Snapshot: Interview with Carlos Simon

Age: 30

From: Atlanta, GA

Studying: DMA in Composition

Favorite Brew: Iced Coffee

Carrie Rexroat: How’d you get started in music?

Carlos Simon: My father is a pastor, and when he started a church in Atlanta he needed someone to play piano for service. So, I started playing piano, and learned how to read music and play it by ear.

CR: Did playing in church influence your decision to pursue music as a career?

CS: Absolutely. Playing in church helped me understand that music could reach people on a more spiritual & emotional level.

CR: Is that your focus as a composer? What are your inspirations and influences while writing music?

CS: As a black person in this country I choose to write pieces that reflect society and how I fit into the puzzle. We’re all human, we have the same connections to things, so I find that if a piece is reflective of who I am as a person and something I can connect with, someone else can too.

CR: What’s your greatest memory in connecting to yourself and others through music?

CS: Last year I was having a hard time juggling everything I had to do. I wasn’t writing music that was fruitful or engaging, so I had to step back, be still, and find happiness in what I was doing rather than focus on being busy. I decided to write a piece called “Be Still and Know”. When I was writing that piece I wasn’t thinking about what I had to do, any of my obligations; it was a practice of me just really being still in the moment, finding solace and happiness in what I was doing. That for me was a tipping point, because I realized that I always need to be writing music that connects with who I am.

Snapshot: Interview with Paul Feeny

Age: 29

From: Portland, OR

Job Title: Assistant Director of Ensemble Operations

Favorite Brew: Hop Slam

Carrie Rexroat: How’d you get started with music?

Paul Feeny: The first time I’d ever played an instrument I was around 8 or 9. My 2nd cousin had just started beginning band on the saxophone, and when I went over to his house I wound up playing it for a couple hours. I was disappointed that when it came time for me to choose an instrument they made me start on clarinet, but I was pretty apt at that so I was encouraged to continue with it and I did.

CR: Originally, why did you choose to pursue music as a career?

PF: I’d always pictured an orchestral career, but during late undergrad and early masters degree, obviously that changed. It’s been an interesting though relatively easy transition though. I’d always forefront thought of myself as a performer, but after being around musicians who were clearly very dedicated and invested in their career path, I noticed that passion was not there for me in the same way. Instead, I realized I was the one that was always there for setups and teardowns, I knew how to move percussion, I knew most of the inner workings of an ensemble, etc. So, this was a pretty natural stepping stone.

CR: What’s something that you really enjoy about being an ensemble director?

PF: While challenging, I enjoy that I can still express creativity in a very structured environment. Just like how musicians build and facilitate music making through practicing their instruments, I too get to build and facilitating great pieces through being involved in the production elements.


Snapshot: Interview with Marlo Williams

Age: 35

Pursuing: Masters in Double Bass Performance

From: Oklahoma City, OK

Favorite Brew: White tea; coffee that’s not bitter

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started with music?

Marlo Williams: When I was in 3rd grade there was a recruiting concert at my elementary school to get kids to join orchestra in middle school. I was about knee-high to a cricket at the time, but I fell in love with the bass and I begged to play it. While at the instrument rental shop, the woman there said I was too little, and that I needed to play the violin; I was completely devastated and almost quit. But, when we went back to return the violin, the man who ran the place was there instead and he asked to see my hands. When I held them out for him he said, “you’ll make a fine bass player, I have what you need!” So, I started playing the bassette until about 7th grade, and eventually moved to a regular sized one.

CR: That’s so nice! Specific to Michigan, what’s your overall experience been like here at the music school?

MW: Overall I would say it’s been really good. I’ve had a lot of serious turmoil going on in my life these last few years, went through a divorce, moving, just all kinds of heavy stuff. But, my professors and Dean Racine have been crazy supportive! I’ve been in Dean Racine’s office several times, and the level of help, support, and understanding I’ve gotten has been unbelievable. I fully expected to get kicked out of school because I was falling apart, but they helped me make a plan, break things down, and get through the dark time in my life.

CR: Wow, I’m really happy for you that you’ve had support! In relation to wellness, have you taken advantage of any of the resources that are offered?

MW: Well, they’re pretty good about inundating us with email *laughter*, but because of my kids’ schedule I haven’t gotten to take advantage of any of it yet. That said, I will finally get to go to one of the MedSport Clinics; I’m pretty psyched about that! I’ve been having back problems, and I don’t know if it’s bass related or otherwise, so I figured I’d have them take a look and see if I’m doing something weird that they can fix!

CR: Great! In all of your years doing music, what’s your fondest memory?

MW: That’s a surprisingly easy question for me to answer! When I was a senior in high school in Oklahoma City, the State Legislature was going to cut teacher pay, nothing new. But, that year about 20,000 teachers went on strike and went down to the State Capitol to surround the building the day of voting. My jazz band director called some of us and asked us to go down to the Capitol to play because people were getting rowdy; he figured if there was a band of cute kids playing some rock tunes or something that people would feel a little better. So, we got there, stood on the steps of the Capitol, started playing in front of 20,000 people! I mean, who gets to do that when they’re 17 and not Justin Bieber. I don’t think that high has ever worn off; It’s been almost 18 years since that day, but that was THE experience for me. Best part was is that they didn’t cut the teacher’s pay, so all was well in the world!

Snapshot: Interview with Scott Watson

Age: 18

Pursuing: BM in Trombone Performance & Music Education

From: San Diego, CA

Favorite Brew: Hot Cocoa

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started in music?

Scott Watson: My grandma was a professional flute player in San Diego, so the music bug was in the family from the start. My parents were really good about playing soundtracks and classical music in the car, so I caught the bug early. Unlike Skye, I do have a charming story. I picked up all the instruments and the trombone was the loudest, so I had to play that one.

CR: What’s something you’ve learned about what it takes to become a professional musician during your first year at Michigan?

SW: I’ve had to learn time management in terms of rehearsal preparation. In high school and other summer things you have a lot of time to learn music, but in college and it’s like, “here’s Mahler 2 the day before rehearsal starts and you have to have your part down.”

CR: Is there something specific that you do to maintain your time well?

SW: Well, being a dual degree candidate I’ve had to learn that I can’t study where I sleep, so I’ve had to find study spaces. I do keep a very detailed calendar in my phone, and I live by it because I always forget things. I think I’m figuring it out, maybe.

CR: How has the transition been to being on your own?

SW: it’s been pretty OK. There are ton of people here, so it’s not like I’m really alone. I Skype my parents every few days and we have a group chat and I text them to say ‘hey’. I’m definitely not isolated here. Plus, I’m so busy that I kind of forget that I’m not at home anymore. Everyone always said that college would be so different and I’d have more free time to mismanage, but my schedule is WAY more busy than it was in high school.

CR: In relation to wellness, are you currently taking advantage of any of the resources that are offered? Do you think it’s important?

SW: I actually don’t know too much about it. I saw a poster, but don’t really know what it involves. What is it exactly?

CR: Well, there are resources and courses available that address the physical, mental, emotional, financial, health, and social aspects of being a professional artists.

SW: Oh ok, I’ll definitely look into that.

CR: As a final question, having grown up in San Diego, what’s it been like to live in a place where it’s not sunny at all?

SW: I’ve been counting down the days until Spring Break *laughter*. I miss the warmth and the beach!

Snapshot: Interview with Skye Dearborn

Age: 21

Pursuing: BM Trombone Performance

From: Sioux Falls, SD

Favorite Brew: Blonde Coffee

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started in music?

Skye Dearborn: I started piano lessons when I was five years old. I think from that point I always knew music was in some capacity going to be a part of my life. I started trombone when I was nine, but there’s no charming story *laughter* They needed trombone players, and even though I could barely put it up to my mouth but they said yes.

CR: What’s one of the best experiences you’ve had while at Michigan?

SD: Playing with the New York Philharmonic Brass section on the football field. I’ve been to some of the games before, but it was just a really good mixture of really prestigious music making and University of Michigan school spirit.

CR: In relation to wellness, are you currently taking advantage of any of the resources that are offered? Do you think it’s important?

SD: I haven’t used any of the resources yet, but I definitely think there’s demand for them. What we do is so mentally, physically & emotionally demanding that having that in a school, the place where we’re learning, is really important. My shoulder does hurt a lot, so I should probably go to one of those things *laughter*

CR: Out of all your years playing music, what’s your fondest memory?

SD: Once, I was wearing a dress for a studio recital and the spit valve on my trombone got caught on the bottom of my dress. When I lifted up my instrument to play, I lifted my dress literally all the way up for all to see *laughter*. That’s my fondest memory, obviously.

Snapshot: Interview with Teagan Faran

Age: 20

Pursuing: BM in Violin Performance & BFA in Jazz Contemporary and Improvisation

From: East Amherst, NY

Favorite Brew: Cinnamon Tea

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started in music?

Teagan Faran: When I was four I went to my brother’s school concert and  saw the violins play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. For a four year old, that’s the coolest piece ever. So, I begged my parents for violin lessons just so I could play “Twinkle Twinkle”!

CR: That’s awesome! Specific to Michigan, what’s one thing you’ve loved about being in music school here?

TF: Michigan is really great because its entire attitude is about encouragement and individuality. It’s like being amongst family here; everyone is rooting for each other.  

CR: In relation to wellness, are you currently taking advantage of any of the resources that are offered? Do you think it’s important?

TF: I definitely think having a specific wellness program is important. The Alexander Technique has been great because it’s specific to body awareness and finding comfort in your own body. It can be tough to present yourself as you would on stage, but figuring out how to translate my stage presence to my regular presence has been really helpful. I have yet to explore much of what Michigan offers, but being the the same building for 13 consecutive hours every day, I definitely want to make sure that I’m healthy. So the physical wellness resources the school offers have been awesome in that regard!

Snapshot: Interview with David Magumba and Megan Wheeler


David Magumba

From: Cincinnati, OH

Studying: Vocal Performance, Opera

Megan Wheeler

From: Los Angeles, CA

Studying: Vocal Performance, Opera

Q: "What are you inspired by?"

David: "“I’m inspired by a lot of different things, but I guess it’s sort of what I choose to be inspired by. Life, in some ways, inspires me, and wherever I can find resilience or transcendence of some sort in any aspect of life I find inspiration. But this project reminds me of something my Aunt always says which is: “you can be on stage and perform your heart out, sound as good as you want to sound, but at the end of the day, when you get off that stage, who are you? Will you really feel good about yourself?” She reminds me that I have another life outside of performance, and it’s good to work on that just as much as I do in music.”

Q: Specific to music, what's something that you're very passionate about?

Megan: "Performance. When we learn the technicalities of music it can be challenging because we all try to hit every note perfectly, but I’m actually really excited about this year because I’m doing more actual performing. In opera workshop we just got assigned scenes and I got my dream role, playing Cherubino, so I’m geeking out right now!"

Snapshot: Interview with Max Stein

Age: 20

From: Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Instrument: French Horn

Favorite Brew: Combining Peppermint and Orange Teas

Q: Why did you decide to pursue music as a career?

Max: "I got into the band program at Interlochen the summer after my Freshman year in high school, and that was the summer that I decided I wanted to be a professional horn player. I watched a performance of Beethoven 5 played by WYSO with Jung-Ho Pak, and original as that piece is, it amazed me that students so close to my age were capable of creating something so amazing; I was stunned. After that concert I told myself, "That, I want to do that." From then on I worked my ass off, and for the next three summers I was able to play with WYSO. Initially hearing that orchestra, and then playing in that orchestra is what solidified my choice in pursuing it as a career."

Snapshot: Interview with Jonathan Hostottle

From: Corning, NY

Year in school: Senior

Instrument: Saxophone

Q: "What's been one of your most favorite performances?"

"Last year I participated in a Symphony Band Chamber winds concert the Hartley Double Concerto for Alto Sax and Tuba. It was just a really special experience, and for me, I feel like it was one of the most high caliber performances I've ever done. It was so gratifying. It stands out because it's such an honor to be there working with all these people who are so good at what they do, and especially because I don't get to work with them very often. Saxophone is such an insular instrument. All our chamber music is by ourselves, we play solos and recitals for each other, we barely get to be in orchestra, so being able to be a part of that piece, and to be featured in that piece, was really special to me"

Snapshot: Interview with Kathryn Zamarron

From: Chicago, IL

Area of Study: BM Performance and Education

Favorite Brew: Strong Coffee

Q: How do you utilize music to promote social change?

Kat: "I’m focused a lot on educational inequality because it’s where I first started to notice injustice. Now, I went to a magnet school in Chicago, the same school that Michelle Obama went to, but none of my cousins or my friends from church went to that school. I was clearly getting a lot of things that they weren’t getting, but why? Why weren’t they allowed the same resources? So, the one thing I hope to instill into my future students is the idea that “you can”. We all have a lot of people tell us what we can’t do. When I was in high school, people would ask me why I was playing “white people music”, trying to tell me that what I loved didn’t matter. I’m sorry, but if you like something, do it. If you want to college and everyone thinks it’s stupid, do it. Why would you want to be another statistic? In the classroom I want to have that sort of impact with music. Also, for the last year I’ve been trying to research composers of color because I went through 3 ½ years here and never played any music by a person of color. As long as people of color aren’t a prominent part of classical music, the idea that classical music is white people music only, will continue. Once kids of color start to see names like theirs, people who look like them, that are from the same places that they’re from, then it’s not weird anymore. So, to answer your question, there isn’t just one time for social justice or time for music. They can exist at the same time, and they most definitely go together; music is great that way."