Composing Community Through Music

by Abigail Reed

The low, brassy vibration of a tuba and the scales of a flute mix with the murmur of the room as band members of all ages find their seats at Azusa Pacific University's Symphonic Band rehearsal. As the hum subsides, a biology professor settles next to a nursing major, and an APU alumnus sits next to a woman from the local community. The conductor, Alexander Koops, DMA, director of undergraduate music education, takes his place at the front of the room. Before long, the band erupts into practice, creating music as diverse as its members.

Azusa Pacific’s Symphonic Band welcomes faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members into its midst. From busy working moms to non-music majors, the Symphonic Band provides an opportunity for anyone passionate about music to join.

“Everyone should have the option to continue making music, no matter where they are in their lives,” said Koops. “Our band brings a deep and varied kind of learning, as people from all life stages contribute their unique thoughts and musical interpretations. We embrace a model of openness, always valuing group collaboration.”

Weekly rehearsals and instrument rentals enable anyone to continue their musical pursuits, including APU nursing major, Katherine Wilkins ’20. Even with her many non-music commitments, Wilkins plays clarinet in the Symphonic Band. The rehearsals and seasonal concerts allow her to occasionally step away from her coursework and recharge by creating beautiful music. “The music department has been extremely understanding and supportive of non-music majors, allowing flexibility and workable time commitments,” said Wilkins.

For Cristian Aguilar, PhD, playing music at APU is a welcome addition to his role as a biology professor. With a love of music cultivated since childhood, Aguilar’s career caused him to temporarily set aside his musical instruments. When Koops invited faculty to join the Symphonic Band, Aguilar readily accepted and rented the euphonium.

“The band improves my productivity and gives me a much needed creative outlet,” said Aguilar. “In addition, playing alongside students and fellow faculty provides the unique experience of creating personal relationships with the people I work with on a professional level, enriching my role as a professor.”

Just as the band celebrates members from all walks of life, Koops introduces a diverse selection of music from varying genres, eras, and cultures. Believing God uniquely crafted each individual, Koops looks to the band members for inspiration, striving to include music that represents each student. As a result, every concert produces a distinct and striking performance.

“We have people from different backgrounds and stages of life. The band’s repertoire reflects our members, as Dr. Koops selects music by composers of different ages, nationalities, and backgrounds,” said Bryan Ramirez ’13. “As we discover how culture and experience influence music, we learn about each other.”

As the Symphonic Band rehearses, voices from Azusa Pacific University’s Masterworks Chorale drift through the hallway. Just a few doors down, more than 100 individuals join together in a choir, which closely shares the philosophy of the Symphonic Band, also open to community members, faculty and staff, alumni, and students.

Masterworks Chorale presents a variety of concerts geared toward the surrounding community, focusing on a specific culture each season. To commemorate the Armenian genocide, the choir performed in Glendale, the largest Armenian community in California. During black history month, the singers will perform Robert’s Ray Gospel Mass accompanied by the APU Gospel Choir. In the future, the director plans to host a feature performance celebrating Hispanic culture.

“Musical groups should naturally reflect the area where you live, opening up a space for the public to join together in song,” said John E. Simons, PhD, director of the Masterworks Chorale. “When we sing, we accomplish more than just performance: we learn about each other as equals and actively engage with our community.”

The Symphonic Band at Azusa Pacific University is an ensemble of more than 50 members dedicated to the performance of quality graded repertoire, transcriptions and new compositions. For more information on joining the Symphonic Band, contact Alexander Koops at [email protected]. The Masterworks Chorale is a large SATB chorus that performs major choral works with orchestra, comprised of APU undergraduate students and graduate students, and it is open to adult singers in the community. To inquire about the Masterworks Chorale, reach out to John Simons at [email protected]. For information on upcoming performances, refer to APU’s calendar of music events.

Abigail Reed is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a liberal studies major with an honors humanities minor.