Allison Wyper said she has played music since birth.
That's an exaggeration, but not by much.
As an infant, Wyper would often lay her hands atop those of her grandfather, Earl Seth, as he played piano.
More than 20 years later, Wyper's passion for music has filled her life.
In addition to the workload as a graduate student at McDaniel College in Westminster pursuing a master's degree in music education, she has a part-time job and roles in several of the school's music groups, where she sings and plays clarinet and flute.
"I can't even remember when I actually started playing, because it was so much part of my life," the first-year graduate student said.
Wyper can't remember the start and likely can't see the finish because music is something she hopes to turn into a career.
She said she intends to use her master's degree to combine her life-long love of music with a passion she only recently discovered: While working at Steppin Out Shoes at The Mall in Columbia, Wyper has helped children get the right footwear, and said those brief interactions were enough to direct her to a career working with children.
"It made me realize how much I love kids and want to be a teacher," said Wyper, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in music from McDaniel in 2009.
"They're just waking up to the world, really," she said of why she enjoys working with children. "I think being a teacher is important because you can shape them and help them."
Her graduate program has given her a taste of what's to come with practicums, a type of internship for teachers.
Wyper has spent parts of her first and second semesters teaching instrumental to the band and orchestras at Freedom Elementary School and Sykesville Middle School.
She said she enjoyed both experiences and hopes to have a similar position after graduating in 2014.
"You get to see how fun they are," Wyper said. "The kids are pretty good. When you ask them a question, they respond pretty eagerly. They're pretty happy and cheerful."
David Duree, who has taught saxophone and clarinet at McDaniel for 14 years, recalled that Wyper had expressed interest in a degree in information technology when she was a freshman.
But after playing in the Clarinet Ensemble during her freshman year, she changed her major to music.
That left her with a lot of ground to make up as many of her classmates had trained for years prior to entering college, Duree said.
Duree said he marveled at Wyper's technical ability on the clarinet, especially, since "she had no direction or private instruction until she got to college," Duree said.
"To graduate, she had to meet level six performance," Duree said. "That's the highest level, and she did that in three years."
Wyper was accustomed to teaching herself how to play an instrument. In seventh grade, she taught herself to play the flute after her grandfather died, she said.
In the two years between graduating McDaniel as an undergraduate and enrolling in the school's master's degree program, Wyper continued to commute to the college to participate in the music groups open to the school's alumni.
Of the 14 Clarinet Ensemble performances the school has offered, Wyper has performed in 13. The one she missed, the spring semester's performance on April 20, was due to a conflict with her graduate school schedule.
"It's the first one she missed, and we missed her," said Duree, who conducts the small group that also includes several students in the community music program.
Music for Wyper remains a priority on a schedule so full that she needs six colors to code her various activities. .
Green is for her work schedule in Columbia. Orange means she has a meeting with a professor. Baby blue and hot pink mark rehearsals and concert dates, respectively. School assignments are in brown or blue.
"It helps me stay organized," Wyper said of her color-coded datebook. "If I didn't have it, I think I would go crazy."
With all of her activities, Wyper said she can go days without seeing her family, with whom she lives in Catonsville.
"It's tough. We're very proud of her," said Karen Wyper, Allison Wyper's mother. "She seems to be pretty calm and cool about it."
In a two-week period that began April 22, Wyper performed at four concerts. She conducted a piece at the College Choir Concert on April 22. She performed with the Student Chamber Music Ensembles on April 26, at the College Band Concert on May 4 and with the Westminster Symphony Orchestra at Carroll Community College on May 5.
But playing music provides her with an escape from her hectic schedule.
"Everything disappears. It's just me, my instrument and focusing," she said. "It's not tunnel vision. But in a way, you sort of have to let the other things go for a moment and focus on the task at hand."
On the rare occasion that Wyper has a free moment, it's not uncommon for her to sit down at the piano at her home and play some of the songs that she memorized when her grandfather played.
The music is a chance to let everything go for Wyper even as it brings memories back for her mother.
"I grew up with music, so I love hearing her," Karen Wyper said. "It reminds me of my childhood, when I would hear my dad play."