Category Archives: Alumni Profile

Alumni Stories: Working Through A Pandemic

We have been living through this pandemic since March which means the last eight months of our lives have been very strange! We have been dealing with virtual learning, working remote, wearing masks, physical distancing, and finding new ways to communicate and socialize. We decided to reach out to some of our alums to find out how things have been going for them.

Larissa Church graduated from PUC in 2008 with degrees in History and English. She worked for PUC for many years as an admissions counselor and as the director of public relations. After years of volunteer work, she decided to pursue her passion for helping animals, full-time. We asked Larissa how her ner job was going and how COVID-19 had changed life at an animal rescue.

I’m the communications manager at House Rabbit Society in Richmond, Calif. I manage donor relations, fundraising campaigns, and social media. I’m also the editor of our biannual magazine, the House Rabbit Journal. I started in late summer 2019, and to say my first year has been a whirlwind is an understatement!

I was fortunate enough to already be working from home a week before the state’s shelter-in-place order came in back in March. My work had the foresight to close early.

Like every industry, COVID-19 has significantly impacted the animal rescue and sheltering industry. We’re also facing a second virus, specific to rabbits, called Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV). For the first time, it’s spreading in North America in both wild and domestic rabbits. At HRS, we’ve had to change everything because of both viruses. We’re now indefinitely closed to the public. We shut down our boarding services and are no longer offering grooming services, like nail trims. Our adoption process has moved completely online, with adoption counseling done over Zoom and a contactless curbside pickup. I have an app on my phone that makes it look as though I’m calling someone from HRS when in reality I’m sitting on my sofa at home!

Since the pandemic started, we’ve had an increase in adoptions and foster applications, which has been amazing to see. Our donors have been very generous too, despite everything going on right now. In July, we had a successful matching campaign where we $20,000 in just four days! It’s strange to realize I have now worked more remotely for HRS than I did actually in the office and I’ll be remote for the foreseeable future. It’s been difficult to navigate this new normal, both personally and professionally, but I’m so grateful to be working for an organization and a cause I deeply care about. I can’t imagine being anywhere else!

For more information or just to see cute bunny pics, follow HRS on Instagram at @houserabbitsociety.

Larissa and Craig Church adopted Pepper, this sassy queen, from House Rabbit Society on Nov. 9, 2019.

His Passion, God’s Plan: How one alum followed his calling

By Becky St. Clair

Darrin Thurber graduated from PUC in 2007 with a degree in music performance on guitar, and a student missionary year in Pohnpei under his belt. He went on to earn a master’s degree in music from San Francisco State University, but ultimately, he felt God calling him in a slightly different direction. Today Darrin is a pastor with a wife and two daughters, and we ran into him again because, after several years in the midwest, Darrin is back in California, taking on a new experience as senior pastor of the Calimesa Church in SoCal. 

Let’s start with an easy one: Why music? 

I’ve always been very passionate about music, and I love performing. I also come from a musical family; my grandfather was a wonderful musician and sang with the King’s Heralds back in the 60s. My dad is a guitarist—he’s the one who taught me to play, actually—who loves to arrange and compose music. I grew up playing for church often, and I enjoyed it so much I would sit on my own at home and just play and sing. When I got to PUC, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but I signed up to take a music theory class, and I was hooked from day one. It was so much fun and exactly what I wanted to study. 

So how did you make the jump from music to pastoring?

When I was studying for my master’s, I was the interim worship pastor at the PUC Church for about half a year. That experience changed my life because I discovered I could use my music skills while also serving in a leadership role in the church. I learned a lot about what goes into planning a worship service, including how to collaborate with various entities, people, and groups, and exploring a variety of music styles. It felt perfect to me, but God had other plans. He closed that door and instead called me to Ohio to be a preaching pastor.

What did that look like for you?

Well, I originally went to be a campus ministry director on state college and university campuses for the Ohio Conference. Shortly after I got there, though, I felt God tugging me toward the seminary, so I went. What followed was a one-year stint pastoring a four-church district in rural Ohio before we settled in Mansfield where I served as pastor for five years. A month ago, in June 2020, I followed God’s lead to fill the senior pastor role at the Calimesa Church, and we’re just starting to get settled here.

How do music and pastoral ministry fit together in your life now?

Music is such an important, central part of church worship. Having a background in music has allowed me to be able to dialogue and collaborate with worship leaders and church musicians to plan services, and I’ve also been able to use my passion for music to connect with youth in my churches. Because of my experience being involved in several different ensembles at PUC, and during my time as worship pastor there, I can relate to a lot of people’s church music experiences and preferences, and it helps me as a pastor be able to meet their worship needs in a meaningful way.

How do you feel your overall experience at PUC prepared you for your life after college?

Oh man, PUC prepared me in so many ways. I had numerous opportunities to really grow my leadership skills and grow in my areas of interest—namely, music and sports—in a spiritual environment. Both of these things took a lot of my time in college, but they also taught me work ethic, commitment, and hard work. Both music and being on the basketball team taught me success doesn’t just come magically; I have to put in the time and effort to see results. All of that has benefited my pastoring a lot, as I’ve learned to prepare church services and sermons and help coordinate ministries and outreach programs.

Let’s take that a bit further: How do you feel the spiritual environment at PUC was beneficial?

Practicing these skills in a spiritual context prepared me to continue doing so as a pastor, and showed me that the best way in which to apply my passions and gifts is in a spiritual context. Music, leadership, and working hard toward something mean the most in a spiritual environment where you impact people for the Lord. I developed a lot of spirituality at PUC.

Today, as an adult, a pastor, a husband, and a dad, where or when do you feel closest to God?

The process of writing a sermon and preaching week after week is grueling, but it forces me to really depend on God in a way that’s so unique from other parts of my devotional life. Almost every week I tell God, “I can’t do that again. I have no more ideas. I’m spent.” And every week, without fail, he gives me something. He shows me his word is powerful and that he can use me even though I feel inadequate. The call to preach was never something I’d considered as a career, but the process of studying with God and being in prayer with him week after week are the moments when I feel closest to him. 

Darrin Thurber '07

PUC’s Newest Admissions Counselor​: Nicholas Borchik

Nicholas Borchik graduated from PUC in 2019 and has recently found his way back to our favorite College on the Mountain only this time, his role is a little different. After receiving a degree in social studies, Nic decided to join the Admissions team as a counselor. Now Nic spends his days sharing his love for PUC and higher Adventist education with future students, helping them make intelligent decisions about their college journey.

Note: If you’re interested in attending PUC or have any questions, you can reach out to Nic at Nic@puc.edu or any of our other counselors at admissions@puc.edu.

What brought you to PUC? Why did you decide to work here?

I initially came to PUC as a student because I had already built such a strong community here through my brother and some of my best friends who were a little bit older than me. I have chosen to stay in the area because I have grown to care so much for this school and what it can do for students looking to grow their education and their faith, and I am looking forward to seeing how God will use me in this position.

What is the best thing about being a part of the Pioneers family?

For me, it has always been the relationships that you can develop across pretty much every aspect of life, from education to food, fun, and faith.

Where is your favorite place to eat in the Valley and why?

Gott’s Burgers will always be one of my favorites. Nothing beats a Gott’s burger and shake after a long day!

What is something you can do/want to do that might be surprising for people to learn?

I have always been really into DIY projects. One of my goals for the future is to build most of the furniture in my house!

What is one song or album you’re listening to a ton lately?

I have been listening to an album called Living Room by a band called Lawrence quite a bit recently. Musically it is a super rad album with genius lyrics, giving you something different to focus on each time you listen!

Who is someone you admire and why?

I have always admired Jon Foreman guitarist and singer for the band Switchfoot. First off as a musician and lyricist he influenced me greatly in the way I expressed myself through music when I was first learning to play music. More importantly, as a man of faith, he uses his art and his platform to advocate and stand for things he believes in.

What’s the last book you read for fun?

Recently I have been rereading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

Favorite movie to watch?

I love tons of different movies, but one that I am able to re-watch quite a bit and that has become one of my favorites is Knives Out. It is probably one of the best movies I have seen in a long time!

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Finish this sentence: On Sunday mornings you can find me … 

Honestly probably sleeping in and trying to figure out something delicious to eat for lunch!

Welcome To My Mundane Life

Welcome to my mundane life! I say mundane because I, like you, have been self-isolating for the past few weeks and it’s all starting to feel like one VERY LONG DAY. 🙃 I’ve been asked to give an account of what it looks like for some of us PUC staff members who are working remotely, so here you go! I can feel your excitement through the computer. 

My name is Dana Negro. I was a PR/Journalism major at PUC … a while ago. Now I work in the marketing and communication office as the communications specialist. I spend most of my days in headphones listening to music while I write so that part of life hasn’t changed but the lack of people nearby and the addition of copious amounts of conference calls has definitely started to get a little old. My job duties are filled with very exciting things like writing, editing, and scheduling blog posts. I deal with a lot of the college’s general marketing. I also manage all PUC’s main social media accounts so at any given time throughout the day (especially when I have writer’s block or I’m bored) I reply to DMs, leave comments, and try to figure out how Instagram Stories work. 

Even though I’m working from home I still get up fairly early, or at least my alarm goes off fairly early every day. I have a 7 a.m. “wake-up” and then I do what every millennial does: I lay there and scroll through social media until the very last possible moment. Every article about working from home suggests getting dressed for work, as usual, saying it helps you get into “work-mode” and while I do shower, there’s no way you’re getting me in anything but loungewear. And since this isn’t a vlog, you don’t need to know if I’m wearing makeup or not. 

On a typical day, I arrive at the office around 8 a.m. after at least one very large cup of coffee and multiple moments of distraction by my dog Stellaluna. This is what I’m used to coming to work and seeing lots of natural light, lots of open workspace, and many photos and knickknacks strategically placed to provide optimal lack of unmotivated moments.

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My view is a little different these days, management is really breathing down my neck.

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So as not to bore you, I’ll just give you a brief breakdown of my new normal working day in outline form. Aren’t you glad you chose to read this? 

8 a.m. — Sign into Slack (which my office is using to stay connected), check emails, check all PUC social media account notifications.

9 a.m. — Slack staff meeting. 

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BREAK!— It’s time for a Twitter break. Usually, I take a quick morning break to check in with the latest baseball news but right now … show me those dog pics!

10 a.m. — Zoom conference call with Napa County Public Health for updates on how the county is handling the pandemic. This is where I have definitely learned the importance of conference call etiquette. Mute your mics and silence your phones people! 

11 a.m. — This is around the time when I can expect a text from my student intern Ally Romanes, who has decided her cure for boredom and anxiety is to be an even more phenomenal employee (yes, she’s definitely reading this, and yes, it’s still true). She’ll update me on her progress on various projects and we discuss what things I might need from her over the next few days. Then I’ll probably send her multiple photos of my dog and links to at least three items I want to purchase and she’ll tell me not to buy yet another jacket but to get the really frivolous shoes. 

BREAK! — Time to check in with my two best friends. One who works at a grade school and is figuring out how to best educate a group of K-4th graders remotely and the other who is a nurse at the hospital in  St. Helena and assures me he’s being safe! 

1 p.m. — Slack ViewPoint meeting. For those of you who don’t know what ViewPoint is, it’s PUC’s magazine sent out twice a year to a large group of people, mainly consisting of alumni. I’m the managing editor so it’s my job to make sure everything is organized, deadlines are made, everything is edited, etc. The closer to a print date we get, the more often the team meets. This issue is SO close! 

2-4 p.m. — Dramatic afternoon meltdown. Time no longer exists. Who even knows how long I’ve been editing blog posts … Also, I will likely realize I never stopped for lunch and probably eat an entire pack of Ritz Crackers. 

BREAK!— Every 15 minutes my dog will come into the room to observe me but towards the end of the workday she’ll have had enough work and will coerce me into taking a break in the backyard. 

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D🐽G BREAK!

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5 p.m. — IT’S TIME TO STOP WORKING! 

After work, I usually take my dog out into the Back 40 or around the neighborhood. Now she has to settle for unattended backyard time where she inevitably picks a fight with a squirrel and has to be brought inside. 🙄 I usually spend the rest of the evening alternating between reading (I’m on my sixth book of the shelter-in-place order) and binge-watching something; right now it’s Brooklyn 99. Tonight though, I’ve decided to be hip and Netflix Party the first six episodes of Schitt’s Creek with my college roommate. 

OK, that’s it. That’s a typical day in the life of a PUC staff member working remotely. I’m off to bed so I can do this all over again tomorrow! 

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Faces of PUC: Miranda Halversen

When we asked Miranda Halversen to answer a few questions for us we had no idea she was literally about to finish her degree in marketing communications! Since then, Miranda has finished up at PUC and will be joining the Larkin Company team in the near future. We are so excited for her new adventure! 

What is your dream job?

Ah! I have so many. I would love to work for a publishing house, work as a social media manager for a company, public relations manager, event planner.. all of it at some point in my life! And of course, I’ll retire with my own business of a coffee shop/bookstore hybrid to last me through my later years.

How does that compare to what you wanted to be when you were young?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian (as I think a lot of young kids do). But as I got to junior high and high school, I really wanted to be an event or wedding planner! However, I had a bad job-shadowing experience and decided against it. So I was going to go into school for a business degree but ended up falling in love with communication classes. And here I am!

What is your favorite thing about being a part of the Pioneers family?

I will always love dorm life. I got to be a desk worker, resident assistant, and student dean over my time here. Those jobs and the overall culture of the dorm really just helped drive my love for my degree and wanting to always be with people. Our dorms provide a lot of worship opportunities and events which created so many lasting friendships.

Where is your favorite place in the world?

This is a hard question because I have so much more traveling to do before I can decide! But I guess, for now, it’s honestly the Napa Valley. I’ve lived here (at PUC) for nearly 14 years, so it’s home.

What show are you bingeing these days?

Oh, too many. I’m always rewatching all the Friends seasons. But lately, I’ve been watching Bones with my boyfriend, and I’m obsessed!

What is something you’re passionate about?

I’m passionate about people. I have a strong desire to always want to do things to make others laugh, smile or feel happy and comfortable. I thrive when I’m with others. No matter what I end up doing, I want to be doing something where I’m making life better and happier for others.

Recommend a place to go in the Bay Area on a weekend

 I would definitely say to visit Yountville. It’s only about 20 minutes from the hill, and it’s such a cute little town! Especially during Christmas time, they have lights all over Main Street. And a visit to Bouchon Bakery is always a plus over there!

Congratulations on finishing your last finals, Miranda! We wish you the best as you start your new journey! 

 

PUC Coloring Page Partie Deux

It’s time for another edition of coloring with PUC!

Download this coloring page and color away. feel free to send us photos of the final product!

 

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Faces of PUC: Brandon Parker

This week’s Faces of PUC is none other than PUC’s CFO Brandon Parker who returned to his alma mater, (’96) in 2017, along with his wife Heidi who joined PUC’s human resource team, and their two sons. Before he made his way back to Angwin he was the vice president and chief financial officer for St. Helena Hospital, so his career change didn’t take him far! Brandon was kind enough to answer a few quick questions so we could get to know him a little bit better. 

What brought you to PUC?

It was a God thing.  I’ve always left the guidance of my career in God’s hands, and the path to PUC became evident.  Prov 16:9.

What is the best thing about being a part of the Pioneers family?

The Pioneers family has two major qualities that I’m happy to be a part of 1) extremely passionate about PUC, and 2) eternally optimistic.

Where is your favorite place to eat in the Valley and why?

Checkers and Giugni’s. I have great memories of dating my wife.

What is something you can do/want to do that might be surprising for people to learn?

Be the next Harry Connick Jr.

What is one song you’re listening to on repeat lately?

Anything Peter Cincotti

Who is someone you admire and why?

Frank Sinatra, because he did it his way!

Finish this sentence: On Sunday mornings you can find me …

drinking coffee, wishing I was golfing.

 

 

Faces of PUC: Judith Mendoza

Meet PUC’s newest admissions counselor, Judith Mendoza. After graduating from PUC, Judith continued her education at Andrews University where she received her MA in youth and young adult ministry. Judith has a passion for Adventist Education and was excited to accept a position that would bring her back to our beloved tree-covered mountain. 

What brought you to PUC? How/Why did you decide to work here?

I first came to PUC as a student in 2011 and it was the trees and community feel that drew me to PUC. Thankfully that decision led to some of my favorite memories and people. After graduation, I felt a call to ministry and headed to Andrews to get an MA in Youth and Young Adult ministry. As I was approaching the end of my time at Andrews, my friend Angel (another Admission Counselor) told me about an opening here in admissions. While it may seem like I diverted from ministry, I find there are so many opportunities where I get to share my two biggest passions, Jesus and Adventist Education. Connect Ministries allows me to share in worship experiences with our youth in local churches and schools, while college fairs will let me share with others PUC and the things that make this place and our education system so special. I’m very happy to be back.

What is something you can do that might surprise people?

I am an amateur ‘master juggler’ in balls and rings, I got close to mastering the hollow bowling pins but I still need some practice. I’m also a decent goalkeeper and love participating in PUC’s soccer intramurals. Look out for my team, ‘Lakers’ (I did not pick the name-Go Portland Trailblazers!), this season.

Where is your favorite place to eat in the Napa Valley and why?

I love going to Melted, I have always been a fan of comfort food and grilled cheese always hits the spot. I also feel a little fancy there because it’s not your regular grilled cheese but like an upscale version of it.

What is your favorite thing about being part of the Pioneers family?

In the transition from a student to a staff member here at PUC, I’m happy to see I still get to experience the warm community feel which first drew me in. I was already friends with most of the other admission counselors, but the rest have been so welcoming and encouraging as I learn the ropes. Not just the team but other faculty and staff members have also made me feel like a family member who’s finally home from a trip. In a way I feel like that too, PUC was home for me for four years and while a lot has changed, the people are as friendly and this campus is as beautiful as I remember.

What is one song you’re listening to on repeat lately?

If you look at my Spotify account it’s all over the place, there’s an Anthems playlist, a Spanish playlist, an English playlist, and I also have a Disney Channel playlist. I don’t think I can narrow it down to one song, but according to Spotify it’s Hesitate by the Jonas Brothers.

Finish this sentence: On Sunday mornings you can find me…

Reading. I love reading for pleasure and since I’m no longer reading textbooks every day, I’m taking advantage and getting back into it. You may also find me at brunch, Sunday morning brunch is a big thing in my family and I’d love to continue that with my cousins and brother who are here in Angwin.

 

Faces of PUC: Gregg Gallemore

Meet Gregg Gallemore. Last year, Gregg decided to move back to his alma mater and take a welding job with facilities management. He recently got married and is he’s really enjoying being back in an area he loves, building a home with his new wife. 

What brought you to PUC? How/Why did you decide to work here?

This is kind of a long story, but essentially, I know I am here at PUC because God wants me here. I know it’s a little cliche sounding, but it is the most blatant answer I can give when I ask myself that same question. When I reflect on the whole story of how I came to work here, everything was too perfectly timed out and in my mind, that isn’t how life typically works. Every time I pray, I ask God to give me blatantly in my face answers, ” God, either shut me down hard or kick my butt through the door but I want/need an answer.” PUC was a kick through the door. Every time I ask God to give me a blatant answer, there it is right in my face.

What is the best thing about being a part of the Pioneers family?

I’ll say working with the facilities team is probably the best thing about working here. I love working with these guys and sincerely appreciate the work they do. They make working here easy, even when I have to crawl into the stinky dirty trash truck to weld something!

Where is your favorite place to eat in the Valley and why?

Tra Vigne is always good. Eat inside or outside, both offer a really nice environment or “AMBIANCE” if you want me to get all fancy with my words.

What is something you can do/want to do that might be surprising for people to learn?

I love metalwork, so much so that I built a huge wedding arbor for one of my childhood friends. I also built my wedding arbor as well. Because my craft is working with metal, these aren’t simple arbors, they are all made out of steel with intricate metal details. Aside from that, I ride a motorcycle and sometimes I do wheelies on that motorcycle. 

What is one song you’re listening to on repeat lately?

Songs? … try albums. I know these aren’t the best album’s to admit to listening to on repeat, but Tool’s new album Fear Inoculum and Stick Figure’s new album World on Fire.

Who is someone you admire and why?

I admire my dad. He just has so much more patience than I do and that is just one of the many qualities I admire about him. He’s also a really good man that I strive to be like.

Finish this sentence: On Sunday mornings you can find me … 

On Sunday morning’s you can find me sleeping in till 7 or 8 am!, working on cleaning up my place, walking my dog Amica, and then working on whatever project I’ve got going.

 

What I Should Be Doing: An Interview with Music Alumnus Brennan Stokes

By Becky St. Clair

Brennan Stokes graduated from Pacific Union College in 2013 with a degree in piano performance. Having discovered a love for composition while studying with Professor Asher Raboy in the department of music, Stokes chose to continue his education at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, graduating in 2019 with a Master’s of Music in composition. Today he maintains a teaching studio in San Francisco’s Sunset District, passing on his love of music to the next generation of pianists. 

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How did you discover your love for music?

My parents are both musically inclined; they both sang in the church choir, Mom took piano lessons as a kid, and Dad plays the trumpet. They started me in piano lessons when I was in kindergarten, but there was always music in our house. I just took it and ran with it.

How did you settle on the piano?

It was the first instrument I learned, and it was a match from the start. I really liked it, and according to my teachers, I showed some promise for it, so I kept playing. Piano just made sense to me. 

How did composing become part of your musical life?

I always assumed I was going to be on one side of the page. I knew I was going to learn it, research it, analyze it, but I never considered creating it myself. When I found out I had to take a composition class for my degree, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but after our first assignment I realized how magical this process is and I fell in love with it. I continued to take classes with Professor Raboy even after the requirements were done. Creating new music was incredibly exciting for me. 

Tell us about your studio.

I teach 30-35 students a week, all between the ages of 5 and 13. My schedule is very flexible; since most kids are in school, I am relatively free during the day. I start teaching around 3 p.m. three days a week and teach until 8 p.m. I enjoy what I do. I consider myself very fortunate to be working in my field, teaching young musicians.

When you’re not teaching kids to create music, you create music yourself. Describe your approach to practicing.

Really, it starts slow. Paying attention to fingerings becomes essential; training my hands to do smaller tasks automatically. Then I focus on rhythm, hand by hand, figuring out what each part of the piece sounds like, then I put it all together. A valuable tool Dr. Wheeler gave me is reverse practice. If you only ever start your practice at the beginning of a piece, that’s always going to be the strong part. But if you start at the end, which is often the hardest part, you ensure the end is also strong. Then you feel even more comfortable with the piece. 

What is the difference between hearing a piece and playing it?

It’s a totally different experience to hear a piece than it is to see what the hands have to do to make the piece happen. You may feel like you know a piece after listening to it multiple times, but when you sit down to actually play it, you realize there are little rhythmic or harmonic nuances you didn’t realize were there. For example, the harmonies in some Chopin and Rachmaninoff pieces are super crunchy. It sounds like you’re playing something wrong and you check the notes three times, but that’s really what it is. You learn it, and suddenly it’s not crunchy anymore; it works. 

Aside from providing a way to make a living, how has studying music contributed positively to your life?

The last several years I’ve been getting into poetry and it has turned into a cycle of self-enrichment. I read poetry and feel like it was meant to be an art song, so I create some vocal music to go with the poem. Also, music allows me to meet really incredible people from all over the world. Music is the most universal thing; it doesn’t matter where you come from or what language you speak, you can bond over music. I love how it brings people together.

Who is your favorite composer to play, and why?

I’d say Chopin and this relatively new 20th century English composer named York Bowen. Chopin changed the game for solo piano. Yes, it’s technical, but once you get it in the fingers, it becomes so fluid and so natural. There’s playfulness, there’s sadness, and the composer’s intentions are really clear. Bowen utilizes really rich harmonies and has a bit of a jazzier feeling. I don’t think he’s well known but he’s written a ton of music; in particular, his preludes and ballads feel really nice to play.

Who is your favorite composer to listen to, and why?

There are two to whom I constantly return: Ravel and Beethoven. I have yet to encounter a piece by Ravel I’m not stunned by. He was a wizard of music and his chamber and orchestra music is stunning. Every instrument’s shape and technique is magic because he thought about more than the obvious ways to use the instrument. He utilizes every aspect of shading to get different tone colors and sounds.

Beethoven takes his time with his surprises. What he did to change musical form is a reminder that if you feel like doing something, you can. He’ll pull a fortissimo out of nowhere or move through his harmonies in an unexpected way. His sonatas are really rich; one movement is fiery and passionate then another is lyrical and serene. It’s incredible to realize you don’t always have to do the same thing all the time. He reminds me to come back to things that are good and innovate. I’m still looking back to these masters and finding ways to influence my music-making process. 

What is something you want to improve about your musicianship, and what are you currently doing to move in that direction?

Right now, rhythms and the finer points of notating what I want, maintaining my ear to get the intricate harmonies I love. I constantly have to work at how I put the complicated pieces together in the way I want them. During my first year of grad school, I took a musicianship class, and it was insane but incredible. Walking out of that class, my ear was so much sharper than it had been walking in. I still use techniques from that class to keep track of what has happened in a piece and what I’m doing next. 

What is the highlight of your career thus far?

Definitely my first composition recital in November 2017—the first time I heard one of my pieces performed. I had composed two songs for mezzo soprano, violin, cello, and piano, and I was terrified. I’m so used to being in the driver’s seat, and it was terrifying to be the composer just sitting in the audience watching four other people do my music and having zero control over what happened.

It was an immense learning curve handing my music over to other musicians; what I think works initially may not actually work after a second pair of eyes looks it over, especially when I’m composing for instruments that are not my primary. I also learned that how performers interpret music is also a part of the creative process.

A lot of people came up to me afterward and said it was amazing. It was a moment when all of my fears of not being good enough vanished. To be positively received by an audience was wonderful, but for my music to be positively received by the musicians playing it was even better. It was confirmation I was doing what I should be doing.

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If you could change one thing about society’s perception of classical music, what would it be?

I wish more people understood if you have the context of 20th century music, it will make more sense. The 20th century saw a lot of horrible things happen, and that’s reflected in dissonant 20th century music. It’s not necessarily pretty to listen to, but if you understand what they’re trying to say you don’t necessarily disagree with it. It takes a moment to transcend what you’re hearing and realize what the composer is saying; for example, a minor key with shrieking strings can express how a Polish composer feels about the Holocaust. If you understand what it is they were experiencing or reacting to, it contextualizes their voice and makes the music more accessible. 

How do you deal with performance anxiety?

I read a book on performance anxiety and the author said if you don’t get nervous, if you don’t feel anxious or get a boost in energy (whether positive or negative) before a performance, it’s apathy. You don’t really care. If you’re nervous before you perform, it means you want to do a good job and perform to the best of your ability to make sure what you put out there is wonderful. That really changed my way of thinking. I’ve learned to recognize what happens to me and where my nervousness affects me the most, then find a way to adjust. I try to fully relax my body and tell myself I’m going to give a wonderful performance. I reassure myself I’ve practiced, I’m ready, and I’m a good enough musician to find my way through the performance. This is music and music is fun, and sharing it with others should be enjoyable. That nervous feeling just means I’m doing the right thing. I’m doing something that matters to me. And that’s how it should be.