Tag Archives: alumni profile

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. 

 

Sensibilities: Douglas Sandquist at the Rasmussen Art Gallery

By Becky St. Clair

In the early 90s, Douglas Sandquist attended PUC as a bio-chem. Upon being accepted into dental school after his junior year, he left PUC and headed to dental school. He went on to become a dentist back in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, where today he curates the unexpected combination of his dental career and photography. 

In 2016, a photo Sandquist took in Iceland with his iPhone and shared via Instagram was requested by Apple for use in a worldwide marketing campaign. This resulted in mega exposure for this Nevadan dentist-photographer. (More on this in the Q&A—keep reading!)

Some of Sandquist’s photographic art will be displayed in an exhibit in the Rasmussen Art Gallery beginning this Saturday, Oct. 12, with his opening reception at 7 p.m. He will present an artist talk and refreshments will be served. Before you go, though, you may want to learn a bit more about the artist himself. We did, so we asked him a few prodding questions. 

Introducing: Douglas Sandquist.

Where did you grow up, and how did that environment contribute to how you view the physical world? big-image-1

I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s right in the middle of the Southwest part of the United States. California, Utah, and Arizona, along with their beaches, deserts, and National Parks, gave me the opportunity to get out and see what was out there. I’ve never stopped exploring.

 

 

What sparked your original interest in photography?

I actually dabbled with it even as a child. It wasn’t until I wanted to get better at taking photos for my day job as a dentist that I really started getting serious about it. I wanted to somehow be able to capture what I do. Most dental photography is macro photography, but it’s also portrait photography. I originally wanted to learn how to take better clinical photos, so I delved into learning how to better use a camera, how to compose a shot, and how to work with different lighting. One thing led to another, and I started to enjoy photography outside the office just as much as in it.

What was the first camera you used to start shooting artistic/intentional photography?

I bought a Canon 10D in 2004.

What camera is your instrument of choice now?

I currently use a Canon 5D Mark IV and, of course, an iPhone. 

Where do you learn your photography skills?

I’ve never taken a formal photography class. I am mostly self-taught, but I have also participated in workshops all over the world, and have engaged in online mentorship programs for over 10 years.

Okay, let’s talk about the Apple iPhone ads. (You knew it was coming!) How did this happen?

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Crazy as it sounds, I didn’t submit my photo to Apple. In January 2016 I took a photo with my iPhone and posted it on Instagram with a few hashtags—as you do—and a few months later, I was contacted by Apple and their advertising agency, requesting the use of my photo in a campaign. I agreed, and within a matter of months, my photo—taken with an iPhone 6S—was on billboards, in magazines, and on signs around the globe.

 

 

 

Where did your photo show up, that you know of? big-image-3

That photo appeared on over 30 billboards all around the world: L.A., San Francisco, Dallas, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Paris, India, six cities in China—including Shanghai—Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Tokyo, and Turkey, and on the back of magazines all over the world. 

 

What inspires you as a photographer?

I love challenging what I see and then attempting to capture it. It also means I get to get out there and go see the world. 

What are your favorite subjects to photograph?

I particularly enjoy capturing cold landscapes and the stars in the American Southwest. 

How do you think the desert of the American Southwest and the frozen tundra of Iceland are connected for you? What draws you to those environs to shoot? big-image-2

Both of these regions offer plenty of opportunities to ask, “How did this happen?” Whether it’s a massive arch-like Double Window in Arches National Park or the glacier ice that ends up on the black sand beaches of Iceland, there are always unique views and perspectives to capture and ponder. I also love the way the light transforms these elements. Different times of the day or year create different scenes that often catch me off-guard and illuminate my sensibilities.  

We have to ask one completely abstract question, so here goes: If the experience of taking the perfect photo had a color, what would it be? big-image

Sunset Orange 🙂 

 

Where Passion and Profession Unite

Every Pioneer has a unique story. Each one is different, but they all started at the same place. Here! An education at PUC prepares students for more than just a career. Graduates are equipped with the practical knowledge and the spiritual nurturing to succeed and serve and are ready for whatever the future brings. 

PUC is a place where passion and profession unite. Our grads know the combination of a beautiful and perfectly located setting; dedicated professors; and a hands-on approach to Adventist education, all play a part in starting your future. At PUC, you find more than just a major—you find your calling.

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Cameron combined his love of surfing with graphic design and is thriving as a senior designer at RipCurl.

“PUC gave me a lot of opportunities to work one-on-one with my professors. Under their guidance, the skills and techniques I developed and perfected helped me land my dream job at Rip Curl.” Cameron Mitchell, Senior graphic designer, Rip Curl

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As an animal lover, Mindy dreamed of doing more. Now she’s a vet performing surgeries to help save the lives of horses.

“Reflecting on my undergraduate education at Pacific Union College, I can’t imagine better preparation for my career as a veterinarian. The biology program gave me the foundation needed to transition into veterinary course work with ease. My professors were not only wonderful instructors but ensured my academic success through personal mentorship and course flexibility. The smaller class sizes afforded many opportunities for leadership and teaching roles that greatly enhanced my application in a highly competitive pool. PUC influenced my transition from student to educated professional equipped to face the challenges and triumphs of my chosen career as an equine veterinarian.” Mindy C. Smith, DVM, cVMA, Associate Veterinarian, Equine Medicine

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Alex is a self-proclaimed “people person” with the singular focus to one day make a positive impact. Following her passion for education and service drove her to a career in public health. 

“PUC was not only where I received an education, but also where I received the opportunity to be an enrollment counselor. That experience has trained me to be successful in my field when it comes to working with the community in countless ways.” Alex Dunbar, community education specialist

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Stefaan combined his love of the outdoors, sports and photography into a double degree in photography and business here at Pacific Union College!

“I’ve always been an athlete and I’ve always loved photography. In my junior year, I studied abroad in Spain and I spent a lot of time traveling and finding what my passions were and I came away from that year seeing photography as a very viable career for me.” Stefaan Dick, adventure photographer

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Julie found her path around the world through global service. 

“I never imagined that my degrees in English and psychology would lead me to a job in missions that takes me around the globe. Yet my professors at PUC celebrated the diversity of people, culture, and ideas. They taught me to look beyond the surface and dig deeper for new perspectives. They showed me how compassion and dialogue can build community, wherever you are. By teaching me how to think, PUC prepared me for the world.” Julie Lee, Vice president of marketing, Maranatha Volunteers International

If you’re interested in joining our amazing alums and becoming part of the Pioneers family, apply today!

 

Alumni Profile: Karisa Lowe

When people talk about doing anything you can imagine with your degree they really mean it!

Karisa Lowe graduated from PUC in 2008 with a degree in Public Relations and Journalism. Since graduating, she has founded her own publishing company and published several children’s books.

We asked Karisa to share about her experience at PUC and what life is like as a children’s book author.

What inspired you to start writing children’s books?

I’ve always been interested in writing books, but originally full-length novels. After graduating, I dabbled in newspaper writing and decided I liked creative writing more. But by the time I decided to try creative writing again, I hadn’t done any kind of writing for a while. Writing a children’s book seemed like a much less daunting task than sitting down and cranking out an 80,000 word novel, so I decided to start with that. After I wrote the first book, I started reading it at schools and bookstores just to get some feedback and I ended up really loving the interaction with kids. It was very rewarding and I fell in love with the whole process and everything came together from there.

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How did you come up with the idea for your books?

When I decided to start writing children’s books, I really wanted them to have a purpose. I was reading a ton of books to my nieces and nephews and started realizing there a ton of cute books, but more often than not, I would get to the end and think, “is that it?” I felt like a lot of books were missing that lesson, morale, whatever you want to call it. Basically, something teachable for kids to take away from the book. So I came up with one specific scene for a dentist book and decided to make a series of kids books that tackle first encounters (first trip to the dentist, first trip on an airplane, etc) and eventually just important topics close to my heart, like nutrition. I built the entire series off of this purposeful concept.

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Describe your typical work day.

On a typical work day you’ll usually find me checking and filling orders, making sure inventory is up to date, at the post office mailing out orders, making and editing marketing materials, brainstorming new marketing and sales opportunities, booking events, etc. Honestly, I could probably write an entire page of things I usually do on a typical day. If I have “nothing” to do, then I’m doing something wrong. When you work for yourself, you never run out of things to do.

How did your major prepare you for this endeavor?

I studied both Public Relations and Journalism at PUC. I always thought I would end up in journalism but I have definitely ended up using my public relations knowledge more. Since I published my books through my own small publishing company, I do everything myself: marketing, sales, vendor relations, etc. Typically, authors just want to write and sell the manuscript, which is much less work than the way I’m doing it but also requires them to share a large chunk of the profit. With my public relations skills I know that I’m capable of doing a lot of the non-writing tasks myself and I’ve made it into a profitable business.

How did your classes and professors at PUC help prepare you to write children’s books?

My Public Relations and Journalism teachers gave me confidence in my writing skills, which gave me the confidence to go out on a limb with this venture. My PR classes have turned out to be an invaluable asset. I never thought I would be writing press releases or marketing plans, but plans change! I’m so glad I paid attention despite thinking I wouldn’t necessarily go into PR. And if I’m a little rusty on something, I know I can still contact professors Lynn Thew, Michelle Rai, or Tammy McGuire and they always come through for me.

What are your plans for 2015?

2015 is an exciting year already! I’m in the process of signing a contract for a distributor for Early Ink Press, which will be key in expanding sales to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. I’m also working on some non-Arlo children’s books with my illustrator Edmund Boey, which we’re really excited about.

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If you could go back in time and tell your freshman self one thing, what would it be?

I would tell myself that it’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life. You’re young and still figuring out what you like and what you’re good at. I ended up switching majors four or five times throughout my freshman year until I settled on Public Relations and Journalism halfway through my sophomore year. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and just enjoy the experience.

Check out Karisa’s books and publishing company at www.earlyinkpress.com.

Alumni Profile: Jasmine Kelley

Here at PUC we have some amazing alums doing everything from helping to animate feature films to publishing children’s books. Jasmine “Jassy” Onya’e Kelley graduated PUC in 2012 with a degree in Photography and Graphic Design. Recently she decided to use her degree and her creative skills to start her own business selling handmade, all natural skincare products.

We sat down with Jasmine and asked her some questions about starting her own business and her time at PUC.

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1. You recently started your own business – Did you ever think that was something you would do?

It’s something I have always wanted to do, but I didn’t have the confidence back then to actually start it. Sometime after college I started working for small business owners who inspired me to start my own business. I saw how happy and successful they were and I wanted the same thing – to be successful on my own.

2. Describe your typical work day.

After waking up, I write down a list of tasks I need to complete before the day is over in my day planner. Tasks like making products, completing Etsy orders, shipping orders, posting on social media, taking inventory, and responding to emails.

3. How did your major prepare you to start your own business?

Having the knowledge of photography and graphic design helped me have control over my style, which fonts I want to use, how they will work with my aesthetics, etc. Being able to photograph my products in certain light using different backgrounds any time I want without relying on others is nice. It’s great being able to do it all by myself.

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4. How did your classes and professors at PUC help prepare you for starting your own business?

My classes at PUC helped me realized which paths I wanted and did not want to take. I knew I loved web design, but I lacked certain skills with coding and I did not have the patience for it. I loved designing books, layouts, and covers and being able to create something new, but I lacked the ability to design with a pencil and found my skill through the computer. I discovered my strengths and weaknesses and in turn what I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.

My photography and design professors really inspired me to stay on top of my game, to always take the time to go above and beyond and to check everything twice, to make sure my work was clean and understandable and that my presentation was strong. I also noticed my design professors had their own design projects outside of teaching and I loved seeing how they found time while still being amazing teachers. One particular marketing professor inspired me when it came to advertising and putting myself out there. I learned a lot in that class and it was one of my favorite GEs to take.

5. Have you had any support from the faculty and staff at PUC?

Yes I have had lots of support from my college professors. Some gave me feedback when I had doubts about which design approach to take with the look of my business and several have actually purchased some of my products! They didn’t have to, but it makes me feel special knowing they are proud of me and their support truly means a lot!

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6. What advice would you give PUC students who are considering starting their own business?

Even if you have your doubts, just go for it and don’t let anyone stop you. I didn’t read a book on how to start a business – I just did it. It all came together in a matter of months and I learned a lot more as my business grew. You don’t always have to go by the book. Every business is different. Use your resources, try new things, take advice from people you look up to, ask questions and most importantly, take action.

7. If you could go back in time and tell your freshman self one thing, what would it be?

I would tell myself to stop doubting, ask more questions, and to just try.

Check out Jasmine’s Etsy shop at http://www.etsy.com/shop/onyaenaturals.