At the University of Southern California, Terry McQuilkin's teachers included Morton Lauridsen, James Hopkins, Anthony Vazzana, and William Kraft. He received departmental honors upon receiving both the Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees, and was elected to the music honor society of Pi Kappa Lambda. He taught music at several community colleges in Southern California, and for five years taught instrumental music for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He also directed area church choirs and taught clarinet. Between 1980 and 1990 he regularly contributed reviews and features to the music pages of the Los Angeles Times, and has written program notes for concerts in the Los Angeles area.
In 1990, McQuilkin moved to Eugene to begin advanced study at the University of Oregon, where his teachers included Harold Owen and Robert Kyr. While a graduate student he taught music theory, musicianship, and music literature. He has also taught music at Northwest Christian College and Umpqua Community College, and for several years directed the choir at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Eugene.
The composer's catalogue includes works for solo piano, chamber ensemble, band, orchestra, and chorus. A number of his compositions were written for educational use and he has received commissions from school ensembles on both coasts. Partly through funding received from Meet the Composer, he was commissioned in 1997 by Downingtown Senior High School to write a multi-movement work for chorus and symphony orchestra. The work was titled The Color of Memory. In Oregon, McQuilkin has fulfilled commissions from Roosevelt Middle School in Eugene, Forest Grove High School, and Roseburg High School. Among his compositions are Three Chorale Intradas for brass quintet, Partita Antiqua for wind quintet, Circles (for 16 clarinetists who surround the audience), and Perceval's Triumph for band. He has also written a full-length viola concerto, which received its premiere in the Los Angeles area in 1996. Several of his works and arrangements have been published by Niel A. Kjos Music, and Southern Music Company of San Antonio.
McQuilkin is also on the staff of the Music Services Department of the University of Oregon Libraries.