As an undergraduate at Millikin University, Jake Widenhofer '12 enjoyed the hands-on experiences of the Millikin School of Music while studying for his bachelor's degree. He understood that hard work and determination would help him make it as a professional musician. His hard work paid off as he recently became the new lead guitarist for Matthew West '99, an award-winning Contemporary Christian musician, and fellow Millikin alum.
"I had my first show with Matt in Decatur," said Widenhofer. "From here on out we will be playing festival shows for the majority of the summer; it's exciting."
Jake graduated from Millikin University with a degree in commercial music. While at Millikin, he studied and played many different styles of music. He performed with a variety of groups at Millikin including Jazz Band I, Guitar Ensemble I, OneVoice, and participated in recording sessions with other student artists. After graduation, Jake moved to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue a career in music.
When asked about how the opportunity to work with Matthew West came to be, Widenhofer said, "About two years ago, my Dad (Dr. Stephen Widenhofer), who taught Matt while he was at Millikin, thought he would be a good person to connect with since I was moving to Nashville. I ended up meeting with Matt at a show in the Quad Cities, and I had a chance to meet with his guitarist at the time. I happen to fill in during a few shows this past March, and when the time came for Matthew to switch things up with his band, I got the call."
Being put in many different musical situations is what helped make Jake a well-versed musician. Since moving to Nashville, he has had a lot of opportunities to play nationally and regionally. Jake has played with Melissa Greene, Griffin House, Carl Cartee, Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, SaraBeth, Gwen Sebastian, Matt Wertz, and Carrie Manolakos. He has also played in the studio on projects for Griffin House and other regional artists.
West, who, like Widenhofer, also graduated with a degree in commercial music, has released five studio albums since 2003. He has been nominated for eight Dove Awards, winning once in 2003 for his album "Happy." West won the 2013 American Music Award for Best Contemporary Inspirational Artist.
"Just a couple of short years ago, Dr. Stephen Widenhofer was telling me about his son who would soon be graduating from Millikin and making the pilgrimage to Nashville," said West. "He's one of the best young musicians I've heard in a long time, and I look forward to traveling around the country with another Millikin graduate taking the music to the people."
When asked about the opportunity to tour with West, Widenhofer said, "It's definitely a huge leap in my career from what I was doing to now – I really am living the dream. To get paid to play the guitar and to see the country is a pretty amazing thing. As a musician and especially as a songwriter, Matthew's songs are great."
Widenhofer says his time at Millikin helped him develop into the musician he is today. "Being at Millikin was great because of all the opportunities that were offered. For me, getting to play a lot of different musical styles and getting to play in the studio helped my overall guitar playing. From the academic side, I learned a lot in terms of reading music and thinking quickly."
West added, "My experience with Millikin University has truly come full circle. Dr. Widenhofer and the rest of the faculty in the School of Music helped to shape my love for music in the early stages of my development. Now, I have the honor of making music alongside the Doc's talented son."
Widenhofer went on to add that aspiring undergraduate musicians should take advantage of every opportunity available. "I tried to diversify myself as much as I could with music while I was at Millikin. Try to do as much as you can, and try to establish connections."