Alumni Spotlight October 2020

Sophie graduated with a degree in Music & Worship and is now serving as the Minister of Music at First Church in Butler, Pennsylvania. She is also a talented songwriter and performed many of her original songs during her time at Lee. “Come Around,” “Heart on Display,” “All Along,” & “Here to Stay” EP are available everywhere!

Watch the video below to hear one of her singles, “Come Around!”

Called to Lead: Convocation Interview with Carlos & Caroline

A few weeks ago, Lee Music alumni, Carlos Rising and Caroline Ward led the student body in a Convocation worship service. We asked them a few questions about their experience and their advice for future music ministers.

Q: So tell us a little about yourself? What year did you graduate and what have you been up to lately?

CARLOS: I graduated from Lee in December 2017. While at Lee I was in Campus Choir, Small Jazz Ensemble, Chamber Music and LeeU Worship. I am currently a full-time singer/songwriter and musician. I just released a project called Burned Out E.P on all streaming platforms.

CAROLINE: I graduated from Lee with a B.M. in Music and Worship. Two weeks after graduating, my husband and I got married and I took a job at Two Rivers Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I served on their Worship Arts Staff for two years. Just this past August, my husband and I felt called to move to Phoenix, Arizona, where he now me heads a non-profit; I am currently at Arizona State University, where I am working towards getting my Master’s in Speech Pathology. During my time at Lee, I was in Small Jazz Ensemble, Chorale, and LeeU Worship!

Q: What was it like to lead Convocation again?

CARLOS: I’ve always hoped to be welcomed back to Lee in some capacity, but to be invited to lead an entire chapel service was very humbling and surreal. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Conn Center stage as a student, but as an alumni it holds a different weight and responsibility which was challenging but also rewarding. The students and the faculty were great and the band we brought were made up of some of my best friends in the world and also were Lee Alumni. It was an amazing experience.

CAROLINE: It was SUCH a sweet and surreal moment—during my time at Lee, I always dreamed of coming back to campus for some sort of chapel service, and to be able to do that just a few years after graduating was nothing short of an honor. Lee’s culture and DNA had a huge role in my spiritual journey—not to mention the campus itself holds a lot of memories—so it was just a sweet, sweet time.

Q: Describe the process of choosing songs/planning a worship service for future worship leaders.

CARLOS: We were asked by the administration to play some original songs but to also pick current worship songs that the Lee student body could sing along too. We knew that the originals we picked had to be easy to sing long too and have a style that is conducive to congregational worship. We also chose to feature songs we have written for Lee University while in LeeU Worship. Since we wrote them as students at Lee, we thought it would be nice to pay homage to our University while also singing songs the students know. For the popular worship songs we wanted to pick songs that fit our style musically but also pick songs that were worshipful and meditative, that way if you didn’t know the song, you could listen to the lyrics and still be in that worshipful atmosphere.

CAROLINE: When planning a worship service, you have to start with prayer! Ask the Holy Spirit what he wants to communicate to His people, and do your best to be a facilitator of that. If I don’t have any obvious, clear direction, I trust that the Lord is guiding my process—from there, I think about a few things: What message is this song conveying? Do I have a healthy balance between vertical worship, personal reflection, and congregational declaration? Have I made room for the Spirit’s leading, amidst my structure? Are the songs familiar/singable? Does this arrangement fit the band that I’m leading? There is A LOT to consider when planning a set—I could go on and on!

Q: Did you have a favorite moment leading worship?

CARLOS: It’s always special when you hear/see others sing a song you wrote in a worship setting. We did 2 originals that basically not a lot of people have heard, but from the beginning on both songs, the room was singing like they’ve been singing these songs for months. It reminded me God can use anybody for his glory, and I’m grateful he chose to give me and Caroline, my music partner in Re.Created, a platform where we can bring attention to him.

CAROLINE: One of the most memorable experiences that I have had leading worship was definitely the Evening of Worship of the Fall of my Senior year, when we released the LeeU worship album. Songwriting has always been a huge passion of mine, and it was so special to be able to work with such an amazing group of students, write songs for our campus, and then be able to sing them over people. That entire process was definitely the highlight of my Lee experience!

Q: How did you realize that God’s plan for you involved music ministry?

CARLOS: There was a time in my life where I wanted to give up music. I graduated high school and decided I wanted to go on the road for the summer and play wherever I could. Churches, coffee shops, birthday parties, anything. After that summer I realized how hard the music business was and I was basically just doing it for myself. I decided to just pursue an associates degree in business and get a regular 9-5 because it was the safe option. After 2 years I was almost depressed with how outside I was from my calling. I wasn’t inspired, motivated and had no real passion. I then decided to go on a limb and audition for the music program at Lee. I had no experience playing classical music, I didn’t play piano, never been in a choir and couldn’t read music at all. In my audition I know I failed miserably. But the University called and said they wanted to put me in the Pre-Music program to help better define my skills and have me re-audition after my first semester. I felt God say “you make your plans, but I order your steps. Trust in me and I’ll lead you where you want to go” 
So I decided to give it a shot and after a semester I had grown so much musically, had a new passion for learning, playing music and worship, and I believed in myself. After my re-audition I was in the program and from there I knew, this was gonna be the rest of my life. Dedicating my life to Jesus who gave this gift, and will continue to use it for his glory alone.

CAROLINE: To be honest, there was never an “ah-ha!” moment, but just steady, continued affirmation from The Lord that this was what I was made to do. When I came to Lee, I chose my major without really having any concept of what I was called to do and how my major would fit into that. But as I’m sure you know, Lee has some INCREDIBLE professors who truly care about you and your heart—and I had some amazing mentors who prayed for me, encouraged me, and walked me through what it looked like to be called to something. One influential book that I read in one of my Music Ministry class was “Is God Really Calling Me?” which was super helpful in me trying to discern God’s call on my life.

Q: Alright last question, any advice for current music majors? 

CARLOS: Don’t quit. I know theory is hard. I know ensembles are stressful and time consuming. I know music history is the hardest class in the world. Don’t quit. If I learned anything at Lee it’s that the school of music is a program of refinement. Growth in education, spirituality and relationships are essential and there is no finer program where you can get all of these things at the highest level. You can do it!

CAROLINE: Enjoy the journey—you’ll never get your college years back, so soak in every moment! Take advantage of all of the resources and incredible mentors around you; they are in your corner! And, most importantly, get plugged into a local church! These are very formative years for you and your future ministry; don’t lose sight of the importance of filling your cup before pouring out.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us! We wish you all the best as you continue to follow God’s calling in your life!

Student Spotlight May 2020

We have some exciting news!

Lauren Mills, a junior music education student, has been selected as a state representative for TMEA! To fully understand this honor, we asked Lauren to explain it herself.

“From June 23-25 (Lord willing), I’ll be traveling to DC with three other collegiate representatives from the Tennessee Music Education Association to attend the 2020 NAfME Collegiate Advocacy Summit “Hill Day”. During this event, we will receive advocacy and leadership training that will be put to use on the last day when we meet with the Senators and Congressmen of Tennessee advocating for music funding and support on a legislative level.”

But that isn’t all!

Lauren was also selected as this year’s Presser Scholar for the School of Music. The Presser Scholar is awarded to a music major entering their senior year, recognizing them for their dedication and excellence in the field of music.

Both of these are huge honors, and we are so proud of you Lauren! Thank you for showing excellence in the School of Music!

Alumni Spotlight May 2020

This month’s alumni spotlight goes to Dr. Ryan Fisher, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Memphis. As busy as his life is, he put aside some time for some questions!

Q: What is it like to be an associate dean?

R: It is a tremendous honor to serve as associate dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at the University of Memphis. I have gained so much knowledge and respect for the various disciplines represented in our college – architecture, art, communication and film, journalism and strategic media, theatre and dance, and my home unit, the School of Music. With over 1800 students and 150 faculty and staff, our college is extremely diverse and plays an important role on our campus and in the broader Memphis community. Our faculty represents some of the brightest and most talented scholars and artists in the profession, and our students and alumni are positively impacting their communities and achieving great things. It is exciting to have my finger on the pulse of all that is happening in the college and university and a tremendous privilege to know my thoughts and efforts are influencing policy and practices that directly impact our students, faculty, and staff.

Q: How did Lee help you get to where you are now?

R: First, Lee established the foundation of my knowledge and skills in the field of music and, more specifically, music education. Is it at Lee where my passion for impacting the world through music was ignited. My professors at Lee provided the tools I needed to become an artist and advocate for the importance of the arts in education and society. That passion continues to drive my efforts in advocating for the importance of the arts as an essential component of our university’s diverse offerings, and promoting the power and influence of the arts to positively impact and change a community. Memphis is known as a music city, but many may not know that our cultural industries have been central to the development of numerous arts districts throughout the city that are thriving with independent restaurants, small businesses, and arts organizations.

Q: How has music education shaped your life?

R: Music education has allowed me to see the beauty and diversity of the world. My countless hours of individual practice, ensemble rehearsals, and academic music study have enhanced my character and leadership skills. Because of my musical training, I have developed the skills to plan and execute large-scale events and create complex policies that consider potential impacts on programs and groups of people. I also have the self-discipline and perserverence needed to complete difficult tasks. The creative components of music-making have also influenced by ability to dream and vision for the various organizations I have been fortunate to serve.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time at Lee University?

R: While I was at Lee, I had the privilege of being in the Lee Singers, Symphonic Band, Wind Ensemble (as a founding member), and Pi Kappa Pi. I made such incredible memories in all of these organizations and established life-long relationships with men and women who are now impacting the world and achieving great things in their respective disciplines. I was gifted to study with fine teachers and musicians who patiently mentored me and provided me wonderful opportunities to develop my craft while molding my character. My fondest memories from Lee come from the numerous tours and performances the Lee Singers executed across the United States, as well as China and the UK. As a country boy from a small town in northeast Texas, I would have never imagined the places I would visit or the diverse people I would encounter during my time in Singers. Those opportunities shaped the man I am today and opened my eyes to see the world in a different way. Because of those life-changing experiences, I learned to be more tolerant of people who do not look like me or share my same experiences AND to love “the least of these”.

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Ryan Austin Fisher

Faculty Spotlight April 2020

Dr. Ron Brendel has been on sabbatical this semester, and was excited to talk to us about it and some other big news!

Q: How has sabbatical been for you?

R: It has been a welcomed change of pace…I think I’ve been at this higher ed thing for 36 years, so it was good to take time away for a project, and just a sort of mind-clearning break. The whole paradigm shift with the global health issue caused some unforeseen challenges, but I have managed to do some of what I intended back in January.

Q: You were just accepted the position of Director of Graduate Studies in Music! What are you looking forward to the most?

R: This is a position I did not really go seeking, but have been thinking about administrative work for a few years, so when it was presented, after a few days of thought and prayer, I accepted. In a way, I’m looking forward to learning something new about the inside workings of the academy, and more specifically, to trying to facilitate some tightening up of degree programs, and doing some degree assessment. The bottom line, though, is to try to always have the student as the main motivation in any decisions or changes that may be made.

Q: Have you come up with the title for the book you’re writing during your sabbatical?

R: It changed a little from my proposal to when I actually submitted the idea to the publisher, but at the moment it is “Singing Britten: Suggestions for Tenors”

Q: What is one thing you would tell seniors graduating this May?

R: Without question, this is the hardest question to answer….and if I only get one “thing to tell seniors” it would be to stay grounded in the Truth of Jesus Christ. My life verse is Philippians 4:8-9. If your mind is firmly on Christ, everything else is secondary. Everything.

We can’t wait to see you back at Lee in your new role!