Julie Bouchard does not come from a musical family. Her father is an engineer and her mother is an acupuncturist, so she isn’t sure where her musical ability came from, but that hasn’t stopped her from using it.
Bouchard began as a classical musician, learning to play the piano at the age of five and sticking with it per her parents’ insistence, who agreed later that she could stop if she reached a certain competence level. Bouchard passed that level at age 12, and her parents stuck to their word and allowed her to stop pursing classical music. Even though she gave up classical Bouchard couldn’t leave music all together, and instead began playing by ear.
“I got really into it, and by junior year I began playing the guitar, drums, and ukelele,” Bouchard said. “Then in my senior year I picked up songwriting.”
After her senior year of high school, Bouchard came to Penn State to pursue an education degree, specifically hoping to teach middle school history. Even though she wasn’t majoring in music, she still found a way to incorporate it in her life.
She joined the songwriters club and made friends with students in other music-based organizations. Through friends in Coda Conduct, Bouchard got the opportunity to play in Schwab Auditorium, and every performance after that has spawned from word of mouth.
She has now performed at Schwab Auditorium eight times and made her mark at various other venues as well. This past February she performed at THON, and even though she was standing in front of thousands of people she wasn’t nervous.
“I don’t get nervous. I play so often it’s kind of like second nature,” Bouchard said. “I don’t get nervous as long as I have an instrument in my hand. If I don’t have an instrument then my comfort zone is gone.”
For that reason Bouchard can almost always be seen with a guitar or ukelele in hand when on stage. Even though she loves performing, she equally loves the songwriting aspect of her craft.
“Songwriting is such a special thing for me,” she said. “I’ve only written three songs that are actually about me, everything else is about things that have happened to my friends. There’s always that friend that everyone vents to and that’s me. Instead of holding all that information in I put it in a song instead.”
Before Bouchard performs the songs she makes sure to get approval from her friends. Although she performs some of her originals on stage, she makes sure to change her set list depending on the audience.
“Schwab is great and Café is great but they’re so great for two different reasons,” she said. “At Café you get more of a crowd interaction. People will request songs and I couldn’t care less if I deviate from my set list.”
Bouchard’s set list usually consists of whatever is popular at the moment. Her goal is to entertain the crowd and have people enjoy her performance, so whatever they want to hear she will play. She learns new songs fairly frequently and with little difficulty — because the guitar chords are pretty similar for almost every pop song she plays, all she has left to do is learn the lyrics.
Even then, lyrics come easily to Bouchard; easier than school does sometimes. However she won’t have to deal with school for much longer because Bouchard is graduating this May.
“I’m nervous for May, it’s basically the first time in four years I will have any free time,” she said.
Balancing school and her music career has kept Bouchard incredibly busy since she came to Penn State but she doesn’t see this changing too much even after she graduates.
Finding the perfect balance between music and her love of teaching is something she has perfected over the past four years, and something she will continue to do so when she moves to Austin, Texas this summer to pursue a teaching job.
For someone who’s played all around the small town of State College, it’s time for Bouchard to take on a new town. In a city that thrives on music Bouchard will feel right at home.