Music Department Trains and Equips Students to Be Professional Musicians

Music Department Trains and Equips Students to Be Professional Musicians

A saxophone quartet consisting of Esther Sousa, Timothy Stowell, Christian Gonzalez and Dr. William Chien perform the Italian Concerto by J.S. Bach at a recent performance.

(edited by Jalen Wells)

The department of music at Southwestern Adventist University is an academic department with a primary purpose of training and equipping professional musicians. There are three areas of the music department: theoretical studies, historical studies and practical studies, which is actual music making.

The first goal of the ensembles is for music majors to have a lab environment for music making but secondarily, and not any less importantly, it’s to give all students—not just music majors—an opportunity to participate in music making and to have high-level representation to the general public. It includes multiple choirs of different types: instrumental ensembles and orchestra, as well as a variety of types of ensembles. The large choir has over 60 members and the smallest ensemble is a woodwind ensemble with four members.

“The requirements to be in these music ensembles varies with the ensemble, but a basic requirement among them all is some level of proficiency in an instrument or in vocal experience,” says Dr. Devin Howard, department chair.

“There are some ensembles intentionally open to people of lesser training. The concert choir is open to anyone, no audition. You just have to make it to the rehearsals and performances. And it’s called concert choir because their primary function is to present one, maybe two concerts a semester, which are typically on campus, including a Christmas concert and a spring concert. The University Singers, also a choir, requires an audition and is a much higher-level commitment.”

The University Singers rehearse five days a week for an hour, and they perform and tour regularly. In September, they performed somewhere for four consecutive weekends in a row. University Singers will perform up to ten times a semester. Additionally, they also have one international tour every year. Students in University Singers are expected to participate from August through May.

The orchestra’s requirements are slightly different because it’s not intended to be an ensemble, it’s open to anyone who can play an instrument. Everyone still needs to audition to get in but it’s still a very accessible ensemble. And this is partially because it’s much easier to find someone who can sing than it is to find someone who can play an instrument.

“One of the goals for the Department of Music is that we want to be able to have smaller ensemble groups because the accessibility is better,” says Howard. “In the past there have been large ensembles that did big scale things. Partly because we’re a small university, partly because we want to be able to tour with groups and partly because most students who study music here are more likely to participate in small music settings and then from the smaller ensemble groups, a large ensemble is only created when necessary.”

There are several different smaller ensemble groups such as a brass ensemble, which you need to play a brass instrument to get into, a woodwind ensemble, which you need to be proficient in a woodwind instrument in order to get in, a saxophone ensemble, and there are plans to start a percussion ensemble.

Participation requirements for a student musician once you’ve auditioned and been accepted is to basically attend every rehearsal and participate in every performance. Ensembles require active participation; if one person is missing then the nature of the ensemble is shifted. This explains why the ensembles are more academic than extra-curricular, because it teaches professionalism and how to be a professional musician. It’s important that everyone is fully engaged.

When people sign up, they are made aware they will need to attend every rehearsal and every performance. And the Department of Music tries to reward the student’s efforts with scholarships. You do not have to be a music major or minor to receive a music scholarship. Although lessons are required, which do cost a small additional fee or are included in the scholarship funding, but are one-on-one private lessons with a professional instructor, who are adjunct faculty to the campus.

Scholarships are basically paying the students for their skill so in a sense, a music scholarship is like a job. The students are musicians who get paid through scholarship school funding, and a requirement of the job is to improve the ensemble by practicing and becoming a better individual musician. Whether you are a music major or minor, you are required to take lessons every semester in your primary instrument. Music majors are required to practice at least 10 hours a week to keep up with their craft.

Howard does a lot of administrative and practical tasks for his jobs within the department of music. He teaches all theory-related courses, or coordinates instructors for the courses that he cannot teach personally, as well as teaches all the keyboard-related lessons. In addition, as department chair, he coordinates all the adjunct faculty within the music department while assuring his full-time faculty have all the resources that they need, as well as instrument rentals, class curriculum, preparation and planning for recitals, managing the department budget, and administering the department.

Any students interested in joining the department of music are invited to contact Dr. Howard at his office in the Mabee Center.

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