The jazz singer​​

Junior Amy French sings her own tune while juggling classwork, soccer and jazz

French, a junior in economics in Arts & Sciences, performs on the Washington University campus. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

Amy French has been a goalie on the soccer field since her grade-school years. She jokes that the role was appealing as a kid because it meant less running than other positions — ironic as her packed schedule as a student-athlete these days keeps her on the move.

French, a junior majoring in economics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is a goalkeeper for the Bears varsity team.

She is also an accomplished jazz singer, so much so that through her singing talent, she has gotten to know pretty well university Provost Holden Thorp, PhD — a jazz pianist in his free time.

Thorp likes to play at capital campaign events around the country and sought a student singer to accompany him. That’s where French came in, at the recommendation of William Lenihan, professor of the practice in music in Arts & Sciences and French’s jazz combo instructor.

One day, French is getting an email from the provost’s office; the next she’s attending alumni events in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, singing alongside the provost.

“Amy is completely together,” Thorp said. “She’s an excellent singer and always knows her stuff. As far as how she does everything, all I can say is it’s amazing.”

French said she enjoys talking with alumni at such events.

“It’s cool to talk to people who have experienced WashU 20, 30 years ago,” she said.

The last line of defense

French, who hails from Maplewood, N.J., said her decision to attend Washington University wasn’t by chance.

French’s older brother Dylan French graduated from the university in 2014 with a degree in marketing from Olin Business School. He helped sway her choice to come here, and the siblings got to spend two years on the same campus in St. Louis.

French (in green) blocks a shot during a recent game. (Credit: Courtesy photo/Karen Klumpp)

Besides singing, soccer is a passion for French, and she has come to appreciate the critical role the goalie plays for the team.

“You’re the last line of defense,” French said. “It’s hard not to blame yourself when you miss a shot.”

The most challenging part, she said, is staying focused. A game can change in a matter of seconds.

“Amy’s a quality goalie,” said Jim Conlon, women’s varsity soccer coach. “She has good instincts and plays well.”

Pressure aside, French emphasized community more than anything else.
“I feel pretty lucky to be on the team,” she said. “They’re my best friends at this school.”

Positive attitudes and a sense of cohesiveness bring the team together, she said, and some of her teammates are also her roommates. “We’re like family,” French said.

Off the field, there’s jazz.

“I got into jazz music in high school,” French said, adding that her father and brother are also jazz fans. Her dad is a jazz singer, and her brother Dylan plays the drums.

“Among other genres, he’s always enjoyed listening to and playing jazz, which encouraged him to pursue a minor in jazz studies,” French said.

At WashU, French doesn’t have the time for musical clubs, so she joined the jazz combo early in her university career. Like a class, the jazz combo is for academic credit. Once a week, French has sung jazz alongside a horn player, saxophonist, pianist and drummer. She also sings pop and classical music, but admits “jazz is my favorite.”

“She interprets melodies of the great American songbook with precision, style and a surprisingly mature emotional sense,” Lenihan said. “She brings herself to the lyric and tune in ways that are captivating.”

Getting the most out of the WashU experience

French said the alumni events have captivated her as well.

At one recent event, two scholarship recipients talked about their WashU experiences. Their story inspired French to make sure she gets the most out of her own experience.

French also found the time to join the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority. Even though soccer takes up most of her time, she said the other young women are understanding, and give her another circle of friends on campus.

Like other WashU students, her studies consume a lot of her time. Last summer, she interned at the nonprofit Ubuntu Education Fund in New York.

“It’s a small group that focuses on education, health care and household stability in South Africa,” French said.

Ubuntu is a good fit for French’s interests in education and child care. French said the organization’s biggest challenge, like that of many nonprofits, is getting enough funding to accomplish their goals.

Looking ahead, French said she hopes to find that kind of work, helping to make a difference, after graduation in 2016. She hopes to work for a larger corporation’s corporate responsibility department, deciding how funds are allocated to charities.

Even with the time and commitment of a varsity sport, French has managed to have a well-rounded WashU experience.

Singing in a jazz combo, joining a sorority, doing well academically and interning for a nonprofit have helped shape French’s time here, and she and those who know her look forward to finding out what’s next.

Need some time-management advice?

“Just really loving everything you’re involved in,” French said. “Then you’d want to make the time, and it’s not stressful.”

French knows it takes hard work to succeed, whether in sports, music or business, and she keeps her eyes on her goals.