir."
They hope to keep the group together.
"We've performed wherever we can," she said. "Mostly it's been on campus. We've been in Montevideo some, and our first gig was at a bar and restaurant in Freeport, close to Melrose."
The Midwest is "the choir mecca, and Minnesota is the best state for choral music and the support of choral music," she said.
"I'd like to stay in the Midwest, but if a performance opportunity came along, I may chase that," she said. "It could come down to wherever the wind will take me. There's a lot of open doors right now."
Lucken has been active in choral music at SMSU, and has been in several theatre shows, too. She points to Dr. Stephen Kingsbury, assistant professor of music, as being a big influence on her career.
"He's pushed me, and has gotten me out of my comfort zone,"?she said. "The passion with which he runs his choirs is inspiring, and he's always there no matter what you need."
Lucken is a perfect example of the growth process a student goes through during their college career.
"I never expected to want to work as hard as I have," she said. "At a point in time, you want to work that hard, you are becoming that much in love with the subject you're studying. I expected hard work. I never expected to want to work hard."