Teaching Artist Spotlight: Scott Whelan

Teaching Artist Spotlight: Scott Whelan

My Journey in the Arts

“I started playing music as a child,” recalls Scott. “Yet it wasn’t until high school that I began to realize the depth of my connection and the opportunities that music could provide to express my thoughts and feelings.” By high school, music had become an intimate part of Scott’s life and he dedicated himself to learning and exploring his art. “I focused on a future in music and the daily creation of music,” he stated. Guitar and songwriting became the center point of Scott’s life. Like many things, Scott’s immersion in music was complicated; on one hand he simply loved and enjoyed playing, while on the other hand music became a means of coping with the sometimes harsh social dynamics of high school. Scott developed a unique relationship with music. Scott joined a band in high school and described being kicked out.  “Socially I was not accepted into the world that musically I felt that I belonged in, and that was hurtful.”  This social adversity led to Scott becoming isolated in his creative process; a process that was solitary and painful, yet led him to the discovery of the healing potential inherent in songwriting and the creative process.

Throughout these teen years, music was a resource for coping. Scott was resilient and transformed some intense emotions into the skills and drive necessary to become a professional artist. Miraculously, just such an opportunity came. While playing in local bands, Scott established himself as a gifted musician and collaborator. Often his bands would play with more established touring groups. Haste the Day was one of those bands.  Scott was recruited and found himself, in a rapid sequence of events, touring internationally, writing, and recording with Haste the Day, as well as becoming a member of the music industry community. Truly, his dream had come true; he was creating and performing on a level that he had fantasized about; and could never have expected would actually happen. 

These years of making music professionally were formative and joyful; and yet something was not complete. Scott’s desire to study the influence of the arts regarding people’s character and development became undeniable. In March of 2011, Haste the Day abruptly stopped touring. As quickly as this miraculous door had opened, it had now seemingly been slammed shut. What does one do when rock stardom comes to an abrupt halt?

“You find yourself scrolling through online job postings,” Scott shared with an ironic twinkle in his eye. Scott found a job working with adults with developmental disabilities. This opportunity awakened Scott to the individuality and strength of persons who have experienced great adversity. From performing a show in front of thousands of people, to connecting compassionately with a 40 year-old man with autism; Scott could not have possibly predicted the impact that the relationships that he would form would have on him and those he would partner with. On a daily basis, Scott’s passion grew as he transitioned from creating and performing music (his story) to developing his empathy and compassion toward the opportunity of collaboratively co-writing the life stories of these beautiful and courageous people. “There was something about this new course that truly felt like I was discovering what I was meant for. At the same time it was a little scary because it was not the path that I had expected. I found myself charting this path that was integrating lifelong desires to better understand other people and myself.”

This co-authorship led Scott to find ways to bridge his love of music and the creative process with his newly realized passion for connecting with resilient people. The path of the rock star was leading to the destination of becoming a Certified Music Therapist. Scott enrolled in Cal State Northridge’s Music Therapy Program. While completing his certification, Scott also began utilizing the arts in working with various mental health facilities and substance treatment centers. These positions found Scott creating countless relationships with people, partnering with them to celebrate their stories of triumph and tragedy, impacting the way these people see themselves and the possibilities around them, and ultimately for Scott, finding that wholeness he had not completely experienced as a performer.

Scott has realized that sustaining this wholeness is balancing between the process of honoring his needs to create, while also engaging the practice of partnering with others in finding and developing their creative voices. “I am always looking for that balance of my passion toward making music and my passion for seeing people overcoming limits that have been placed on them in their personal journeys. For me, my art gave me a voice to express some deep feelings and resolve some difficult challenges, as a Music Therapist, I get to partner with other people along similar journeys.

Scott Whelan continues to write and record, and occasionally perform national reunion shows with Haste the Day. Additionally, he is a Certified Music Therapist working at a local mental health organization serving youth. Scott is also doing work in supporting Hollywood HEART workshop development, including directly providing teaching artist services. Scott was an amazing contributor in the music area of our Nov 12 Arts and Resiliency Celebration.