February 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a dim corner of Dundee’s Blue Line Coffee, Melissa Dundis places petite fingers to six nylon strings. A strum, followed by the coo of her voice, and the windowless back half of the café is aglow. Her hand glides up, down, over, and across the thick neck of her classical guitar as her nails pluck out a slow, steady rhythm. “I get by with what I have/Like a caveman,” the 26-year-old’s lyrics and melody are spellbindingly simple.

“Sometimes the song happens all at once. Once I pick up a vibe, I just start singing,” says Dundis.“I’ll write a verse then find what key I want the song in. It really starts from inside.”

By day, Dundis serves as the only female disc jockey at an independent radio station, but by night she’s a classical guitarist and vocalist, performing at venues across Omaha from España to the Side Door Lounge to Pageturners. A graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Music Education program, Dundis also teaches private guitar lessons on the side.

Dundis first began playing when she found an acoustic guitar in the basement. Her grandfather, a former bar owner, obtained the instrument after a drunk gave it to him in trade for a bottle of whisky. She picked up classical guitar as a student at UNO. At first, she only performed one hour a day. This evolved to four hours a day as her senior recital approached.

“I couldn’t have been happier to witness her success in the classical program,” says Michael Saklar, Dundis’ former guitar teacher. “I’ve had close to a thousand students over 25 years, and she stands out at the top.”

Even as a kid growing up in Springfield, Nebraska, Dundis was obsessed with the rhythmic flow and simplicity of folk rock. At age 4, Dundis remembers requesting her first song on the radio—Neil Young’s “No More.” While her peers sang “I wanna zigazig-ah” along to the Spice Girls, Dundis listened to songs created for older audiences and looked for ways to share her connection to this music with others.

More than 20 years later, she continues this as a part-time DJ at KVNO, a station primarily devoted to classical music. As one of the youngest staff members, she writes her own scripts and plans to help KVNO reach new audiences by playing unique interpretations of classical music, creating playlists that mix opera, video game theme music, and compositions by the Talking Heads.

Dundis hopes to release a self-penned EP soon, but for now her focus remains on radio. She’s vying for a full-time gig at KVNO and contemplating a future as a radio producer. Whether she’s holding a radio mic or her guitar, Dundis’ passion and belief in music is unwavering.

“Music has the ability to help us recognize our own artistic gifts,” she says.

Visit soundcloud.com/melissa-dundis to hear her work.

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