Darlia Conn, one of the School of Music’s longest working accompanists, is retiring. We reached out and asked her a few questions about her time at Lee and this is what she had to say:
“I started working in the Department of Music at Lee College many years ago when Dr. David Horton was the Chair and we were located in an old World War II relic in the space that is right across from the current Deacon Jones Dining Hall. He asked me to teach non-music majors who wished to play the piano. That is where it all began. I had earlier taught piano lessons in a private studio in Cleveland and was myself a graduate of the department.
About the same time, I began accompanying for the occasional vocal student in Mrs. Horton’s studio. Accompanying had always been my first love. Memorization is not necessary, and it is a less solitary occupation. I also love the wide range of music that you get to practice. As a student, accompanying had provided my work-study opportunity. It became my main focus after I completed a Master’s degree at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1995. That was the Fall that we opened the new Curtsinger Building.
As I am married to Paul Conn, president of Lee for the past 34 years, all of Lee University has also been my life’s occupation. However, being part of the School of Music for more than 30 years has given me a home on campus. Our faculty and students are the ones I know the best and with whom I have been able to share life. It has been such a privilege! I have been an advocate for the School of Music wherever I go and will continue to do so.
Having officially retired and moved out of my studio, I will still stay involved with music at Lee University, not because it is required of me, but because it is my first love. For all the music majors at Lee, my advice is to work hard and learn to listen with your heart as well as your ears. You are the blessed ones who can make music your life’s work.”
Thank you for all of your love and contributions to this school. You surely helped make it the special place that it is!
Our first faculty spotlight of this year is the well known Lee couple Dr. and Mrs. Sheeks. In Fall 2018, the Randy and Debbie Sheeks took over as directors of Ladies of Lee, and have even released a new album showcasing the choir’s growth. We had a chance to ask them a few questions about their time at Lee, and the impact the choir has made in the recent years.
Check out a small glimpse of their newest CD at the bottom of the page!
Q: How long have you both been at Lee?
D: We are in our 10th year of teaching at Lee.
Q: What is it like working together as a married couple?
R: It’s pretty wonderful to share so much of life together. However, you do have to be intentional to be sure you have a life outside of Lee. We enjoy our family, reading, movies, and a good trip to the beach. Then I am a huge North Carolina Basketball fan as well. (Don’t ask how I’m enjoying this season.)
D: Working together is wonderful! We have been a team now for many years and it is our “normal” mode of life. There are times of compromise and “give and take”, but for the most part, we manage that pretty well. I think we both know we have certain strengths and try to use those in our work.
Q: The new Ladies of Lee album is finally out! What are your favorite songs?
D: Hiding Place, The Lord’s Prayer and Goodness of God.
R: We love them all for different reasons. The Ladies really did a great job recording these at the end of the fall semester. They recorded 8 songs in just two sessions and then we used recordings from previous semesters to round out the project. If I have to pick favorites, they would be The Lord’s Prayer, You Are My Hiding Place, The Goodness of God, and Psalm 23.
Q: What was the process like creating the album? Was it difficult to choose the songs?
R: We really did not make song selection a difficult process. We chose songs that we were singing last semester and tried to choose things that represented some of the eclectic mix of songs in our repertoire.
D: The Ladies of Lee made this process a real joy! They came focused and prepared to work hard and give their best energy and vocal skills.
Q: Why did you create the album?
R: The number one motivation to record last semester was to provide an avenue for the Ladies to raise money for a European tour scheduled for May. We were able to record using funds raised last semester and allow the choir members to sell the CDs with 100% of the profit going toward their trip. This has been a nice way for the Ladies to raise money for the trip. Each choir member must raise $3500 so this was a great start.
Q: What’s one goal for the Ladies of Lee this year of 2020?
R: In addition to emphasizing choral excellence and the Christian community within the group, the Europe trip is a huge goal. We will perform in 3 countries (Hungary, Czechnia, and Germany) and get to visit 5 (add France and Austria). We will sing in schools, churches, and a military base. One of the major stops on our trip will be Lee’s sister school, The European Theological Seminary in Kniebis, Germany. This is obviously a huge undertaking for the choir. The trip is scheduled for May 9-22. We believe it is a God-ordained opportunity to share the message of Christ through the unique and beautiful sounds of the Ladies of Lee. While it’s lot of work, it will be worth it!
Our student spotlight for October is actually twins Lydia and Julia Bobell! Both Julia and Lydia are juniors at Lee with a passion for learning and collaboration. As Julia is an oboe performance major and Lydia is a flute performance major, they have the opportunity to perform together on several occasions. We had the chance to ask both of them some questions about their lives, and the impact Lee has made on them.
Q: What are your future goals?
Julia: I want to perform in the pit orchestra for musicals/ join a military band so they can pay for my future education (masters, doctorate).
Lydia: I would like to get my master (get an assistantship) and doctorate in performance or possibly conducting. Then I would like to teach for a college or university (possibly Lee one day) and play for a major symphony. Maybe go into military to help pay for my doctorate and play for a fife band.
Q: What’s your favorite part about having your twin at Lee?
Julia: I always have a study partner and an emotional support person at all times. I can cry in front of her whenever I need to and same goes for her. Plus I don’t feel so lonely. I always have a best friend with me.
Lydia: I like being able to look at someone and have them understand my happiness/frustration/annoyance without words. We are basically the perfect married couple.
Q: How has Lee helped your career?
Julia: Lee has helped my career by preparing me for rejection. That sounds terrible, but hearing the stories of my professors who didn’t get the job or wasn’t picked for a certain position in an ensemble actually encourages me. It’s not because I suck. It’s just because music is such a hard career to peruse that I can’t let a rejection get in the way of pushing on for my dream. Also Lee has helped me to become more focused on my relationship with God. People always say that Lee is a “bubble”. They say it in a derogatory way, but I see it as a good thing. Here, I can focus on my relationship with God, focus on my studies, and focus on my career as a performer without the influence of the world really getting in my way.
Lydia: Lee has helped me stretch my limits. I was an A student in high school, got along with everyone, state ranked musician, all that jazz. At Lee, i learned how to accept my first A- and B. I learned how to prioritize my time and accept that i could not physically do everything. I had to make sacrifices. I had to decide what was more important; studying that extra hour, practicing that extra hour, or hanging with my friends for an hour. On different days the answer was different and i am still learning that that is ok. Lee has taught me that God wants me to succeed and reach for my dream and He will help me, but I need to do my part and work for it. This wasn’t a question but I am thankful for faculty like Dr. Warner, Dr. Wykoff, Dr. Lee, Ms. Karla Hyder, Mr. Vaught and just everyone in the SOM who truly make an effort to know how much they care about me. The teachers here are truly my favorite part about my LeeU experience.
Q: What would you recommend to an incoming freshman?
Julia: I would recommend being prepared for struggle. Everyone struggles at some point in college (not just music majors). That’s just life. It’s important to find someone to confide in and BE THAT PERSON for someone else. Do not suppress feelings. Let someone know how you feel for real everyday. Also, it’s ok to have a meltdown in the practice rooms. I’ve done that soooo many times. On a happy note, remember to have fun. If you aren’t having fun and are stressing about your major so much that you are causing emotional or physical harm to yourself then take a step back and figure out what the issue is. You need to look out for yourself now that you are away from home.
Lydia: I would recommend the freshmen to take advantage of the one on one classroom experience and really get to know their professors. The teachers here are the best at what they do in the world but know one would guess because they are so humble and give all the credit to God. I love being able to go to literally any of my teachers and they will sit down with me and just talk. Each teacher looks out for their students and so often I meet people who have never stepped foot in a professors office because they dont feel like they can. The thing is, at this academic level, our teachers will eventually be our colleagues and networking is soooooo important in any field. I could seriously talk about the faculty here for hours. Some have fed me, some i have cried in front of, and one kidnapped me and took me to smoothie king. I love the people here and i just want the freshmen to love them too!
Congrats to both Lydia and Julia on their hard work! We are so proud of you both and wish you success in everything you accomplish.
Kristen Holritz is our first Faculty Spotlight of the month! Mrs. Holritz is the flute instructor here at Lee University. We had the opportunity to ask her some questions, which are listed below.
Q: How long have you been working at Lee?
Holritz: I have been teaching flute at Lee University since the fall of 2014 – so this is my fifth year!
Q: What is your favorite thing about teaching at Lee?
Holritz: There are so many great things about Lee. The campus is beautiful, there is always plenty of parking (even if it is far away), the performance halls have great acoustics, my colleagues in the School of Music are always friendly and so helpful – but I’d have to say my favorite thing about teaching at Lee is the students. The flute studio only has positive attitudes and shows up every week eager to learn. What more can a teacher ask for?
Q: How long have you been with the Chattanooga Symphony?
Holritz: This is my sixth season with the CSO.
Q: What is it like to be involved with both the Symphony and Lee?
Holritz: Some weeks the schedule is pretty full, but I enjoy teaching and playing equally. I feel very blessed to be able to do both in Chattanooga!
Q: What is it like having a husband that is musical as well?
Holritz: That has its benefits and downfalls! Since we both work at the CSO it is easy to carry the stress of work home with us. However, it is great to have someone that understands the lows and highs of my craft, as well as be married to someone who speaks and understands the language of my soul. We are very encouraging of each other and often practice together, play for each other, and perform together outside of the Symphony. We learn from each other’s playing and teaching as well!
Q: What is it like playing together?
Holritz: Some days we both need our space to be by ourselves but most of the time we love it! The flute and violin have some opposite tendencies for bad habits but a lot of concepts are the same. We perform as the duo, Schaafritz, and perform frequently across the country! When preparing for concerts we enjoy talking about the correlations between our instruments and learning how to blend, articulate, and simply play more like each other. Even more fun than playing music together is listening to music together. Like I said – our souls speak the same language!
Q: What would you recommend to someone that is thinking about auditioning for the School of Music?
Holritz: I’d recommend having weekly private lessons leading up to the audition. A good private teacher can help you improve your playing, guide in proper audition repertoire selection, prepare you to have a successful audition both mentally and physically, and help you understand what a degree in music entails. I’d also recommend visiting the campus and meeting the faculty and students in the studio you are interested in – and coming prepared with questions you might have. Do research and be inquisitive! The more a student is prepared and invested before arriving, the more they will get out of their experience in the long run!
Nora Swindle, class of 2018, was accepted by the Seattle Film Institute to begin her masters in Film Scoring. During her time at Lee, Nora was involved with the Composers Forum, and the Ladies of Lee. She also composed a piece which the Lee University Chorale performed in 2018. We had the chance to ask Nora about her new degree, and what inspired her to choose this career path.
Q: What made you decide to pursue this degree?
Nora: Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to compose music for video games. My master’s degree is just one of many steps I feel I need to take to give myself the best shot of pursuing my dream.
Q: What do you want to get out of this experience?
Nora: Mostly I’m interested in really diving in deep to all the various DAWs, notation softwares, and film composition techniques to learn as much as I can! Seattle’s also a very good place to make connections with independent game and film developers. Microsoft’s hub is here, so Xbox is pretty big around here!
Q: What was the application process like?
Nora: The application was pretty easy! I applied to six schools, and SFI was the easiest application process. The decision is largely made based on your compositions, and it’s good to have a variety! Most places want 3-5 compositions.
Q: How did composing at Lee help you prepare?
Nora: Honestly just having the freedom to write under encouraging professors helped me figure out my sound and gave me a good base of musical vocabulary. Composing music is not much different than writing an essay. You practice and get better at refining your ideas, and expressing new ideas.
Q: How did your Lee experience help in general?
Nora: Lee helped me by really locking in all the fundamentals until they became second nature. It added a lot of tools to my toolbox, and helped me apply the things I learned to my future compositions. It also really just helped me become a better person? It taught me patience, perseverance, camaraderie, and a lot more virtues that just generally helped me grow into someone that I never could’ve imagined becoming before college.
Q: Do you have any plans after graduating?
My director has an internship program with lots of previous alumni down in Hollywood, but there’s also a lot of work in Seattle. The dream is to join a team of composers on an independent video game, and hopefully they’ll like me enough to give me a longer term contract. But honestly, just being a part of a storytelling process and being able to enhance that from what I’ve learned is a valuable experience in itself. I’ll be happy as long as I get to keep creating new music.
Congrats, Nora! We can’t wait to see what all you accomplish.