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Music department makes more than music

Anjanae Crump, Managing Editor

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The University of New Orleans’ Music Department is staffed with experienced and widely respected music professionals. The faculty includes recipients of Guggenheim fellowships as well as Grammy winners.

Coca-Cola Endowed Chair of Jazz Studies Stephen Masakowski said, “I’m very proud of our outstanding faculty, but I’m mostly proud of our students. I believe that in the music world, the best learning happens between students who are serious about their education. And the music students at UNO create a very positive learning environment for students and faculty alike.”

Masakowski, a well-known jazz guitarist, has recorded solo albums as well as numerous recordings with other artists, including as a member of what has been called New Orleans’ finest jazz ensemble “Astral Project.” Masakowski is one of dozens of renowned musicians who work with students UNO students from all over the world to study areas of concentration that include composition, jazz studies, music studies and performance.

Department Manager Missy Bowen said, “If you’re coming in as a freshman, you’ll find a community. I love our whole building. Our building is music, film and theatre, and it is such an amazing creative community; the seniors look out for the freshmen.”

“[Students] will learn the nuts and bolts of music theory. They’ll learn how to work and play cooperatively. They’ll learn how to develop discipline and develop entrepreneurial skills, to network and create a lifetime of friendships and relationships that will serve them both creatively and professionally.”

“If you come in as a singer, you’ll be singing in church services. If you come in as a jazz performer, you’ll be down on Frenchman Street. You leave with this amazing blend of a solid liberal-arts education. You learn how to write and how to express an idea. You’ll learn how to argue and defend your point, and you’ll learn where you stand artistically. And I think that those tools will carry you your whole life,” Bowen said.

Along with gigs in the city, the music department hosts some of its own musical outlets where the tools Bowen mentioned can be practiced. “Jazz at the Sandbar” is one of them. During the showcases, held Wednesday nights in October, November, March and April, music students get to perform live with a respected guest artist.

“It was originally to have the students be engaged with professional artists…They work out material at rehearsals that happens the day before the performance. And a lot of times, the guest artist will send them musical charts of their material so that the combos can practice for weeks preparing for the show,” said director of the non-profit group, New Orleans Jazz Celebration, and co-producer of “Jazz at the Sandbar” Jason Patterson.

“Our other flagship performance program is called Musical Excursions. This year we’re presenting four major concerts. We bring in international artists, free for students, funded by student government. We just try to expose people to different types of music. A lot of times people have never seen music live, except maybe a hip-hop guy or on TV or YouTube. So the live experience is really magical…We just try to be as involved as we can across the campus,” said Bowen.

Many students who participated in the music program have gone on to have successful careers in a variety of professions.

“We’ve had folks like Jeremy Davenport, Nicholas Payton and a lot of others that have gone on to major, nationally recognized careers. I’d say the majority of our graduates have successful working music careers,” said Patterson.

“For a lot of them, the advantage they have here in New Orleans is that we have a thriving live music community. Plus, a lot of those outlets allow you to do your own compositions so that when they’re in the jazz studies program here, they can immediately start assimilating into the music industry here in New Orleans and possibly start touring, or just have a professional career here in the city,” he continued.

However, the music industry isn’t the only place UNO music graduates have found success.

Bowen added, “our graduates include people who work in the music industry, who work in the teaching business, people who are leaders in the healthcare professions. It’s such a variety. Music teaches you so many things…We have a graduate, David Yeh, who’s a classical violinist and he’s a noted neurosurgeon in Mississippi. People are all around the world with UNO music degrees doing a variety of things.”

Bowen said, “You learn improvisation is really the key. Like the degree I studied for, the career I studied for doesn’t even exist anymore. But you learn with the tools of music, which is really a language. You get the basics down and then from there you are motivated to improvise. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but with practice and the tools in your tool kit, you learn to go different places that you might not otherwise have gone.”

To learn more about the music department, visit

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Music department makes more than music