A symphony of creative possibilities

Music department welcomes students of all interests and skill levels.

By Elisa Espinoza

Whatcom Community College’s music department provides students the opportunity of developing their music skills through different classes.
Melanie Sehman is the head of the music department and the only full-time music faculty.
Sehman manages the schedule for the music discipline classes, facilitates the associates music degree program and she also teaches music theory and other academic online classes.
The music faculty has about six members who teach music classes and other adjuncts who teach applied lessons, said Sehman.
The music department offers a variety of classes divided in 3 different categories including survey courses, skills based and performance classes.
The survey or academic courses are usually offered as five-credit humanities classes. These focus on world music, American music, music appreciation and other courses.
The skill-based classes include music theory, where students learn how to read and write music, and one-on-one applied lessons, where students can study a particular instrument or receive voice lessons.
Performance classes include the collegiate choir and the contemporary and chamber music ensembles.
“We are a small discipline at this point,” said Sehman about the department and class sizing. She added that this also allows them to provide “personalized attention.”
Sehman said space is a current issue for the department.
“Right now all the music classes are spread out throughout the campus,” she said.
A concrete location for the music department and other performing arts is still in discussion.
“What we’re hoping is, in the future, to have all of that together in Heiner, so that all the performing arts students can have a central location to interact and have all their classrooms near each other and just create a learning community around that,” added Sehman.
This past fall quarter, a new associates in music direct transfer degree program was introduced.
Sehman said the program is designed for students “who know they want to transfer into music degree programs at local or state universities.”
The department works with students individually to “craft goals for our students” and “match up their skills to wherever they want to go,” said Sehman.
Within this program, new class additions have been made to enhance the students preparation.
“We are trying to offer a wider array of style and genre options for performers,” said Sehman.
Next year a new History of Jazz music class will be offered in the fall and spring quarters.
Students can also sign up for a new jazz band class, said Sehman.
“There are options for students who want to perform with select community ensembles,” said Sehman.
Students can join a high quality community organization to supplement their knowledge and get credits for their participation.
“All of our classes and ensembles are open access,” said Sehman adding that besides the instrumental ensemble, none of the classes require previous experience and all levels of expertise are welcome.
Carol Reed-Jones is a faculty member from the music department. Reed teaches different classes including collegiate choir.
The choir ranges “from people who haven’t sung since elementary school and are feeling nervous to people who have been in honor choirs several times.”
This quarter, collegiate choir has five members.
“We’re small but mighty,” said Reed.
Many students take her class as an elective, but many other people take the class because they are passionate about choir.
“I’ve had some people that say ‘this is my way of destressing’,” she added.
“There is a possibility to take it for no credit and a small fee of $25 as a community member,” she said.
Through this opportunity, many members of the community have decided to join, including senior citizens, said Reed.
Reed also explained the grading in her class. Besides a few tests, “most of it is coming to class every time prepared and singing in the concert,” she said.
As part of their work, the students also take time to perform at an assisted living facility to sing for the seniors.
Reed said that her choir class is very easy for students to become involved in. For some students, this kind of experience becomes very meaningful.
She remembered how two of her students became so close that one performed as the best man at the other student’s wedding.
“Sometimes people are taking music classes and deciding ‘this is my passion,’” said Reed.
Benjamin Knight, a student who came back to college to study computer science, realized he wants to go on a different academic path.
Knight plays the guitar and has been a musician for the past ten years. He decided to take the music theory one course to fill up a humanities credit.
“I learned a lot more about what my weaknesses were in regards to music,” he said.
After taking the class, Knight has participated in the collegiate choir last quarter and has continued to advance in the music theory courses.
Knight says these classes have helped him progress as a musician and described the experience as “humbling and inspirational.”
“Seeing other people making music is just a great way of immersing yourself in that and I think it’s a really great way to grow as an artist, just by surrounding yourself with other people who are in the same boat,” he said.
Anita Shuller, a Running Start student who is currently working towards completing the new music program degree, has been playing the piano for about 12 years.
She took music theory, contemporary ensemble, applied lessons for piano and has also sung and accompanied the collegiate choir.
For this year’s concert, Shuller will be playing solo, performing with the ensemble and accompanying the choir.
“It takes a lot of time to learn the songs, but it’s fun,” she said.
In the future, Shuller dreams of attending Juilliard University or the Moscow Conservatory.
According to Shuller, the professors in the department are “very educated and really professional,” and have helped her move closer towards her goals.
“These people have influenced me immensely in my music path,” she said.
Shuller said Whatcom’s music department is rather small, and she would like to see it grow more.
“Even if you don’t really know how to play your instrument, I think it’s just a great opportunity to come here and start learning, even if you don’t have extreme goals,” she said.
“What we need is more people to collaborate and more people to come to our recitals because it’s a big deal for us,” she added.
“We’re preparing so much and we have so much time spent in learning pieces, so it’s nice when people come and listen.”


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