In tune with the times
The addition of state-of-the-art music recording studios reflects changes in the music industry and the success of Elon students and alumni.
There was a time when Professor Jon Metzger used to think Elon’s music program was the university’s best-kept secret.
After a steady growth in applicants, which brought the total number of students in the program’s four majors to more than 100 this year, and new facilities that include professional quality recording studios, it’s evident the word has gotten out—and Metzger, who chairs the department, couldn’t be happier. “There is so much going on,” he says. “Across all of our four department majors, we have over 100 performances each academic year, 18 performing ensembles, a marching band and numerous guest artists. All these opportunities provide life-changing experiences for our students.”
And then there are all the things alumni are doing. Alumni like bassist Kevin Pace ’02, a music graduate who is gaining the attention of the traditional jazz scene, and Amanda Fish ’11, a music performance graduate who made her international debut last year with the Mittelsächsische Philharmonie in Freiberg, Germany. Or Jacob Danieley ’11, a music production and recording arts graduate who recently won a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for his work as engineer and musician on a children’s music album. “Our job placement has been great,” says Todd Coleman, associate professor of music and coordinator of the music production and recording arts (MPRA) program. “We have plenty of students and graduates who are doing great and interesting things.”
It’s a reflection of a department that has adapted to major industry changes to remain vibrant. The new music wing at Arts West on Haggard Avenue is a testament to that. With the increase in popularity of commercial music, the department revised its Bachelor of Arts offerings to make them more appealing and better match the type of student Elon attracts—driven, motivated and entrepreneurial. In 2007 department leaders also added the MPRA program, which now accounts for more than half of all department majors. “We are uniquely positioned as a comprehensive four-year program,” says Coleman. Many schools, he adds, focus on classical programs or technology in teaching without including commercial music. “Our program is a melting pot of all these genres,” he says.
The renovated and expanded facility provides 10,750 square feet of space to support the growing program. It includes a new music technology lab, featuring full size keyboard controllers, a sound isolation booth and 18 27-inch iMac digital audio workstations; two new recording studios with world-class mixing consoles and compressors, patchbays and isolation booths; a large studio for recording, rehearsing and music production used by Techtronica and Electric Ensemble, the department’s two pop/commercial music ensembles; three practice rooms, a classroom and 11 faculty offices.
For Coleman, the expansion offers students the opportunity to be more creative and have more time and space to do original work. “Here, students have a place where they can flourish and learn techniques they can build upon,” he says. “Here’s a place where they can learn all about music and the music business that will help them find their own path.”
Learning the ropes
That was certainly the case for Danieley. He was always drawn to music but it wasn’t until his high school years that he started honing his craft. When he heard about Elon’s new music production and recording arts program, he changed his mind about pursuing a business degree and gave the program a try. “I wanted it as a career but I didn’t think I was going to go to college and major in it,” he says with a smile.
It’s a decision he has never regretted. Already married with a son by his first year of college, Danieley made the most of his experience. He collaborated with different music ensembles on campus, and when the opportunity came the summer after his sophomore year to spend a weekend exploring the music scene in Nashville, he didn’t think twice. “I parked my car and just walked,” he says. “I didn’t know anybody, but if you walk around, you never know who you are going to meet.” The weekend trip turned into a week after he befriended a musician on the street who introduced him to other musicians and producers. Soon he found himself hanging out in the basement of the historic RCA Studio B, making connections.
He kept in contact with some of the people he met—he often drove to Nashville when he had free time—and eventually landed an internship in the city his junior year. He graduated in three and a half years with a growing family (his daughter was born at the end of his junior year) and many leads to follow. He decided to pursue a career in Southern Gospel music and now has songwriting credits on a number of album releases, has produced and engineered records in Nashville, North Carolina and Europe, and has shared the stage with gospel greats Loretta Lynn, Ricky Scaggs and Bill Gaither and country artist Jon Pardi. He has also toured with the Dove Brothers and The Hoppers. His connection with the latter group led to his work on “The Hoppers: Kids,” which earned him the Dove Award.
He recently received an invitation to be a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which means he can vote to select future Grammy Award winners. It’s another acknowledgment that his work is paying off. “I’m a strong believer that there is a plan we all have to follow,” he says. “God has everything in control and I’m doing my best to fulfill his plan. Elon was a part of that.”
A collaborative environment
Much of what made Danieley’s experience unique at Elon was the collaborative environment among alumni and students. As a student, he worked with Ben Soldate ’11, who is now based in Los Angeles, and later the two collaborated professionally. Danieley is currently mentoring a senior from the program and will be working this winter with another graduate, Sean Magee ’14, whose debut album was recorded and mixed by Soldate.
“Elon is great about collaboration,” Danieley says. “That’s what Elon provides, the opportunity to build close relationships. It’s a community. It’s family.”
Brooke Jenkins ’15, a songwriter based in Nashville, found the same support. During her first year at Elon, she got to perform and collaborate with Soldate and Kara Johnson ’13, who works as a movie sound technician and songwriter in Los Angeles. “The sense of collaboration is extremely prevalent,” she says. That culture fostered in her a desire to mentor, co-write songs and perform with younger students.
Brooke Greenberg ’17 was one of the students Jenkins worked with. In fact, Jenkins played a role in her decision to come to Elon. While browsing the university’s website as a prospective student, Greenberg found a video of Jenkins performing an original song she had recorded at Elon during her first year. She was looking for a school that would give her the same opportunity, and that video told her she’d found the right place. “I knew I wanted to get involved in a project that would allow me to release music on iTunes,” Greenberg says.
She found that outlet in the Electric Ensemble, which allows students to compose and arrange their own material. Other members of the group really liked one of her original songs, which gave her the confidence to record her own single. With the help of yet more alumni and students, she was able to produce her first solo, “You Already Knew,” which was released on iTunes in February under her artistic name, Brooke Alexx. The reception was so positive and the experience so rewarding, Greenberg is planning to release two more singles in the next six months. “It’s been empowering,” she says, adding that the support from her peers has been particularly special. “It’s like a great community, which is awesome.”
This past summer, Greenberg was part of a small contingent of music majors who headed to Nashville to connect with alumni in the area and get a taste of the music scene there. She had the chance to perform at many local clubs with Jenkins and other alumni and students.
From an acorn to a tree
For Coleman, this is just the beginning of greater collaborations. “There is this really great pattern of alumni, juniors and seniors mentoring younger students,” Coleman says. “Our alumni network is growing in Los Angeles, Nashville and Chicago, which means students already have contacts in those cities. That’s how music careers are made.”
Having a well-rounded foundation doesn’t hurt. “Everything I did in the MPRA program was preparation for pursuing the career I want in music,” says Jenkins, who is in the process of forming an indie pop band, Chutes & Ladders. “I got to perform my original songs with Electric Ensemble and Techtronica and lead my own ensemble in my last semester; these experiences included all of the preparation of writing and sometimes arranging songs, making charts for the musicians, scheduling rehearsals and booking performances. I also had so many opportunities to work in the studio as an engineer, producer and performer.”
All these opportunities only add to the excitement of the new facility. “Prior to the expansion, we were cutting our projects in a practice room,” says Danieley, who is now pursuing an MBA at Elon. He is quick to point out that those experiences taught him to be versatile, something that has come in handy many times throughout his career. “I learned the true arts and sciences of the trade, not just the tricks,” he says. “Professor Coleman has done an incredible job with the program. Taking the Elon analogy, he has taken an acorn and grown it into an oak tree.”
Coleman likens the evolution of the program to the development of Apple, Inc. The revolutionary technology was there from the beginning, but it took resources, vision and strategic planning to turn it into the leader it is today. “It’s kind of like a second birth,” he says of the new facilities. “I expect there will be a tremendous increase in the number of students doing great things.”
Metzger agrees. “I feed off the energy from everybody else,” he says. “It’s tremendously
Music department highlights
Music education and performance graduates are accepted into top graduate schools including Boston University, Florida International University, George Mason University and Northwestern University.
For the past 19 years, the Jazz Studies program has sponsored the Elon Jazz Festival, an on-campus event that welcomes jazz ensembles from across the state for three days of workshops and critiques.
Elon’s chapter of the National Association for Music Educators received the 2014 Chapter of Excellence Award for its contributions to the “Music in the Village” program, a component of the “It Takes a Village” Project that exposes young children to song and musical instruments as part of a larger effort to improve their reading abilities.
Music students perform on Thursdays at Numen Lumen (formerly College Chapel) and at the lighting of the luminaries to usher in the winter holidays. The Fire of the Carolinas, Elon’s marching band, and a pep band perform at select athletics events; Elon’s Music Ambassadors visit schools to help educate, motivate and inspire younger children; and faculty and students perform at dozens of recitals, as well as at the annual President’s Music Concert.