Tag Archives: PUC music

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. 

36636114_10156071716806281_3948195480516689920_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

53341341_10156945202839178_3558854977147371520_o

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. 

 

Flex Your Creativity at PUC

Finding balance in life is essential, particularly during your college years at PUC. Taking time from your rigorous studies to grab a bite to eat with friends in the Campus Center, take a walk through the PUC forest, play a round of basketball in the gym, or tap into the creative part of your brain is a crucial part of your success. Lucky for you, PUC offers incredible options for all your balancing needs, especially when it comes time to flex your creative muscles. 

Whether you plan on graduating with an art degree or it’s just a hobby, there are tons of options from classes to take, groups to join, and workspaces to become immersed in. 

Out of the many courses offered in the department of visual arts, Typography might not be at the top of your list, but you never know what might spark your interest! Check out academic dean Milbert Mariano’s impressive 30 Typeface project.

Get your hands dirty behind the pottery wheel. PUC offers a ceramics lecture/lab combo course where you create special hand-built and wheel-thrown pieces!

Drawing and painting are fantastic stress relieving activities and the fine arts program offers the perfect outlet. There are plenty of classes to choose from and if you just want to use some studio space, I bet that can be arranged.

Hone your craft in the Fisher Hall studio space. This refurbished warehouse is the perfect place to work on all your art projects collaboratively or solo!

Are you the next Spielberg? PUC’s film program has incredible opportunities for those who long to be in front of and behind the camera. With state of the art equipment, yearly trips to SONscreen, and their own film festival in town, PUC film students really encompass creativity.

Let the music soothe your soul. Art isn’t just drawing and painting! Join one of PUC’s many band and choral ensembles or you can sign up to take private lessons in guitar, voice, or violin, to name just a few.

There are literally countless ways to express your creativity and we think PUC is the pretty perfect place to do it. Once you’re a Pioneer, there’s no stopping you!

Academic Spotlight: Music

The world is listening. Find energy and passion in new opportunities and challenges as you develop your artistic, technological, and entrepreneurial skills to make profound contributions to the future of music.

The department of music at PUC gives students a place to better understand, appreciate, and perform music while preparing them to use their talents in the professional world. Take courses from knowledgeable faculty who have toured the world and performed in places like Carnegie Hall, and discover how you can start your career in music under their expert guidance.

Programs offered:

  • A.S. in Music
  • B.S. in Music
  • B.S. in Music: Composition Emphasis
  • B.S. in Music: K-12 Teacher Training Emphasis
  • B.S. in Music: Performance Emphasis

A Student’s Perspective

“Being involved in a music ensemble relaxes me. It allows me to step outside of the daily struggles and focus on something I love, and I love that a lot of it is worship music. It’s an escape, it’s worship, and both are really valuable.” — Kayley Wilson, music major

Fast Facts

  1. Fully Accredited The department of music is a member of the National Association of Schools of Music, and a member of Pi Kappa Lambda, the national honor society in music, through its Theta Zeta chapter.
  2. Ensemble Options Students can join ensembles on campus that include the symphonic wind ensemble, orchestra, and a touring choir.
  3. Collaborative Environment Music students have partnered with film students to produce original scores, utilizing the department’s composition studio.
  4. Prestigious Faculty Music faculty have impressive resumes, including working as assistant director and concertmaster of the New England Symphonic Ensemble and music director of the Napa Valley Symphony; and have toured Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, China, Southeast Asia, the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and performed in famous places like Carnegie Hall.
  5. Scholarships Available The $1,000 renewable Campus Impact Scholarship is for students participating in PUC orchestra, wind ensemble, iCantori, or Octet.

What You Can Do With This Major

While many graduates with music degrees work in the creative industry, they are by no means limited to that arena. There are many career paths you might be interested in.

  • Church music director
  • Conductor
  • Copyright administrator
  • Finance
  • Healthcare
  • Music librarian
  • Music producer
  • Music therapist
  • Music video producer
  • Solo/Symphonic performance
  • Sound technician
  • Teaching

Learn more about the department of music at puc.edu/academics. Our team of admissions counselors can answer any questions you have about PUC’s music programs, or the other majors the college offers. Call (800) 862-7080, option 2 or email admissions@puc.edu to get connected with a counselor now and start learning about all the options available to you!

PUC’s Strings Quartet Serves in Indonesia

By Aaron Baluyot

On March 20-31, 2019, PUC’s string quartet, along with Professor Kim from the department of theology, embarked on a mission trip/music tour to Indonesia. The quartet consisted of Sigrid Panugao, Dale Araba, Carissa Paw, and Aaron Baluyot. Dale and Aaron are current students of PUC while Sigrid and Carissa both graduated from PUC last year. Our main goal was to join in the fundraising concert of one of the adventist schools in Jakarta, Tanjung Barat Adventist Academy (TBAA). The money raised in the concert would be used to help fund the extension of the school.

During the first weekend, we played at MT Haryono Seventh-day Adventist Church and performed in the fundraising concert. During the next few days, we were very fortunate to be able to explore Indonesia. First, we visited Universitas Advent Indonesia, which is Indonesia’s Adventist university located in Bandung, Indonesia. Next, we traveled to Jogjakarta, where we visited Borobudur temple, which is the largest Hindu temple in the world. The next day we traveled to Bali, where we were able to rest at the beach as well as experience Balinese culture.

On Friday, we visited the students of Tanjung Barat Adventist Academy and played at their chapel assembly, where we gave them inspirational talks to keep practicing their instruments and to do their best at everything their hands find to do. The students also expressed their thankfulness for supporting their school as well as for inspiring them and encouraging them. On Sabbath we performed at Pasar Minggu Seventh-day Adventist Church, followed by a farewell potluck for us provided by members of the church. On Sunday morning we flew out of Jakarta, spent a few hours exploring Hong Kong, and finally returned home to the United States. This trip was a blessing to the students but it was also a huge blessing to us as well as we were able to inspire the kids at TBAA and spread God’s love through our music.

After 20 hours of flying and a layover in Hong Kong, we finally made it to Jakarta and received a warm welcome from our friends from Tanjung Barat Adventist Academy.

On Sabbath we played at the MT Haryono Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is the biggest Adventist Church in Indonesia located in Jakarta.

With some of our TBAA friends after church.

On Sabbath afternoon we visited one of the church members, where we played a couple pieces and Professor Kim gave a short talk.

Sunday was the concert day where we joined in TBAA’s big fundraising concert at Theater Pewayangan.

Photoshoot after the concert. The students and faculty of TBAA were extremely grateful for our support for their school.

Visiting Borobudur temple in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.

On Friday we visited TBAA, where we played at their chapel service and gave the students inspirational talks to keep practicing their instruments and to do their best at everything their hands find to do. (The lady in the center is the school principal.)

Group picture with one of the classes after our inspirational talks.

On the second Sabbath, we played at Pasar Minggu Seventh-day Adventist Church. This church is in the same property as the school and is where we played at the children’s chapel the day before.

With the pastor and elders after church on Sabbath.

Interested in pursuing a career in music? Find energy and passion in new opportunities and challenges as you develop your artistic, technological, and entrepreneurial skills to make profound contributions to the future of music. Take courses from knowledgeable faculty who have toured the world and performed in places like Carnegie Hall. Learn more about PUC’s department of music at puc.edu/music and discover how you can start your career in music under their expert guidance. You can also call (800) 862-7080, option 2 or email admissions@puc.edu to get connected with an admissions counselor who can talk more with you about PUC’s music programs and all of the options available to you.

#FacultyFriday: Meet Rachelle Davis

If you’ve never sat down with Dr. Rachelle Davis, you absolutely need to. All musicians have to have a good ear, but Dr. Davis is also really great at listening and she’s ridiculously smart and interesting. So tuck your feet under you and get comfy and get to know a little more about Dr. Davis. Then, stop by her office in Paulin Hall sometime and introduce yourself. You won’t regret it.

Name: Rachelle Davis
Title: Professor and Chair, Department of Music
Email: rdavis@puc.edu
Faculty since: 2005

Classes Taught: Basic Conducting, Orchestra, String Quartet, Survey of Music, Music History: Antiquity through Baroque, Music History: Classical and Romantic Periods, Music History: Twentieth Century and Beyond, Violin and Viola Lessons, Violin and Viola group class

Education: B.S. in music, Pacific Union College; M.M. in violin performance with violin pedagogy cognate, Jacob School of Music, Indiana University; D.M.A., Butler School of Music, University of Texas

What made you want to become a musician?

I don’t know. I couldn’t not be musician. I was always a violin performance major in college, but my dad wanted me to get a ‘real’ job—ie: something that paid the bills. I took pre-Physical Therapy coursework (including G-Chem) until I actually did observations my junior year and decided PT was not for me. One summer I went on a five-week international music tour with PUC, followed by six weeks at Meadowmount School of Music practicing five and six hours a day and rehearsing for several more. By the end of the summer I was sure I didn’t want to be a professional musician and set my sights on becoming a nurse practitioner. In February of my senior year, I realized I loved teaching (I had a couple of pre-college students) and if I got my masters degree in nursing I’d be teaching patient care instead of music. At that point there were plenty of long conversations with friends and lots of tears because I didn’t want to say ‘yes’ to music and the dreaded/beloved practicing. Sometimes what you love hurts too much. Music won. Sometimes I think I was saying yes to a calling. I don’t always like my calling.

What was it that made you love the professor role so much?

It was the ‘Aha’ moments I experienced teaching violin students as a teenager and college student. I was good at it. Also, I loved college, learning, and the way the college environment challenged and expanded how I saw the world. My brain had never been stretched as much as it was in World History or Philosophy of Religion or Great Books, classes I had to take as part of the GE package but which opened whole new worlds to me. I remember sitting at the overlook on Brookside with a date as a senior at PUC and realizing teaching college was a career option I was interested in, but then dismissing the idea as unrealistic. (Pay attention to what you wish for … )

Let’s combine the two: What do you love most about teaching music?

Most of us who teach on this campus will probably have the same answer: The ‘Aha’ moment, when someone finally understands a subject or masters a technique or, in teaching violin or rehearsing the orchestra, when the black dots on the page turn from mere notes into music that can reach inside someone and allow us to connect with each other. It is addicting in the best sense of the word.

What is your favorite musical period and/or genre, and why?

In classical music, 20th century and beyond. You can do anything and there is more edginess to the music. It is predictably unpredictable and there are so many different style options—always with a twist though. There is something for everyone. In non-classical, I like listening to jazz and blues. I love the improvisatory nature of those genres and the way notes are bent and chords are amazingly complex. Classic rock works as well.

Where did you grow up?

My family moved from Loma Linda to Bella Vista Hospital in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico when I was three. I grew up climbing mango trees, running around barefoot, and snorkeling. (If I hadn’t been homeschooled, I might be fluent in Spanish, but alas, I’m only proficient.) When I was thirteen, we moved to Fall River Mills, a small town in the middle-of-nowhere Northeastern California. Spectacular views of Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen made it a beautiful place to live, but the nearest stoplight was an hour away and music lessons were 2.5 hours away.

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

An underwater archaeologist, then an astronaut. (Prompted, I’m sure, by repeated watching of Nova, National Geographic, and PBS videos of space exploration—the first space shuttle went up about the time we got a VCR. It was either that, or watch lions kill zebras on animal specials—no movies for us.) What I really enjoyed doing though was decorating and redecorating the almost-Barbie-sized doll house I inherited from someone. It’s amazing what you can do with blocks, bits of fabric, discarded/recycled odds and ends from around the house, and pieces of wallpaper from a salvaged wallpaper sample book. In an alternate reality I would be an interior designer or an architect. (I definitely didn’t want to teach violin to someone like me, who hated to practice—obviously I’ve changed my mind.)

What are some of your hobbies?

Reading. It is a form of therapy and a way to experience life through someone else’s eyes. I LOVE libraries. I can come home with a pile of books on whatever I’m curious about (the last subjects I brought home piles of books on were architecture and low-water landscaping—and, of course, fiction). I also really enjoy any kind of remodel or design project. My son thinks I’m obsessed. Maybe I am. Snow skiing makes me happy—so does hiking in scenic locations and hanging out in/on/by the water. I enjoy community and deep conversation. That too is a form of therapy. (So is coffee.)

Who are some composers and/or performers who inspire you?

Andrew Bird, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Rene Fleming, Caroline Shaw, Snarky Puppy, YoYo Ma … the list goes on. Dmitri Shostakovich, Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler all lived depressed lives but wrote amazing symphonies that have a way of pulling me up when things seem upside down.

If you could have lunch with one celebrity, who would it be, and why?

This one is a tough one. People are interesting and everyone has a story to tell. When I was a kid, I would have said Princess Diana. I was obsessed. Can I pick more than one? I think Brene Brown is interesting for her work on shame and vulnerability, or Lady Gaga, for her persistence and ability to transform her vocal style from complete show pop to American songbook-style singing. Neil Gaiman would also be amazing. His capacity for inventive storytelling is awe-inspiring.

Name one thing you’re proud of thus far in life.

One thing I’m proud of from my master’s work is the three pedagogy papers I wrote for violin pedagogy classes I took with Mimi Zweig at Indiana University became the impetus/starting point for the written material on her award winning StringPedagogy.com website. Since my focus has shifted to college work, I haven’t written more on the subject.

Professional Activities: Faculty recital with Joel Dickerson, March 2016; Faculty recital with guest harpist Beverly Wesner-Hoehn, October 2016; clinician for the NCC Academy Festival Orchestra, March 2017; Benefit concert for UpValley Family Centers, May 2018.