Music Faculty Spotlight

Stephen Newby
Chérie Hughes
Danny Helseth

Stephen Newby

I teach music composition, black music studies, and theology of music and worship. Since September 2004, I have found Seattle Pacific University to be a place I am able to live out my vocation as professor, scholar, artist, and composer in the classroom, our Chapel services, and other co-curricular activities on campus.

My parents, who were Missionary Baptist pastors in Detroit, first prompted me to explore music. At age 13, I joined the church choir and haven’t looked back since. In 1992, I moved from the Midwest, where I was an assistant professor of composition on the tenure track at the University of Michigan, to the Northwest, to take a job as a music pastor. My colleagues thought I was crazy for leaving such a secure position for a music pastor job. But as it turns out, moving to Seattle was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.

I had also been touring as a contemporary Christian music rock worship band singer with Maranatha Music and Integrity Media for more than 15 years. I also had experience as an orchestral classical music composer, and conducted symphonies and chamber orchestras all over the country. [Editor’s note: his works have been performed by the Cascade Youth Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Ann Arbor Symphony, Canton Symphony Orchestra, New Haven Symphony, Savannah Symphony, and New World Theater Orchestra; and have earned him numerous awards and grants.] After September 11, 2001, however, I found myself in need of a more financially secure job. And then in 2004 God called me to serve at Seattle Pacific University as minister of worship music in Campus Ministries.

Later, in 2007, Seattle Pacific University offered me a part-time assistant professor of music post along with the opportunity to oversee University Ministries and the Center for Worship. My faith led me to believe that God had invited me to return to academia, serving the next generation of artists, musicians, and music pastors through the vocation of teaching. I had begun to visualize how this wonderful fusion of vocation, in context, as scholar, college pastor, and professor was my niche. For me, serving students in ministry and teaching in the classroom are jointly fitted together — each informs the other. I am a practitioner. I am a teacher with a pastor’s heart.

A highlight of my journey at Seattle Pacific was bringing to fruition “The Kingdom and The Gospel” recording project (available on iTunes) in February 2009. The worship arts ensemble class I was teaching presented a contemporary sacred music concert at a popular nightclub in downtown Seattle. The idea of “engaging the culture” with sacred song was a way to take the students’ classwork to the marketplace, a reality all young student scholar-artists must face at some point.

Chérie Hughes

I teach vocal pedagogy, sacred vocal repertoire, German and French diction for singers, song literature, opera workshop, and beginning voice classes, as well as private studio voice lessons.

I was born in Montreal, Canada, and spent my early childhood there. My father taught botany at McGill University, and my mother was the assistant organist at the St. Joseph Oratory, a Catholic shrine on top of Mount Royal. My parents wanted to expose my sister and me to as much of the French culture as they could, and though they didn't speak a word, they moved to an all-French-speaking neighborhood. Having that exposure sparked my love of foreign languages and travel, and has been an invaluable tool for me as a classical singer.

Music was always a part of my life, but when I was 10 years old I began taking violin lessons with a wonderful violinist. She was an amazing performer, and had a career that involved international travel, a variety of musical performance settings (chamber music, orchestral, solo), and university teaching. I was inspired by her artistry and the variety in her career, and it seemed like the perfect fit for my many interests. I chose to attend Colgate University, where she taught, and it was a decision that transformed my life. She has continued to be a mentor to me: as an artist, a colleague, and a friend.

My mother has also been an inspiration to me for how a musician can combine career, family, and faith. She was a professional organist and classical singer, and as soon as I could read music I was turning pages for her during concerts. My mother considered music as an act of devotion to God and those around her. She felt that as musicians we are given a gift to change lives and be a witness to our faith. She also understood that the life of a musician involves struggle in addition to joy and fulfillment. Her reliance on faith and her belief in the transformative power of music made her an inspiration to me and to many others.

I have felt music to be a spiritual calling. For me, it is an act of divine devotion, and to be a musician is to be a person of faith. During my time at SPU, I have been very inspired by my colleagues and their dedication to teaching students as "whole musicians" ― mind, body, and spirit. It has deepened my own faith and helped to inspire my own teaching. It has been a real privilege to work with such a dedicated and talented group of colleagues. Their examples of artistry and dedication continue to inspire my own teaching.

Danny Helseth

I play the euphonium and direct SPU’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble. I was born and raised in Oklahoma, and moved to Yakima during junior high. Though I’ve lived all over the world, I now consider Seattle my home.

I grew up in a musical family, singing John Denver songs with my brother while Dad sang and played guitar. I attended a music preschool and starting piano lessons at the age of 5.

My family has always been a strong source of inspiration and encouragement — which is important for someone who has chosen euphonium performance as a career! I also find continued inspiration from my students. My younger students give me the chance to rediscover the magic in music-making, as they experience it for the first time. My older students remind me that we must constantly strive to grow as musicians, and never become complacent.

Over the years, my mentors and teachers have taught me much. They had an absolute love for music, and an unwavering desire to share that love, and help me find my voice. My hope is to infect others with my love of music, and help them to experience a little of what I have found.

I discovered the joy of performing on the euphonium while a Music Education major at Central Washington University, thanks in large part to my teacher, Larry Gookin. My goal then was to take this “euphonium thing” as far as I could, and then move on to something else. What a ride it’s been!

As a graduate student at North Texas, I had the chance to play with some of the best musicians in the country, and studied with two incredible musicians, Brian Bowman and Vern Kagarice. On a Fulbright scholarship in Manchester, England, I studied with one of the most influential euphonium soloists of all time, Steven Mead, and played with the top brass bands.

Then four years in the United States Air Force Band in Washington D.C. gave me the chance to solo with the band on the Capitol Steps, perform at the White House and the Pentagon, and go on tour throughout the country. I performed Full Honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

When I left the Air Force Band, I didn’t have a plan — not really. I had an undeniable feeling, though, that leaving was the right thing to do. It wasn’t the easy thing, though — walking away from the job that euphonium players around the country dream of. From the outside looking in, it seemed crazy. But God was moving me in that direction. So I left the Band and moved to Seattle.

Here I’ve had the chance to work with several Northwest brass bands, as both soloist and conductor. As part of the University of Washington Wind Ensemble, I’ve been the featured soloist in many concerts, including our 2009 Japan tour and 2013 Beijing tour. Now I’m a member of a professional tuba-euphonium quartet (that’s not a typo; it’s a real thing!) called Eufonix. We just finished our fourth CD, and our fourth year running a low brass music camp in Arizona. We’ve toured the country and Europe, and continue to make big waves whenever we perform.

And now here I am at SPU. I absolutely believe this is the right place for me. The SPU Music Department has a special thing going for it, and I’m excited to be part of it.

Eric Johnson

Student Eric Johnson shares about his experience in the Music Department.

Sprezzatura Trio

Meet the members of the Sprezzatura Trio, a music ensemble comprising three SPU alumnae.