Florida Tech’s music program is in its second act in recent years, adding additional classes and offering opportunities to students from all majors to learn or expand their musical interests.
“We’ve increased enrollments in our large ensembles (Concert Choir, String Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, and Panther Big Band) and created several applied group courses such as Beginning and Intermediate Piano, Beginning and Intermediate Guitar, and Recording Studio Workshop,” says Kevin Burke, director of music programs since 2014.
“We’ve also bolstered our infrastructure in terms of marketing, record keeping, and equipment, so we are reaching a larger and broader segment of the student body and are able to provide adequate resources for those students,” he said.
And the students are responding.
This was evident by the need for risers to accommodate all of the student musical groups that participated in Florida Tech’s 60th Anniversary concert in the Gleason Auditorium on Feb. 12.
Burke said it was an amazing feeling to see the risers.
“At the end of my first year at Florida Tech, our Paris Artist in Residence, Paul Anquez, had an idea to write music for all of our student ensembles, which filled Gleason’s stage. Four years later, it’s amazing and gratifying to have programmed music for those same groups again and have them overflowing into risers in front of the stage,” he says.
“It was a visual testament to our growth over four years and encouragement that we will continue to expand.”
He added that the variety of programming in Florida Tech’s music program, as well as the sheer number of students on stage that night, reflected the university’s support of the arts in the curriculum and community.
Robert Taylor, associate dean of the College of Psychology and Liberal Arts and head of the School of Arts and Communication, said interest in the music program was on full display at the university’s recent Discovery Day. Nearly 700 potential students and their parents visited the campus on April 13.
“People came to our table and I spent most of the time talking about our music program. The prospective students were curious about being able to take our music courses without being music majors, something that a lot of colleges and universities require,” Taylor said.
“Our program enables students to pursue things they are passionate about, not as a major, but as something that is a part of their lives,” he said.
Melissa Neary is one of seven students in Mariana Garciagodoy Cervantes’ Group Intermediate Piano class.
She looks down at the sheet music for Beethoven’s “Sonatina in G” and smiles at the handwritten words and sweeping arrows mingling with the musical notes on the page.
“I tend to write out a lot of what I need to do,” she says, eyeing the words ‘stretch’ as a reminder to lengthen her fingers to hit the right key, and ‘move’ for when her hand has to travel across the keyboard.
“I think seeing some sort of step-by-step process, some visual cues, kind of makes my brain focus on it,” says Neary, a sophomore biomedical engineering major.
“I’ve had this piece for probably three weeks now and I’ve gotten all the way through the first movement. Now, I’m starting on the second movement,” Neary says before covering her ears with headphones and returning to practice in the new piano/keyboard lab located on the fifth floor of the Crawford Building.
Garciagodoy says students like Neary are coming to the program because it is very inclusive of all majors.
“We are able to offer something to all Florida Tech students, regardless of their major, that they can use as a creative outlet. Our music program enriches the lives of students by giving them the opportunity to engage in artistic expression. It helps to make them more well-rounded human beings,” Garciagodoy says.
The 500 Suite in the Crawford Building was officially assigned to the SAC on Jan. 1. It now houses a piano/keyboard lab and office spaces for Joe Montelione, band director, and Eliza Dopira, string and choral director.
Both previously worked in the music house, a renovated space on University Boulevard.
Plans are underway to possibly remove a wall in the Crawford suite and enlarge the classroom space in order to accommodate new keyboard tables, creating a multi-use classroom.
Burke added that Florida Tech’s music program is fortunate to have received many generous donations from a dedicated group of patrons that regularly attend concerts and receptions.
“We’ve established an active Facebook page and are now live-streaming most of our concerts,” he said, adding that people can support the program by checking in on all the great music students are making, whether in Gleason Auditorium or online.
“We’re always trying to offer something new, combining different ensembles, integrating film and live actors, and programming a diverse selection of music,” he said.
“Our patrons empower us to try new things like livestreaming our concerts. They also allow us to make good on our open door policy by acquiring large instruments like a tuba, double bass, and bari (baritone) sax that most students would not own personally.”
Neary, who is a member of the school’s string orchestra, says taking music classes and participating in a musical ensemble are a stress reliever for her.
“I’ve played the violin for almost 13 years and now piano for nearly a year. When I’m playing music, I don’t think about the deadlines I have in other classes. I focus on learning the music, and playing the music,” she says.
“It gives my brain time to settle down a little bit.”