Tag Archives: music

Photo by Kael Bloom on Unsplash

Coming Back to Life: Preparing for music-making in the fall

By Becky St. Clair

We’re all tired of talking about the pandemic, but…it’s here to stay for a while, and we can’t ignore it. What we can do, however, is focus on coming out the other side of it all, physically, mentally, and spiritually intact. 

Over the last 17 months or so, it’s likely your lifestyle and habits have changed significantly. Whether that means dropping or discovering a hobby, picking up or conquering bad habits, sleeping different hours, or developing a hatred of all things Zoom and an appreciation for well-stocked grocery stores, it’s likely life looks quite different for you in August 2021 than it did in March 2020. 

For many of us who are musicians, this change in lifestyle likely includes a dramatic decrease in the amount of playing or singing we do on a regular basis. Which means that when we talk about “getting back in shape,” we’re not talking about those pounds that mysteriously appeared over the last year and a half and obviously had nothing to do with the vast number of baked goods and stress snacks we were consuming. (#denial)

When we as musicians talk about “getting back in shape” we’re talking chops. For brass and woodwind players this is the embouchure and breath control; for string players, guitarists, and pianists it’s calluses and muscle memory; for vocalists it’s the vocal cords and breath control; for percussionists it’s the forearm muscles, hand-eye coordination, and accuracy. And after a year and a half of not using them, these skills and abilities likely need a bit of a tune-up.

Here’s the good news: 

  1. It’s totally doable to get yourself back in shape in time for fall quarter ensembles and lessons; and
  2. If you haven’t been involved with music yet at PUC, now’s the time to join, because everyone is in the same boat, and music is the life preserver.

So, without further ado, here’s some sage advice and tips from the music faculty at PUC.

Don’t practice. Get together with friends and just play or sing. Do duets or quartets. Play woodwind and brass quintets. Play or sing with an organist or pianist. After all the isolation, playing with friends is a joy. And don’t worry if your ensemble is made up of odd instruments. A flute can play a violin part (and vice-versa). Clarinets, tenor saxes, and trumpets are interchangeable. Lots of music today even has parts in multiple keys so the instrumentation is very flexible. Have some fun and make some music.

Schedule yourself as the special music in church (and then take the music to a retirement home or a hospital or a place where people need to hear some music). Don’t pick anything too hard or too long, just something that you might enjoy playing. A few rehearsals, a performance, and you’ve made a lot of peoples’ lives brighter with your talent, and gotten your fingers and face back in shape. Hey, do this more than once! People want to hear you.

Commit to playing/singing for only 10 minutes several times a week. If things are going well and you want to spend more time, great! But 10 minutes begins to get your muscles back into shape. Your playing/singing muscles are likely out of shape, and just like an athlete, take time to rebuild them so you play/sing without injuring them.

Play with curiosity rather than expectation. Celebrate what still works and give yourself grace for what doesn’t. It may have been a long time since you played or sang. That means the control you used to have with your instrument/voice may not be as accessible as it used to be. It will come back!

Review the basics. Simple scales, hymns, and long notes can be used to remind and re-engage your muscles/embouchure/vocal chords in good habits of intonation, articulation, and control. 

Find a rhythm book or other music book and practice reading the rhythms on a single note. This will make it easier when you start sight reading again. 

And here are some thoughts for once we’re back together in September:

Manage expectations. We must remind ourselves that the instrument is rusty and like going back to exercising after a break, the voice is going to respond similarly. It will take time to get back to our previous level regarding breath, tone, volume control, etc.

Make it about socializing–rebuilding connections and trust. These are two elements that have been in short supply over the last year and a half. Provide plenty of time to socialize and get acquainted or reacquainted. 

Have reasonable goals in terms of skill development and musical artistry. Start with things that can be mastered and grow from there.

Celebrate the ability to make music together again. It is a privilege that others may not fully grasp. 

Give yourself and others time and space to share what you’ve missed and what you hope to gain and revitalize. 

Many of us have really, truly suffered from not being able to be with one another and make music while actually in the same room. It will take time and care for each other to get back into the swing of things, but regardless of how long it has been, celebrate the journey and privilege of making music. Treat it as a gift and give yourself grace. We cannot wait to see you in September!

For information about the department of music, including how to be part of an ensemble (spoiler: it’s easy, and there’s scholarship money involved!), contact us at music@puc.edu or 707-965-6201.

Photo by Kael Bloom on Unsplash

Meant to Be: An Interview with a Music and Business Double Major

by Becky St. Clair

Sophie Jalomo is a senior music and business major from Fresno who didn’t end up quite where she expected. She is our choral librarian, creating and keeping order amongst the shelves and shelves of choir music, and plans to graduate in spring 2022. We are thrilled to have her in our department for another year, and were so glad she shared her experiences and thoughts with us.

Why did you choose PUC? 

Each of my siblings went to the same university for college, and because of this, the school wanted to make us their poster children. I felt like I was being pushed to go there, and decided that was not the reason that I should go to any particular school. So I began searching for peace about which school to attend. Even after meeting with a counselor in financial aid, not knowing how I was going to pay my tuition, I had complete peace about choosing PUC. That’s why I’m here–because God gave me the peace that I was meant to be here.​​

You started out a business major. What drew you to music? 

The first class I took with the music department was group voice class with Dr. Anderson. I have always loved singing, but I felt handicapped when it came to music, so I wanted to learn more. A good friend of mine told me that I should try out for choir, but I was really scared to. Then Dr. A asked me to audition, and after some work, I joined Chorale and Vox Pro Musica (VPM). I was hooked. It quickly became a passion, and I couldn’t stay away! I still wanted to learn more about music, so I began poking around and asking questions. I loved how passionate everyone in the department was, so I asked Dr. A and some students about double majoring and if they thought it was the right choice. I then talked to my advisors about double majoring and how that would affect my getting a job after graduation. Everyone was saying the same thing: That it would be the best choice I could make for myself. Over a year later, I know I made the right decision.

Before PUC, you didn’t have a lot of experience with music performance. What inspired you to join an ensemble? 

I always wanted to join a choir. I sang a little at my church, but it was basically five people trying to sing to a recording track. PUC Chorale was my first real choir. If my friend and Dr. Anderson hadn’t encouraged me to join, I would have been too afraid to join. Actually, my freshman year I auditioned for VPM. I was told that I had a good voice, but I was a soprano and she needed altos. I didn’t like that answer, so I decided to become an alto! Shortly after that I got a cold and lost my head voice, so I could only sing in my chest voice, and I became the next alto in VMP.

As a double major in both business and music, how do you think the two work together? 

In some ways, they are incompatible, but I think when you apply the collaboration it takes to make music in an ensemble or group, the connections become clear. More than anything, these majors are complementary. I have had to learn completely new ways of studying and practicing, new ways of managing my time. Working with others can be challenging, but in music, it’s required that everyone is on the same page and communicating well to be able to function. That is the thing music and business have most in common.

Tell me about a music course that has really impacted you.

Oh my goodness, where do I even start? I think I would choose my basic conducting class or theory. I have learned that there is so much I do not know, and that there’s so much more to learn. With every new chapter that we study, I am blown away at things I did not know. I used to think conductors would just be able to sight-read a piece and it was fine, but now I understand how much practice and preparation go into being able to direct an ensemble. I am constantly learning something new in my music courses!

How has being part of two very different departments benefitted you? 

The best part is that I get to take a break from different types of learning and questioning. I have felt that much of what I learn as a business major is mostly just logical and easily makes sense to me. With music, it is not like that. There aren’t just definitions, rules, ethics, and people; there is art. In music there is technique and variation, there are fewer black-and-white moments and more creation and personality. But for now, I get to learn the foundations of things in both areas. 

Being a double major in two completely different fields has stretched me in every way. I have learned new study techniques, learned how to apply myself more effectively, and learned how to make new connections. I am much happier having both music and business as a major; it’s nice to know I can be successful as a double major and I am able to study what I am passionate about.

Who in the music department has been instrumental in making you feel at home, and how? 

Honestly, everyone. Everyone was so encouraging in my transition into the music department, that they made me feel it was a joy for them to receive me into their family. My professors have worked so hard to accommodate all of us students so that we can get the classes that we need and they’re always there when we have questions or need help!

What is your career goal? 

My primary goal is to have a career in business. This summer, I will be attending the Business Internship program at Kettering Health Network (KHN) in Ohio. After graduation I plan on working with them for a few years, and then branching off, hopefully, to own my own business! 

Since you’re planning to focus on the business side of things, how do you think studying music will play a part in your future? 

I will always have that joy that comes with being able to produce music and learn more. I love music and I want it to be part of my life forever. I want to carry these abilities that I am learning forward, and while I hope that someday I will be able to work for a music program, I love that I can make music and have understanding no matter where I end up.

Allen

Something to Contribute: Alumna speaks on Black music

by Becky St. Clair

The history of American music is infused with African influence, and it covers a multitude of genres, styles, artists, and composers. In an article on the Smithsonian Institute website, Steven Lewis says, “Describing the African-American influence on American music in all its glory and variety is an intimidating–if not impossible–task. African-American influences are so fundamental to American music that there would be no American music without them.”

And yet the standard music course at most American colleges and universities rarely, if ever, touches on Black Music.

“I’ve spent my life listening to classic jazz, gospel, spirituals, and oldies, but I didn’t tap into the juggernaut of African-American classical music until I got to PUC,” remembers Christina Allen, 2019 PUC music and visual arts alumna. “When I started looking for recital pieces in my voice lessons, I realized there are so many classically trained African-American composers, lyricists, and artists, and I’d never heard of them.”

Allen has always been a singer; her father, also a singer as well as a trombonist, began teaching her jazz harmonies when she was five years old. She was handed a mic and soloed with her church choir as a young child, too.

“When I got to PUC, though I was focused on film and television, I couldn’t help but find my way over to the music department,” she says with a grin. 

Allen found her way to a practice room and began singing. She was overheard by a professor, who encouraged her to try out for choir, which she did. At first it was just something she was adding to her course lineup for fun, but she quickly realized it was more than that to her. 

“I loved it,” Allen admits. “I knew I had to get a degree in music because I just love it, it’s part of who I am, and I wanted to study it properly.”

During her senior year, as she prepared for her senior recital with Dr. Eve-Anne Wilkes, her voice instructor, Allen knew she wanted to include music by Black composers in her lineup. So she chose a couple of pieces by William Grant Still: “The Breath of a Rose,” with lyrics by Langston Hughes, and “Grief,” music set to a poem by LeRoy V. Grant.

“Still’s music has been instrumental in my journey as an African-American female vocalist,” Allen says. “There’s something really incredible about the storytelling in it. The way he brings together the music just has such a powerful way of emoting stories that are really relevant to our culture. He gets under your skin in a good way, with room for thought and consideration.”

Allen points out that Still was extremely thoughtful about the lyrics of his music and about who he had write them. 

“His music speaks to the experience he and everyone around him was having, and that’s meaningful to me,” Allen adds. “Even with current artists in popular genres, the ones I gravitate toward are those who are using their talent for more than just entertainment. They have something to contribute to the time they’re in.”

Ambassador Status

It isn’t just Still that speaks to Allen; she also proclaims a deep and abiding love for the music of Florence Price, George Walker, Robert Nathaniel, and Margaret Bonds. And though her counterparts at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) studied these and others in every music class they took, Allen points out that at most colleges and universities, you have to search out specific classes about Black or African-American music. 

“It’s just not common literature,” she says with sadness. “There are brilliant composers from every ethnicity and we simply don’t hear about them. If we as a society want to heal in some of these areas in which we’ve been wounded and broken, we have to rethink how we educate. Because education is how we cultivate our values and mindsets and it shapes our perspectives of the world.”

Allen is a classically trained African-American female vocalist. Though there are many others who fit this description around the world, she knows she is still a rarity. And she feels compelled to be an ambassador for her culture–specifically for women of her culture–in classical music.

“It would be an injustice if I didn’t,” she says. “If someone is moved by the fact that the music I sing was made by someone who looks like me, I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. My voice is a gift and I have a responsibility to share that gift. I’m not just singing when I perform; I’m telling the story of African-American music–of classical music–and I want to share that story because if I don’t, I don’t know if anyone else will.”

Allen quickly points out, however, that she and her African-American brothers and sisters are not the only ones who can tell this story. For example, white people are not the only ones allowed to tell the story of Mozart or Bach or Debussy; Allen herself has told their stories and others throughout her musical career.

“We should be able to tell each other’s stories,” she says with feeling. “Anyone of any race, creed, shape, size, color, or whatever should tell whatever story they resonate with and that resonates with them. In telling the story and sharing, it’s a fight for equality. We have importance just like everyone else, and there’s value in that.”

It is, however, a special honor for Allen, as a Black musician, to honor the legacy of those who have gone before her. And it’s not just about singing music; it’s also talking about it.

Sharing Culture

Allen shares a story of chatting with a nurse at a doctor’s appointment. The nurse happened to mention that he’d been to Scotland, going back to his roots. Allen’s immediate response was, “That music is so soulful! I love it!” The nurse was taken aback by her description of Scottish music, surprised that she had not only listened to it, but had thoughtful things to say about it.

“We started talking about music and how it impacts our lives,” Allen recalls. “It turns out he has a radio station and loves music, listening to everything under the sun. I started sharing about composers I love from my own culture that had impacted me and he said he’d play some of them on his station.”

Intrigued and inspired, Allen tuned into the station later and found the nurse had kept his word. He even gave her a shout-out on-air.

“It’s so important that we share each other’s culture,” Allen emphasizes. “All of it shapes each of us, and if we claim to want equality and do away with racism on every level, we need to walk that talk.”

And it starts with education.

“We have to integrate our history courses,” Allen says. “Branching out and offering the history of Black music not just as a separate course, but as part of the history of music we already take.”

She continues by saying that classes shouldn’t just talk about African music in world music courses, but in all of them, and when studying composition, professors should be thoughtful to include a diverse range of cultures and styles. Lectures should Include Black composers and musicians, and ensembles should perform music from all over the world.

“For many–myself included–college is the first time we truly experience classical music,” Allen asserts. “If not for some awesome teachers, I may not have had the experience I did with classical music. There’s something to be said for performing music from people who look like you, and being able to represent your culture. What we’re exposed to matters.”

It’s not just higher education, either, Allen points out; it’s a societal issue as the country tries to play catch-up and heal the brokenness garnered through past mistakes. And every little step forward matters–especially in education.

“What we learn in school shapes our perspective and we can’t make progress if we’re leaving out pieces,” she says. “I was greatly impacted in a positive way by the education I received with my music degree at PUC. I was completely cultivated in unexpected ways, and it’s forever shaped me as a person and as a musician.

“Music is a universal language and it has a special and unique way of helping you understand another culture outside of your own,” Allen concludes. “Understanding is valuable. If we dare to not be angry, and to be gracious and willing to continue the conversation, we’ll move forward.”

Some Black composers to explore, recommended by Allen & department of music faculty:

  • William Grant Still
  • Florence Price
  • George Walker
  • Margaret Bonds
  • Ulysses Simpson Kay
  • Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
  • Jessie Montgomery

Creating the Perfect Fit: An Interview with a Double Major

By Becky St. Clair

Natalie Fode is a senior piano and nursing double major who grew up right here in St. Helena. With an Associate’s Degree in music (flute performance) and one in nursing already under her belt, she plans to graduate in June 2021 with her Bachelor’s Degrees in both. Natalie plays flute in the PUC Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and when we’re on-campus in person, she works in the department office managing recordings. She currently lives in Yountville with her husband, Jordan.

Why music?
I’ve always been fascinated with music for as long as I can remember. I have a musical family; my grandfather taught choir at various academies, and my grandmothers were/are both very good pianists. My dad is a great musician too, and plays the bass guitar, and my mom also plays the flute. I think this combination made me interested in music from a young age because music was often in the home in some form or another. I ultimately decided to pursue a music degree because I couldn’t imagine my life without it and I wanted to be better able to share my love of it with others, as well as to grow my composition, piano, and flute performance skills. I hope to someday teach lessons and continue writing music throughout my life.

So it surrounded you for most of your life, but do you recall when you first started really noticing it and exploring it for yourself?
My grandma first taught me the basics of piano when I was about four years old, which first awakened my love and fascination for piano. I don’t know where I got the idea of composing, but I remember playing the lap harp when I was about five or six and creating my own music on it. I also remember going around and making up songs (if you could call them that) about everything that happened in my life when I was little. It turns out each of these early interests developed into something that I now know and love and are all a part of me to this day. 

I ended up becoming extremely interested in composition and songwriting as I got older, writing songs from the time I was about 11 and starting my first choral piece at age 14. I have continued to pursue flute, piano, and composition during my time at PUC. Each of these early musical experiences are still a part of my life today as a college student and they will forever be a part of my musical identity.

How has your experience been pursuing both music and nursing simultaneously?
I would say the biggest challenge for me has been finding the time to stay in a creative headspace while also pursuing nursing, which is a different-type-of-difficult degree. I adore composition and wish that I had the time and creative energy to do it more often. Though it hasn’t always been an easy balancing act, I would say that music has been an oasis for me during the difficult times of the nursing program, which, as much as I love nursing, certainly existed.

Nursing majors have crazy schedules; how did you manage that while also being in a music ensemble?
First of all, I would like to mention that I took the first year and a half of my time at PUC to focus primarily on music and attempting to get into the nursing program. That allowed me to finish a lot of my classes for the AS in music degree, but not all. Once the nursing program began for me, the music department professors worked with my crazy clinical schedules and helped me achieve my goals in both nursing and music; I couldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for their graciousness. 

Nursing is, by necessity, a very structured program and so it speaks volumes that the music department has been willing to work around and with that to help me create the perfect fit during my time at PUC. Now, during my two bachelor degrees in nursing and music, the music professors are working with me more than ever due to “core weeks” (weeks one and six each quarter) which are a part of the BS in nursing when I have classes the majority of the day and can’t typically attend normal class periods. They’ve also worked with me through more crazy clinical schedules and have always been so understanding through it all.

I couldn’t be more blessed and grateful with the music department. It’s taken me five years to finish these two degrees, but the incredible experiences, connections, and future opportunities that I’ve gained along the way has made it all worthwhile.

You and Jordan have recorded a few videos performing together; do you have plans to do something more formal with your combined skills? 
Jordan and I both love music. He’s been playing guitar since he was 12 and saxophone since he was nine, and we’ve both been casually singing in choirs and on our own from a young age. We have just recently started exploring who we are as a musical twosome and it’s been a really fun journey. We hope to make it a “thing” in the near future. 

We have a YouTube channel and want to fill it with covers and original songs, and hope to utilize other social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to share as well. We also want to do concerts both locally and across the U.S. as a ministry, once things are a little less “germy” of course. Ha! This is important to us because we both want to share God’s love and the message of righteousness by faith with as many people as possible. We’d love to combine that message with speaking and music in the form of concerts and social media.

What do you enjoy about being part of the music department?
One of my favorite things about the music department is sitting in the office, working and listening to all of the students and ensembles practicing. It’s so inspiring, makes me smile, and it’s fun to hear people progress in their pieces. I also love the family feel of the department. It’s not huge, and so everyone gets to know everyone and there’s a real sense of closeness there that is quite unique. It feels like a home away from home.

How do music and nursing intersect—at least for you?
Music is inherently therapeutic, and so I definitely feel that my knowledge of music can help me provide my future patients with better care in the hospital. I’ve heard stories of nurses singing or performing for patients per their request and I can see that being something I’d be open to since I’m interested in treating the whole person in their healing process. I see it as a connecting point, regardless of where I am located or what I’m doing; music is something that I’ll carry with me everywhere. 

Likewise, I think that the nursing mentality and my nursing skills are things that can benefit me in many different situations. Nursing has helped me to attack my instrument practicing more systematically which has been helpful for me. I also know that it will come in handy if anyone hurts themselves or has something go physically wrong during a rehearsal or lesson. Both music and nursing are focused on connecting with the whole person you are serving at that moment, and because of this they are interchangeable disciplines in many respects when they are done well.

What is your ultimate career goal?
Well…that’s rather ambiguous at the moment, if I’m honest. I am currently hoping to find a nursing job so that I can begin serving my community in whatever capacity is most needed. Eventually, I would love to work on a labor and delivery unit as I’ve always had a passion for obstetrics. This passion was likely spawned by being an aunt to eight kiddos and watching three of those births at various points throughout my childhood, as well as having a sister who worked as a labor and delivery and postpartum nurse for most of her career. It is possible that I would want to pursue a certified nurse midwife/nurse practitioner degree in the future, but that would be many years down the road, if ever; there are no concrete plans in place for that at this point. 

As far as music goes, from home jam-sessions with my husband and family, to writing my own compositions and songs, to teaching lessons or even potentially leading ensembles at the elementary or high-school level, I see myself using my music degree all the time. I would say that the knowledge I gained during my time in my AS and BS in music degrees is even more valuable to me than the degrees themselves in many respects. I’ve learned so much that I will carry with me throughout my life, and though the degree titles are inherently valuable, the information I gleaned while earning them is invaluable.

If you could offer one piece of advice to incoming first-years at PUC, what would it be?
Embrace the changes that inherently come along with your first year in college and to go for the thing that seems audaciously out-there if it’s something that you truly want to pursue. It’s not too late to switch your declared major, not too late to change your mind in pursuit of the desires of your heart. By all means, be smart about it, but whether it means adding, switching, or dropping a degree, if that’s what you think is best for you – do it! And go all-in. 

Also, don’t wait any longer than you have to, because the sooner you make the switch, the more time your professors and advisors will have to work with you. Have those conversations early on, and bounce ideas off people you trust. I switched at the end of my first year, but there’s no “right way” to do it. It’s never too late to make a change. Don’t let your life decide itself for you–you get to hold the reins. Ask questions. Don’t let things just “happen to you” academically. Take an active role in your course planning, picking a major, and the timing, difficulty, and pace of your quarters.

And then, I would say something that seems almost contrary to my previous advice, but it isn’t: Prioritize your health, both mental and physical. Don’t push yourself too hard, it’s not worth it. Don’t hesitate to reach out when something feels off, and take advantage of the resources that PUC has to offer because no amount of hustle is worth your well-being. I pushed myself so hard and I got through it, but looking back I would advise my younger self to prioritize my health more. You’re a human, not a machine, and it’s important to realize that–and the earlier on, the better. 

Most of all, I want to say: You’ve got this! It’s a long road ahead, but if you find a major and future career that you love, and prioritize your well-being so that you can enjoy the journey and the destination, it will all be worth it.

Caroling the Nativity: Stories & a Playlist from the Department of Music

By Becky St. Clair

Have you ever watched a movie without a soundtrack? Imagine a silent scene of a forest in the early morning with fog drifting around the trees and an occasional bird or fox or squirrel darting out and then back in. This could be a creepy horror movie, a documentary about ecosystems, a war drama, a Hallmark Christmas film, or something else entirely. Without the soundtrack, it’s hard to know how to feel or what to expect. Music is a powerful and effective way to set the mood of a scene, and no story would be the same without it. 

Christmas has a soundtrack, too, and though it’s different for every person, we all find joy and comfort in the familiar music of the holiday. Yes, some of it is “Santa Baby” or “Linus & Lucy” style, but even some people who aren’t particularly religious will admit that “O, Holy Night” brings tears to their eyes.

In this month’s blog, we’re exploring the story of the Nativity through carols. At the end of the post there is a link to a playlist of all the pieces we review here today, so you can carol your way through the story of Christmas. (Pssst: Feel free to sing along. We won’t judge!)

“Gabriel’s Message” a Basque folk Christmas carol

Originally based on a 13th/14th-century carol called “Angelus ad Virginem,” this carol tells the story of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to deliver the news that will change her life forever. Though not a well-known or popular carol, it has been recorded by popular artists such as Charlotte Church and Sting. A cheerful and catchy repeating line throughout the song is “Most highly favored lady; gloria!”

“Magnificat” by Johann Sebastian Bach

This lively piece is the only carol that comes straight from the Bible. The text, found in Luke 1:46-55, is titled in scripture as “Mary’s Song.” She has just found out–at 14 years old, mind you–that she’s pregnant, carrying the most important baby the world will ever know, and she has made her way to visit her cousin, who is also expecting an important child. Upon her arrival she bursts into song, proclaiming her adoration of God and her appreciation for what he has done. There are some unexpected political/historical points of significance in Mary’s song, as well. (Read this article for one perspective.) This piece was actually Bach’s first major liturgical composition on a Latin text.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Phillips Brooks & Lewis H. Redner

This carol is, of course, is a poetic commentary on the important place this little town became, all because a specific baby was born there. Brooks spent Christmas 1866 in Bethlehem and was inspired to pen the lyrics known ‘round the Christian world today. The tune was composed by his church organist back home in Boston, though the tune we know in the Adventist Church is not the one they use in England and in many liturgical churches–they use instead an arrangement of an old folk tune put together by Ralph Vaughan Williams called “Forest Green.”

“Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head” an Appalachian folk carol

This is a piece collected by Kentucky native John Jacob Niles, who began collecting folk songs and composing his own as a teenager in the early 20th century. The tune is beautiful, and it paints the scene of Jesus lying in his manger bed, while also pointing out that many terrible people sleep in “feather beds” so one’s station in life doesn’t matter so much as one’s character. 

“Away in a Manger” by an unknown composer

Though the text has been mis-attributed to Martin Luther, the fact remains that its origins are still relatively unknown; though it has been determined that the carol is most likely American. It depicts the Christ child in the stable on the night he was born, surrounded by what one might typically expect in a stable. Though in America we typically use a tune written by organist and songwriter James R. Murray, in the U.K. the more commonly used tune is “Cradle Song,” composed (interestingly) by a carpenter in Philadelphia by the name of William J. Kirkpatrick.

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night” by multiple composers/writers

In the late 17th century, Nahum Tate, a British poet known for his metrical psalms, turned his attention to the story of Christ’s birth in the book of Luke. He wrote a metrical version of the story of the shepherds so it could be sung directly from scripture, and he called it “Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour.” Interestingly, a specific tune was not created for it; rather, publications of the text indicated it could be sung to any number of tunes “of common measure.” 

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” by Felix Mendelssohn, William Cummings, & Charles Wesley

Surprise! This wasn’t actually originally a Christmas song at all. Well, okay, that’s kind of a stretch. The tune was originally from one of Mendelssohn’s cantatas and had nothing to do with anything sacred at all–it was actually in honor of the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press, and paid homage to Johannes Gutenberg. However, in the mid-19th century, a former choir boy took the tune and put it together with a sacred poem from a collection of Christmas hymns and poems by Charles Wesley, creating the carol we know today. It is now regularly performed in celebration of the visit the angels paid to the shepherds to announce the birth of the Savior.

“The Coventry Carol” a traditional English carol

Dating from the Coventry mystery plays of the 16th century, this carol is one of the most hauntingly beautiful tunes ever written. One interesting thing to note is that it’s in a minor key–a rarity in the collection of familiar carols–but there’s a reason for that. While we all likely recognize the tune, it’s doubtful many have stopped to ponder the meaning of the words. This is likely the only carol honoring the part of the story where Herod loses his mind over being usurped by a baby of lowly birth and orders The Massacre of the Innocents. It is, however, an important part of the story of Jesus’ birth, because his life was spared and God’s plan of salvation marched on.

“The Adoration of the Magi” by Ottorino Respighi

We decided to try something different at this part of the story (other than “We Three Kings”), and opted to introduce our readers to something new. This piece is one of three known as “Trittico Botticelliano,” composed to musically illustrate a triptych of paintings by Sandro Botticelli. There are so many beautiful elements in this piece–the ethereal double-reed instrumentation woven throughout, the incorporation of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the rich support of the strings, the calculated use of percussion–you can clearly imagine the kings making their way to worship the Christ child as you listen.

“Joy the World” by Isaac Watts & Lowell Mason

We end our caroling journey with one based not on the Nativity, but on the second Advent, and taken not from the New Testament, but from Psalms. Published by Watts in 1719, the poem was originally titled, “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom,” celebrating the kingly rule of Christ over all of heaven and earth. In 1836, Mason published the poem with a tune he attributed to Handel, but over the last 180-or-so years, no one has been able to figure out exactly which Handel tune he was referring to, though it’s suspected that some bars and lines of melody were inspired by parts of Handel’s “Messiah.” It is a fitting end to our musical Nativity to sing joyfully that the Lord has come. Let Heaven and nature sing!

Check out our playlist of the above carols on Spotify. (It’s free!)

A Real Musician: A conversation with trumpet-player Nephtali Marin

By Lewis Govea

Being willing to participate in music is all you need to be a real musician. Sixth year PUC film student Nephtali “Nephta” Marin takes us on his personal music journey that puts the meaning of being a real musician into perspective.

Currently residing in Roseville, California, Marin claims that music never made a grand entrance into his life but rather was always there.

“I started piano lessons as a kid but stopped after a few years because I got bored,” Marin remarks. “Honestly, I’m not sure why I stopped.”

After his piano journey came to a sudden end, Marin continued his music journey through his school’s band.

“I started playing in band in fourth grade, and while I didn’t have an option whether to join or not, I did get to choose which instrument I wanted to play, so why not choose the loudest?”

The loudest instrument Marin refers to is, of course, the boisterous trumpet. Marin continued with the trumpet through some of high school but then took a break and didn’t play again until after being at PUC for some time.

“I got involved with the PUC music department when Matthew Guevara [a 2020 trumpet graduate] said they needed an 8th trumpet to play the easy part” states Marin, who claims to have been very out of practice at that point and would often play wrong notes. “I call it jazz,” he asserts.

Marin has learned a lot since then, but his favorite piece of advice comes from Asher Raboy, director of PUC’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble and currently the acting chair of the department. Raboy encourages everyone to use what he calls “hairpins,” where every player changes their own dynamics in waves as they see fit, according to their own part.

At the end of the day, Marin loves to participate in making music, and isn’t that all you need to be a real musician? Marin may not be a music major, but Paulin Hall is his home.

“I love the community that the music department has built there and I’m so glad I decided to participate in Symphonic Wind Ensemble even though I might not be the best,” he says. “It’s fun to express myself with music, create new friendships, make new memories, and just have a good time!”

Being a real musician doesn’t have anything to do with how good you are on the piano, or how much theory knowledge you have; being a real musician means enjoying making and listening to music, and Nephtali Marin is a prime example of the purest form of musicianship there is—a person who loves music.

Learn more about PUC’s department of music: puc.edu/music

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

Everything & Nothing: Sharing Music During COVID

By Becky St. Clair

Alice Walker once said, “Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.” 

Over the past several months we have watched the world come alive with art. Musicians on balconies, serenading their neighbors; artists creating on their walls at home and sharing it via timelapse on YouTube; influencers using their writing skills to encourage, uplift, and inspire. It’s the arts that got the world through quarantine. The arts restored people’s souls. And PUC’s department of music could do no less for its students.

It didn’t take long after everyone went home to wait out COVID-19 for reality to hit: We missed music. Spring quarter is generally the busiest for the department, and 2020 was no different. However, the “busy” looked very different. Like every other campus department, the music department scrambled to make sure all of its courses were available and viable online, that students could access everything they needed to, and that effective learning was still taking place. 

Once those logistical details were ironed out, the question remained: How will we make and share music this quarter?

Music is more than just a discipline. It’s more than a major or a college department or background to a movie or a road trip. Music is a community. It’s a lifeline. It’s an expression of heart and soul. And we needed all of that more than ever during spring 2020. 

Like many others across the disciplines, our gazes turned toward Zoom. Deciding we had nothing to lose, we figured, Why not?! And on the evening of Wednesday, June 3, the music faculty and staff gathered on Zoom with a few community attendees and several music majors for our first-ever virtual General Student Recital. 

Between the six pieces performed that night viewers enjoyed the (sometimes somewhat garbled) sounds of piano, voice, violin, and viola. 

“I didn’t think it was possible to do a recital over Zoom,” admits Asher Raboy, acting chair and resident artist in the department of music. “And yet, it was a lovely evening. I felt so much joy seeing our students perform, and I sense they had a similar experience. I am so glad we did it.”

Natalie Fode, 2020 nursing graduate, and senior piano major performed Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” from her empty church in Yountville, California, where her husband is a pastor.

“I really enjoyed getting to do our GSR this quarter, despite the odd circumstances,” she says. “It gave me something to practice for and kept me motivated. Seeing and hearing my friends play was so special; they are truly wonderful musicians.”

Fode’s performance was gorgeous, and just the right speed for a contemplative and peaceful piece like “Clair de Lune.”

Her favorite part of the recital?

“Definitely when Lewis’ little niece sang along with him!”

Lewis Govea, a junior voice major in the pre-pharmacy program, sang from his home in Southern California. What no one saw coming was the adorableness of his nearly two-years-old niece stealing the show by standing right in front of the camera during Lewis’ performance, and trying to sing like her uncle. Lewis held it together, though, and finished strong with his Italian and French pieces. 

Michael Siahaan, voice major, presented two pieces, one live and one pre-recorded, the former a classic vocal performance piece in Italian and the latter a fun and familiar tune from the 1950s musical, My Fair Lady

James Woodward, senior violin and viola major, also presented two compositions, one Schubert, one Vivaldi. His live solo performance was beautiful and well-executed, despite his camera slipping while he played. Quickly setting it back up during a pause in the music, Woodward carried on like any great musician would.

The point was not that it was perfect. Because it couldn’t be. “Perfect” would have been in person, live, applause echoing throughout Paulin Recital Hall, and we all would have enjoyed Ghirardelli brownies and sparkling punch after the show. “Perfect” would have been together.

The point was that we made and shared music, we saw each other’s faces, and we reminded ourselves of what it is we truly love about our music, our community, and our department. 

So, in reality, maybe it was “perfect” after all. 

Govea shared his own feelings about the recital, and, honestly, he says it best, so I’ll let him close this post. 

GSR was, in short, everything I needed, but nothing I wanted. I wanted to sing in a big wide open space. I wanted to bow to the masses. I wanted to have a real accompanist. I wanted the nightmare of separation to be over. What I got was family. I got a reminder that I still had my community. I got a wake-up call. 

GSR this quarter was an outpouring of virtual yet tangible love and support. I got to see my music family play and sing like nothing was wrong. We got the opportunity to do things we never thought we would have to do. I got to sing for people who literally were only there to listen and support and encourage. 

The reality of GSR is nothing compared to what it meant for me as a musician. GSR was a success, and not just because my one-year-old niece had her debut performance, but because it stripped the music down to what it was intended to do: be a beacon for those who listen and love.

Stay in tune with the department of music by signing up for their monthly e-newsletter. Email music@puc.edu to be added to the list.)

 

The “You” You’ve Needed to Be: An Interview With Two Graduating Music Students

By Becky St. Clair

Matthew Guevara, trumpet major, is set to graduate in June with a degree in music performance and having completed the requirements for the pre-veterinary program. He’s finishing up his final quarter from home in Vallejo, California, where he’s sheltering-in-place with his parents, brother, and sister. 

Kelley Polite, voice major, completed her coursework for a degree in music performance in March. Her plan this quarter was to spend time with family and friends and do some traveling while she waited for graduation in June. Instead, she’s sheltering-in-place with her parents and brother in Oakley, California, where she’s lived all her life.

We will definitely miss these students with their fantastic sense of humor, easy laughter, cheerful attitudes, and significant contribution to our ensembles and music program as a whole. 

Congratulations, Kelley and Matt! Please come back and perform in Paulin Hall again very soon!

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Matt

When I was around four or five years old, my family went to visit some family in Pennsylvania for a couple of weeks. Because it was a long trip, we took our dog, along with her favorite toy. During play one day, her toy was thrown into the street and of course she chased after it, but she was hit by a car in the process. Her back legs were broken and I remember watching my aunt and my mom bandage her up and try to splint her legs, and I knew at that moment I wanted to do that. I was going to be a veterinarian. 

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Kelley

When I was a kid I really wanted to be a veterinarian. I had my own little doctor kit I would use on my stuffed animals. But after I found out what you had to do to help animals that were hurt and how hurt they could be, I knew it wasn’t for me and my dream went to being a baker. I even thought about going to culinary school for it.

When did you first realize you loved music?

Matt

I don’t know that there was anyone moment when it was revealed to me; it’s just always been part of who I am. Even before I was born my parents were always playing classical music and I was born into music. It’s just always been there.

Kelley

I’ve always loved music, but I think the moment that I fully recognized it was when I watched The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway when I was 18. It was the first musical I saw live and it’s my mom’s favorite musical so I grew up listening to the music and watching the movie adaptation a lot. I almost cried when I heard the first opening notes from the orchestra and continued to just be so emotional throughout the show. Experiencing the orchestra, singing, and dancing in person changed everything for me. It was like seeing the music come to life and it got me thinking that I’d love to have a job making music and giving the experience I had to someone else.

How did you settle on which instrument you wanted to major in?

Matt

As I said, I’ve always loved and been around music, and through the years I’ve tried my hand at several. I can play the piano–which was my first instrument–trumpet, guitar, clarinet, saxophone, trombone, tuba, euphonium, and French horn. 

The funny thing is that for most of my early childhood, I thought I was going to play drums. The summer before fifth grade we traveled to Nicaragua to see family and I spent the entire trip bragging to my cousins about how I was going to be a drummer. Then, two weeks before school started, my dad showed me a video of someone playing the trumpet, and I suddenly knew that was what I wanted. I was going to play the trumpet. I never looked back.

Screen Shot 2020-05-22 at 12.58.57 PMKelley

Voice wasn’t really an option for me until I was 17. My first instrument was the piano and it was only after my brother had started playing did I see how cool it was and when my brother stopped playing my parents really pushed me to continue. While learning piano, I also took up the flute in elementary school and played until high school when I switched to playing mallet percussion. I took piano for eight years before making the decision to quit because I didn’t have enough time and the passion to play wasn’t there anymore. After that I didn’t think of taking lessons again until my parents suggested it. 

I had always liked to sing and was in choir all through elementary and high school but always felt too small and shy to commit to lessons. Then when I was 17, my dad found a studio in Walnut Creek and convinced me to take a trial lesson with a couple of instructors. I clicked with one of them–Nancy was her name–and I took lessons there for about a year and a half until it closed.

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Describe a music-related experience that changed your life.

Matt 

When I was in high school, the music department took us to Disneyland where we recorded a film score. I’d never had an experience like that before, and I suddenly realized I could do more with trumpet besides casual church playing. Everything I thought I knew about music shifted.

Kelley

In my senior year of high school I was in my school’s performance of The Sound of Music. It was the first musical I had ever done and I will always cherish it. I had never acted or auditioned for a show before so it was all new and scary to me. It was a huge learning and growing experience for me but I’ll never forget it. We practiced for almost a year and I put everything I could into rehearsing and the two performances we did.  

Tell us about someone whose positive influence has helped you get to where you are today.

Matt 

Definitely my trumpet teacher in high school, Ian Cochran. My old trumpet was falling apart and not playing well at all, and I desperately needed a new one. One night my dad came home with a Stradivarius trumpet–the gold standard–and he said I could have it if I took actual lessons and got serious about learning the instrument. I agreed. 

I remember my first lesson when Cochran asked me what my goals were. I said I didn’t know and he just started playing crazy things I didn’t even know were possible. I was awestruck. He made it look easy and it was remarkable. Even looking back now I realize how amazing he was, and he was only 25. He started showing me how to do some of the crazy things he’d done, and in every lesson I learned something new. He pushed me to where I am today and I wouldn’t be here without him and the time he took to get me here.

Kelley 

I’m lucky to be able to say that I’ve had so many people help me to become who I am today and I feel bad to only choose one. So I’m going to cheat and say, two people. 

Singing-wise, Chalena and Chanelle have given me the most push to get me out of myself to sing. I’ve never told them, but ever since I met them I’ve always looked up to them. Their voices have just been my goal. They have the type of voice and presence on stage that when they sing you gotta listen. When I started wanting to sing in the praise band they took every opportunity to shove a mic in my hand and say, “Sing this.” No matter how much I protested they wouldn’t take no for an answer. And I think that’s the kind of push I needed back then because after that I can’t remember saying no. It was a shift in myself that I don’t think I fully recognized until now but their pestering and pushing has gotten me to where I am today.

How did you choose music as a major?

Matt 

I started out as a biology major, but it quickly felt like something I’d been pressured into doing and I wasn’t enjoying it. It didn’t seem to fit completely. When I realized what did fit, it was music. Music was something I enjoyed wholly and it helped me through some tough times those first few months of college. I realized that if music helped me, it could help others, and I could be the conduit, so I declared a music major. You never know what someone is going through, no matter how happy they seem, which I fully understand. I know music can touch people in ways nothing else can, so every time I give a concert, I have a little prayer in my head: “Let my music show the light at the end of the tunnel to those who need it.”

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What surprised you about college?

Kelley

What surprised me most about college is how different it was from how people said it would be. I had teachers and my brother telling me senior year of high school how hard classes would be and I got it drilled in my head that it would be so serious and hard all the time. Then I got here and realized I hadn’t been told about all the fun I would also have! Don’t get me wrong: the classes were hard and I had to study and practice a lot, but I also had so. much. fun. I’ve met so many people who are really important to me now, done things I wouldn’t have done otherwise and have grown so much. I’m really happy with the time I’ve spent at PUC.

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Tell us about a class you weren’t sure you’d like but that ended up teaching you something invaluable.

Matt 

Orchestration. I expected it to be just “okay” but I had such a blast in that class and I learned so much. I find myself now writing random stuff, orchestrating random pieces. It was a really useful class in the end, and I’m glad I took it.

Kelley

I hate to say it now (especially since Matt just did) because I actually really liked the class when it was done, but…Orchestration. It’s funny now because there were three of us in the class and none of us said much, but I learned a lot. Initially I didn’t know what to expect but there was a lot more to it than I thought. Learning about each family of instruments and how to write for them individually and collectively gave me so much more appreciation for orchestras and bands. I listen to each now with more comprehension and admiration for what is happening during pieces. 

Before we all had to go into social isolation, what were some of your favorite on- and off-campus activities?

Matt 

I absolutely loved nightly room checks as an RA, when I got to see all my residents. I love those guys–they’re my second family. The friends I’ve made here at PUC are brothers to me. When we went off-campus we’d usually go to the movies, ice skating, or grab some food in Napa. 

Kelley 

I liked to check out lots of different places in the area, but the only real regular spot I went to was the Friday farmer’s markets in St. Helena. My roommate and I went almost weekly to get coffee and a pastry, walk the market, and just chill. I did have favorite places to study, though; my usual spots were The Grind, the Napa RoCo, and the third floor of the PUC library. 

What is one of your favorite pieces you’ve performed, and why?

Matt 

Definitely and without hesitation Alexander Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto in A-flat Major. I’m a romantic classical performer–that’s how I can express myself the most and it’s what I like to play. I love all the romantic arts and music, and this particular piece combines everything I love: The technical difficulty, the range, the dynamics. You have to have it “just right” to sound good, otherwise, it’s just a blob of everything and it’s not pretty. Making it pretty is what makes it different, and I love it. It’s the piece I was most excited about for my senior recital, actually, and the piece I’m most sad I can’t perform for a while.

Kelley 

My all-time favorite piece I’ve performed is The Monk and his Cat by Samuel Barber. I remember getting the music from Dr. Wilkes (my voice teacher) and looking it over and being so excited that I got to sing a song about a cat and it is, like, a “serious” piece of music. It was supposed to be a challenge piece for me and something she thought I would like. Me, not being so observant, thought, “Ok, two pages and in English: No problem.” Then Ellen (my accompanist) pointed out that there was no time signature and the piano played something totally different than what I would sing, and I panicked. But learning the piece was so fun and learning to portray the story of the song made me absolutely fall in love with it. If Dr. Wilkes would’ve allowed it I would’ve performed that song everywhere.

Speaking of performing, Kelley, because you finished the quarter before COVID-19 made gatherings impossible, you were able to give your senior recital. How did it go?

Kelley
Funnily enough I don’t remember much about it! When I perform I put myself into this mode where I give everything that I can and for some reason it makes me blackout until I’m done, lol! I do remember how relieved, overjoyed, sad, and full of disbelief I was when I was done. I had so many emotions because it’s the moment I had been preparing for since sophomore year when I started with Dr. Wilkes. I couldn’t believe that I had done something so huge before, and sad that it was over. 

There were three things that I was really worried about before my recital. I worried about the French set that I was doing because that is the hardest language for me. The second was one of my German pieces. It was the newest piece of music for me and for the life of me I couldn’t get it committed to memory. The other thing I worried about was the thank-you speech I gave. I never like doing speeches, public or otherwise, so it was really tough for me. I went onstage with a written-out speech and when it came time to talk it stayed folded up in my hand the whole time. 

The thing I was most proud of was how I held myself on stage and handled doing a whole concert by myself. Second to that was my performance of My Dear Marquis at the end of my recital. I was so anxious to see how people would receive it and see me go all out for that song. I had so much fun with that piece and I loved that the audience didn’t know where I was going with it.

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And Matt, you actually didn’t get to do a senior recital–yet! Are you going to come back and show off your skills when we can gather again?

Matt

Ha! I sure hope so. I worked really hard on all of my music, and I was really looking forward to performing the Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto. Raboy has mentioned to me that they want me to come back next year and give my recital, and I hope that works out.

Let’s talk about how COVID-19 affected your senior year. I know that’s a challenge because it’s pretty much turned everything upside-down for everyone, but what has affected you most, do you think?

Matt 

Honestly, it’s plagued my life. It took away my degree recital, my last quarter of college…if I’d known last quarter was the end of normal college, I would’ve done some things I now won’t get to do. I don’t know if I’ll see some of my friends again, and I don’t get to perform my senior recital–at least not before the school year ends. I already had Senioritis, and now the whole online education thing has made motivation even more difficult. In some ways there seems to be more pressure, in other ways less…it’s just a whirlwind experience that I can’t say I’m enjoying!

Kelley 

It’s been a really strange period for sure. I had no idea what was really going on with COVID-19 until I heard that other colleges were being shut down and even then I didn’t think it was that serious. I had just performed for my last General Student Recital and was preparing to take part in the NATS [National Association of Teachers of Singing] singing competition and do my drama final (two things that I was really excited for) that weekend, and 3 days later I’m moving out of my dorm room. I had to deal with so much information at once with finals being online and leaving college so suddenly that it honestly didn’t feel real. It felt rushed and incomplete. I was sad about leaving the music building for the last time. It’s been the building I’ve practically lived in since I started in college. 

I don’t like saying this but I felt like I was robbed of the things that I was expecting to do during this time. I was planning on doing some traveling during the gap quarter I had. See friends in L.A., a road trip to Seattle and maybe go up to Canada, stay out in the Santa Cruz mountains with my auntie and live life a little slower. But instead I’m confined to my house with my family who works during the day so I can’t really bother them and a weekly shopping trip to look forward to. I’ve missed a lot over this time and some days I’m sadder over it and other things than usual, but I’ve also gained different perspectives during this quarantine so I choose to focus on those and make something positive out of what I am given. 

Tribute time! What final words do you want to leave for your teacher?

Matt

Sheesh I don’t even really know where to start. Actually that’s a lie. Freshman year was really rough for me because of some things that were happening outside of school. Early on, Dr. Davis could tell something was up and she was there to help pull me out of it, not only as a musician but just as a person. She encouraged me to never lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel and that’s something I keep in mind every single day. 

I was also a pretty shy guy when it came to performing, and she pushed me out of that shell. She would always tell me that a good trumpet player has to act like you’re the best person on the stage at any moment, even if that’s not how you feel. She made me learn to be confident and command the stage, and that’s something I also keep in my mind. 

 

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As for Raboy, oh man… He pushed me in ways I didn’t know I could be pushed hahaha. He was tough but it was always to help me become a better trumpet player, especially the last year of college. Originally my degree recital had an entirely different repertoire that I wasn’t too enthusiastic about, and he was helping me prepare for it. He could tell I wasn’t feeling the rep so he told me to go out and find pieces I want to play, so that’s what I did. I practiced them for a while, got pretty confident in how I was playing, and then we started having weekly coaching sessions. I remember that first session. I went in thinking I would be ready to play the show in a week, but man he broke the pieces down in a way that made me reevaluate that, which of course is a good thing. I was happy with how I was playing, but after even just a few sessions, Raboy had me feeling like Wynton Marsalis on that stage. 

Both Davis and Raboy pushed me to become the musician I am today and I promise you I wouldn’t be here without them. They were tough when they needed to be, and a friend when I needed one and for that I will be eternally grateful. I hope that I’ll be able to pass that forward someday.

Kelley

Aw man, I can’t even begin to express how much thankfulness and love I have for Dr. Wilkes, but I’ll try. I met Dr. Wilkes in a time where I needed someone like her in my life. With her big aura and personality that you could literally feel the moment you stepped into her office. She gave me a safe space where I could work and experiment without fear of anything. She basically took the small, introverted girl, put her in front of a mirror, and slowly but surely showed her what she could do and be. She essentially said, “This is what I see, and I’ll help you see it too.” She gave me the pieces, tools, and education that would get me there. 

Dr. Wilkes, if you ever read this, know that you have taught me so much more than how to sing and I’m so so so grateful for everything that you have done for me. I only wish to one day have the same aura you do that people can feel when they enter the same space as me. 

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So, let’s move away from school for a minute. What are some of your hobbies? (When we’re not sheltering-in-place that is!) 

Matt 

Baseball, basketball, soccer…anything sports-related. Actually, speaking of sports, I have a shoe collection, too, which is probably my biggest hobby. It’s mostly Nike, except for the dress shoes, and I have almost 70 pairs now, still in their original boxes. I wear all but four pairs on a regular basis; those four pairs are limited editions I don’t want to mess up. For dress shoes, I prefer Italian-made. They’re just better quality.

Kelley 

I love to read. I haven’t had the time since I started college, but that hasn’t stopped me from buying books over the years. I also really enjoy watching period films and old movies and musicals. Baking is a big favorite of mine, too.

What plans do you have as soon as life resumes a bit of normalcy? 

Matt 

I’m actually taking next year off and working at the SPCA in San Francisco, then I’m hoping to get into UC Davis’ dual program so I can get a degree in music rehabilitation as well as veterinary medicine. My plan is to combine them in my career, which many people don’t realize you can do–veterinary medicine and music? But a lot of times the animals who come into the clinics are really scared, hyped up, and anxious. I want to be able to use music to help them relax and comfort them, and then ultimately help heal them.

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Kelley 

As of right now I have two things that I really want to do when this is all over and things are more normal. I want to have a get-together with family and friends and be able to stand next to them and hug them instead of the current 6-feet rule and no touching. I would also like to just wander around any and all stores that would be open then so that I can just experience shopping with others again. 

Work-wise, my dream career is to be an actor. I would love to be on-stage in opera, musical theatre, or both. Also, if I ever got the opportunity to voice a Disney princess I would so do it, no questions asked. But as of right now I don’t know where I’m going. I’m looking for jobs with theatres and other performing opportunities that could get me in the right direction. It’s a little scary right now but I’m finding my way. And I’ll stick to music while I get there.

If you could go back to Freshman You and encourage them, what would you say?

Matt

There’s a lot I would say. Something like, “Don’t let the naysayers get in your head. There’s gonna be a lot of challenges, but just push through. Never give up. Don’t take anything for granted–take the chance. Do it. You don’t want regrets later.”

Kelley 

I would tell her that even though it has been a rough year there are better things coming. “What happened this past year was a lot and it’ll take a while to feel normal and happy but it’s coming. Experiences and moments that will build you back up and then make you grow–grow into the you that you’ve been needing to be. It’s coming, I promise, just wait.”

 

 

Born for the Piano: An interview with resident artist Asher Raboy

By Becky St. Clair

Before joining the PUC faculty over a decade ago, he spent 20 years as music director of the Napa Valley Symphony. Today, as acting chair, he spends most of his time doing what department chairs do: Paperwork, teaching classes, advising students, paperwork, attending meetings, catching up with students and colleagues, and more paperwork. Somewhere in there, he fits in directing the college’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble and playing trombone in the orchestra. As a brilliant composer and a natural performer, Raboy is a joy to talk with and a hoot to watch onstage.

Today (literally), we caught him between virtual classes and a walk with his dog, and he told us some very entertaining (and true!) stories.

What was the first-ever piece you performed on stage, and how old were you?

 You forget that I am very, very old and can’t remember that far back. I started studying piano when I was five, so I certainly played in recitals before grade school. I remember playing in a trio with my brothers on the radio when I was in third grade, but I’ll be darned if I have any idea what the piece was. I conducted a summer festival band when I was in sixth grade (again, no idea of the piece). As for paying work, that came a little later. I was the music director and synth player for Godspell at age seventeen; that was probably the first.

Who would you name as one of your favorite composers, and what draws you to them? 

I was literally raised on Beethoven. My parents got me the recording and orchestra score to Beethoven’s seventh symphony when I was in third grade. I still love the music of that madman, but I can’t claim to completely understand it, even after all these years.

It was Puccini’s La Bohème that really reached me. I understood music intellectually and as a set of skills to master, but I really didn’t get the power of music, the emotional punch that it contains until I saw a production of that opera and was surprised to find tears in my eyes and my heart full. I have loved Puccini ever since. He taught me the real meaning of music.

Your career has allowed you to “rub elbows,” as they say, with some famous people. Who are some of those you’ve personally met?

 I’ve been very lucky in my performing career that I have gotten to work with some very big names. (This is not because I’m great, it’s simply the job. The Napa Valley Symphony hired well-known artists and it was my job to conduct the orchestra.) In the pops world, I worked with Wynona, Glen Campbell, Mel Torme, Pink Martini (all except Pink Martini are way before your time…). In the classical world, I’ve met Yo-Yo Ma, worked with André Watts, Sir James Galway, and so on. Maybe not household names, but in the music world, these guys are at the top.

But my favorite was Branford Marsalis, the saxophone player who used to conduct the Tonight Show band. He played three concertos with us, and then went out to a club to play jazz with a friend of his father’s. He was kind (although he wanted to put forward a rough edge), gifted, fun, spirited; we spent two days together and those are some of my fondest memories.

Let’s talk composing. How did you become interested in that aspect of creating music?

This is a dumb story, but it is 100 percent true. When I was in junior high school, Masterpiece Theater ran a limited series called “The Strauss Family.” Everybody was so excited because it was a story about musicians. I was a contrarian, so I hated the series. I thought it was just a soap opera, and besides, anyone can write waltzes. To prove it, I went to the piano in my living room and wrote one.

Before I continue, let me just say that Johann Strauss Jr. is a musical genius. Don’t judge me by my adolescence.

Nonetheless, my waltz turned out pretty good. My piano teacher asked for two more pieces so that three of my siblings could play a piece of mine in recital. I wrote for my family, trying to capture their personalities in each piece. It was a fun challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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What are you working on now?

I’m currently writing an opera. It is the story of a woman who has power, prestige, pleasure but gets dissatisfied. She looks for something more. The point of the opera is not her conclusions, but her search. It mirrors my own journeys, and it is time for me to write a piece that is truly personal. It is loosely based on some very old stories, but it has been updated. I’m writing both the libretto and the music.

I doubt it will ever be performed. I’m not convinced that many opera companies will survive our time of shelter in place. it’s an expensive art form and needs large groups to congregate to make it successful. Still, I feel I need to write it, and hopefully, some excerpts will bring people pleasure, solace, or at least thoughtfulness in the future.

If someone were to tell you the next instrument you touched would be the only one you could play for the rest of your life (and that you’d instantly become a master at it), which one would you choose, and why?

It would be my own instrument, the piano. I want to be able to play everything: bass, chords, and melody. I want to be able to work alone or with a group. I want to be able to be expressive and shape a phrase like a singer would. I was born for the piano, and I’ll stay with it. I’m loyal like a dog.

When we say “music department” here at PUC, we think classical, church, tradition. Why is it important to remember there are other genres and styles of music out there?

First, let’s look at the music of Europe and the Americas. What we call “classical music” wasn’t always classical music. Opera was a popular art form the way musicals are today. Mozart was a pop composer (although for a pretty wealthy class of people) and the romantics made their money on ticket sales, just as rock musicians do in our time. The whole concept of “classical music” is a fairly modern creation.

The energy in music has always rested in songs written for people, not for academics. This is true of the church music of the thirteenth century or the string quartets of the eighteenth. In our time, Paul McCartney is as good a songwriter (in my opinion) as Schubert. Movies are the new operas, and John Williams may be as important as Verdi. This “non-classical” music is the expression of our time, and we should value it. There is no room for snobbery.

Then, go to Asia (just as one example). There are long musical traditions in China, India, Japan, and so on. There is no reason to assume that these traditions are any less powerful or enduring than our Western music. Think of India. We don’t have to sit cross-legged listening to ragas to enjoy this music. Bollywood is full of it. And it is wonderful.

How are you taking care of your mental health during the COVID-19 crisis?

I am lucky. I have a dog, enough space in my house, food in my fridge, a large family I love, and a reclusive personality. Still, this isolation is a killer. Here’s what I do: I Zoom my family three or four times a week. My wife, daughter, and I cook together even though we are almost 3000 miles apart. I walk the Back 40, the front forty and every other forty with my dog. I exercise, I get up early, and have created a routine. I work, I eat, I listen to music. And I heartily enjoy my conversations with my students and my colleagues. For those of you who are suffering, I am thinking of you. This can be really, really hard.

How has your job/life changed since March 2020?

I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle. I went back East for a family affair. My wife and daughter stayed for a while and I flew home for concerts at PUC and elsewhere. I got the flu (blame it on the airplane. Why not?) and when I got out of bed, my nuclear family was trapped in North Carolina, students had been sent home, and no one was meeting. My hair was already too long, and my hairdresser was closed. My tuxedo was lying dirty on my dresser and my dry cleaner was closed. I gave concerts for a living, now I couldn’t gather to make music, hear music, or go to a movie. My dog needed walking and feeding, and I was his sole caregiver. Wow. But we can get used to anything. At least I have a family who loves me, a safe place to live, and open space. We all have a right to complain, but I am one of the very lucky ones. Yes, it feels like I woke up and I’m still in a dream. But every day I count my blessings. And part of those blessings are all the people who keep us safe, healthy, and supplied. All at personal risk. Thank you all!

Besides music, what are some of your hobbies? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working or composing or practicing?

I love to cook. I hate to do dishes, so I don’t cook as much as I would like, but I truly love it. I would call golf a hobby, but it is more of an addiction. And I’m really bad at it. (But so is everyone else–don’t believe the stories you hear.) I love chess but find chess puzzles better than chess games (because they are shorter). Still, I’ll play with anyone who wants to! I read and belong to a book club. I hike; in slow motion when my dog is there, a little faster but not by much when I’m alone. And, when there are sports, I follow the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. No wonder I don’t practice as much as I should.

Okay, we have to ask about the dog, because it seems like he’s an important part of your life. Introduce us!

Bowie, named for David Bowie, is an old guy. My daughter thinks he’s 14, but I’m convinced he’s 12 because I choose to. He is two dogs long, half a dog high, with twisted legs that probably come from a basset hound, although perhaps a dachshund. He’s got a normal dog face like a Labrador, a narrow ruff (that shoots up at the sight of huskies) like a Ridgeback, and a loose neck like a Shar-Pei. To me, he is simply a loving dog, a lap dog, a stubborn dog, and truly a boy’s best friend.

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If you could swap places with Bowie, would you?

No, I wouldn’t trade places. He’s very happy and well cared for, and nothing troubles him except when he wants to go to the Back 40 and I am meeting with students.

But here’s the thing. I’ve always loved challenges. I can’t get out of bed if there isn’t a mountain to climb or something to conquer. That’s not a good thing, but it’s how I’m built, and it’s the way I’ve been since I was a little kid. Bowie is happy because there is nothing he has to accomplish. I am happy because there is always something that can be accomplished. We each have the life that fits our personality and scrapes along together very well.