Music Faculty Spotlight

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.

Stephen Newby
Chérie Hughes
Danny Helseth

Stephen Newby

Micah Hayes

Growing up outside of Los Angeles in the beach town of Ventura, I began my musical career at the age of thirteen when, in the attic, I discovered my father’s barely used Spanish guitar that my grandfather had bought for him in Mexico City. I tinkered with it, eventually buying guitar books and spending a lot of time teaching myself to play, finally being able to jam with friends and eventually join some bands. I bought an electric guitar, a bunch of gear, and effects pedals and began to play at coffee shops and venues around Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. As a young child I had devoted a lot of time to team sports and school athletics, but after this musical conversion my life was forever focused on music. I loved the emotions music could unleash, and I loved the community that it could create.

This musical conversion coincided with an invitation to attend church with a friend, where I became a Christian and made friends in high school youth group. I began playing with and learning from other musicians in the church — playing guitar in the youth group band and playing bass in the larger worship services. In hindsight, I think about this time as being foundational for the direction my life would take, and where I learned how important music was to the church and to the world.

Initially I thought I would go to law school after beginning my studies at Ventura College, but some friends encouraged me to try and study music more formally in school. Even though I could barely read music and was far from formally trained, I loved taking music classes because it combined my active brain with my musical heart. My grandmother paid for me to take music composition lessons with Robert Lawson while I studied music theory and music history, and took classical guitar and piano lessons. I did well enough as a music student to transfer to California State University, Chico, in Northern California (the first in my family to attend college), where I majored in music with an emphasis in recording arts and unofficially in composition with David Colson (they didn’t have a formal composition major at the time). This is where I developed my skills as an audio engineer and where I first discovered the joy of creating musical recordings.

The permanence of recorded music stood out to me as particularly significant. I began to see how important it was for there to be people who could use this new(ish) recording technology to capture musical performances with such skill that, after the music was recorded and mixed, the listener could be deeply emotionally and musically affected. If skilled recording engineers had not worked hard to capture compelling performances of musicians who are no longer with us — John Lennon, Miles Davis, Glenn Gould, Kurt Cobain, and others I grew up listening to — we would never have been able to experience these amazing musicians after they were gone. Creating a recording felt almost like participating in an act of immortality.

After graduating from college, I was lucky to find a job as the Recording Engineering Fellow at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, where I spent two years fine-tuning my audio skills recording the orchestra’s weekly concerts and solo recordings for the musicians. After I was able to record the orchestra performing a piece I had written for soprano and orchestra, I began to see how helpful it was to be able to record my own music. I also caught a glimpse of how helpful my recording skills could be for others, my peers, and again, my community. New World Symphony was a fellowship-based orchestra that gave very talented young music school

graduates three-year fellowships where they could play in an orchestra and learn while auditioning around the world for a more permanent performing position. Because of this, I was able to record many professional-level audition tapes for musicians in the orchestra — making friends and seeing how my craft could be used to help others.

After my time in Miami Beach, I spent three years getting my master’s in music composition at the University of Oregon, where I first fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. While studying composition with Robert Kyr, I was able to spend my summers working as a recording engineer at music festivals — first for four months at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, and then for three summers as the Senior Recording Engineer at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, the largest classical music festival in the country. I felt almost as if I were getting two master’s degrees — one in composition and one unofficially in audio engineering. This culminated in my receiving the ASCAP Foundation Fellowship for Film Scoring and Composition at the Aspen Music Festival, where I first began to see how the technology-based field of film scoring combined my love of writing music with my love of music technology. I went on to score many films and projects, most of them with the filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith, with some premiering at South by Southwest, The American Black Film Festival, and on HBO.

I then spent two years in New York City, where I worked as the primary live sound engineer for Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s three westside services in Manhattan (and also as a substitute teacher), before accepting a job as a professor running the Music Industry Area at the University of Texas in Arlington. This whole time I was continuing to compose concert pieces, works for solo flute, string quartet, choir, wind symphony, and orchestra. As an Episcopalian I feel a strong calling to write music for liturgical purposes, mostly for choir and/or organ. I am currently working on a three-part series of five-minute pieces for choir and organ with religious texts by John Donne (published by Periferia Publishing).

Teaching at UT Arlington gave me the realization that all of my experience has led me to a place where I can share my experience with others as an educator. I developed a deep love for teaching and for my students. I spent several years creating Music Industry Studies degrees, writing grants, and building a new recording studio — causing the area to grow in size from eight students to over 70. I found that I loved education and all that I was able to do for my students, discovering deep meaning in seeing them succeed encouraged me to create and refine curriculum that would help them succeed even more.

Accepting a position as assistant professor of music technology and director of music production at Seattle Pacific University was a blessing. My wife and I love Seattle (she accepted a job as the CEO of Washington Cattleman’s Association), and I love being back on the West Coast. I am blessed to be part of this family at SPU — my colleagues in the Music Department are so talented. But more importantly I feel called to create something good and of value in this city. More than anywhere I have worked, my music colleagues make the development of students at SPU their primary professional goal. My whole life has led me to this position at Seattle Pacific — as a musician and as a teacher. I feel a strong calling to continue developing the Music Production area and to create the best program in the state — a Music Production program that SPU and the city of Seattle can be proud of.

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.