Ensembles get all majors making music – for life

A CSU Concert Orchestra rehearsal directed by Leslie Stewart.

The following article was written by Jennifer Clary. 

Last spring, a CSU Concert Band rehearsal under the direction of Dr. Erik Johnson was filmed for inclusion in the recently released documentary Carry the Tune. Initiated by two high school students from Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colo., and aided by their orchestra teacher Paul Trapkus, the inspirational film explores why so many people stop making music after high school. The Concert Band – a non-auditioned group at CSU – along with groups from other universities such as MIT, Harvard, Boston University, Rutgers, and the University of Colorado, provided commentary and footage for the project.

According to the film’s website, students entering college “are pulled into paths toward economic growth and are unaware of the many musical opportunities in college and beyond.” The 70-minute professional piece shows “avocational musicians [using their talents] as vehicles for lifelong learning and fulfillment without neglecting their many college and career commitments.” The piece advocates that it is possible to “balance our work with our passions.”

At CSU the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance is making it possible for more college students to choose to make music for life. As a land grant university, CSU’s mission has always been to engage students through quality education, and that is exactly the benefit being provided by four non-auditioned instrumental and choral music ensembles on campus.

The Concert Band, Concert Orchestra, University Chorus, and Men’s Chorus at CSU are open to all majors on campus and do not require an audition to be a member. Undergraduate and graduate students in these ensembles come from various fields, such as biological sciences, business, engineering, computer sciences, English, political science, zoology, and music. Simply register and show up.

“The music professors want to get the message out to the massive number of students at our university who participated in high school music that they can get involved in our music-making community at CSU,” said Erik Johnson, assistant professor of music education and director of the Concert Band. “This is a very important mission that we all share.”

Something for everyone

The Concert Band is an exciting and dynamic group of more than 80 musicians. The group performs a variety of quality traditional and contemporary wind and percussion literature. The ensemble meets Wednesdays and Fridays from 4:15 to 5:45 p.m. and is directed by Johnson (e.johnson@colostate.edu).

The highly collaborative Concert Orchestra is a passionate ensemble of 30 string players who perform with CSU choral, wind, and percussion students and faculty on exciting and rewarding programs. The ensemble, which is also open to CSU faculty and staff, meets on Mondays and Fridays from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and is directed by Leslie Stewart (leslie2.stewart@colostate.edu).

While both the band and orchestra are non-auditioned groups, students need prior experience to participate (i.e. high school band or previous private study), and once students are registered, chair placement playing tests help create the best possible educational experience. Students do not need to own an instrument; many of them are available to rent.

Choral groups at CSU are also a great choice for staying involved in music. With more than 100 singers, the University Chorus is the largest choir on campus. The University Chorus performs a wide variety of music spanning history, culture, and language, including Renaissance madrigals, classical works, jazz tunes, world music, spirituals, and contemporary pieces. Rehearsals are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and are directed by Stuart Dameron (stuart.dameron@colostate.edu).

The CSU Concert Band, under the direction of Dr. Erik Johnson

Finally, the Men’s Chorus at CSU performs a wide variety of music, including traditional, barbershop, a cappella, vocal jazz, and other popular styles of music. The group rehearses on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 3:15 p.m. and is directed by Ryan Olsen (ryan.olsen@colostate.edu).

United through music

The positive environment of the Concert Band has provided sophomore Stephanie Lane with many performance opportunities, fantastic memories, and chances to meet new people. “It is incredible that even though we are all studying different majors, we are still united through music and through the hard work we put into it,” she said.

Lane hopes more students will discover reasons to continue in music. “I love band, especially concert band where it’s low-stress and super fun,” she said enthusiastically, “Continuing music in college is something I encourage everyone to do!”

Jace Spraker, a senior Food Science Human Nutrition major, found his artistic home in the Men’s Chorus, where the group’s support, friendship, and vocal exercises were integral to his recovery from major surgery last year. Spraker said, “Everyone in class knows each other’s name, the director’s care about all of the members, and we all teach each other how to be better at what we are trying to achieve. It’s unlike any of my other classes at CSU.”

For Johnson and the Concert Band, participating in the new film was encouraging, and solidified the Department’s choice to continue offering and building the non-auditioned ensembles. “The film’s message is timely, powerful, and nothing short of profound,” said Johnson after last month’s screening, which was attended by over 1000 people. “As an artist and music educator, it has me all fired up about inviting students to join us!”


For more information about the music ensembles mentioned in this story, visit this website.


Watch the Carry the Tune trailer and find out more about the nation-wide release at this website.