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Q&A with the New School of Music Faculty

At the beginning of the 2024 academic year, the BYU School of Music welcomed five new full-time music faculty members to its ranks: Christina Castellanos (assistant professor, flute), Nathan Haines (director of orchestras), Randolph Lee (associate professor, trumpet), Keenan Ressor (assistant professor, musicology), and Christian Tran (assistant professor, oboe). In this Q&A-style article, you’ll get to know these fantastic professors and learn their insights about music!

What non-classical artists do you listen to consistently?

 
Castellanos: Billie Eilish
Haines: Cory Wong and Jacob Collier
Lee: The band MUSE
Reesor: The Beetles
Tran: Lianne La Havas, The Wallows, and Flowerovlove

What do you like to do outside of making music?

 
Castellanos: I love to spend time with my kids. My favorite part of the day is having dinner, even if it’s 10:00 p.m., with my kids, watching something on TV, just hanging out. And hiking, I love hiking.

Haines: Biking and writing. I also enjoy disc golf and I’m an amateur chess player. I’ve already challenged a few School of Music faculty to a chess game. Dr. Reesor is very good!

Lee: I like to get into nature, get into the mountains. I like to play disc golf. In Florida, I tried to get into surfing, but I’m not very good at it.

Reesor: It sounds mundane, but I’m a major homebody. I really enjoy spending time with my immediate and extended families. The activity is far less important than being with my family.

Tran: I like running. I’m very slow, though. I’m a back-of-the-pack runner, but I enjoy it. I think it’s my form of meditation.

What advice would you give to students hoping to pursue musical careers?

 
Castellanos: It’s important to network, but it’s more important to be genuine about friendships and connections that you make. You can play really well, you can practice really well, but being a genuine person is just as important as being a good musician.

Lee: Say yes to everything. Get a lot of experience working with a lot of people and playing in different genres of music. The more versatile you are as a musician, the better you are and the more opportunities you will have.

Haines: Play your instrument well. The most time that I had to practice was while I was an undergraduate. I look back on those years now with fondness and appreciation. I know that in the moment, practicing can be such a grind, but it’s so important to spend that time to meditate, to ponder, to work with your instrument, to work with your craft.

Reesor: I would advise students to allow themselves to be driven by their love for music and for people, rather than their own vanity or ambition. No matter how hard you try, there will always be someone who has done something better than you have. But no one knows everything, no one can do everything, so it’s important to know who you are and to cultivate your ability to say what you have to say. That’s where our potential to contribute really lies.

Tran: Try to find balance in your life. When you’re trying to do something at a really high level, it’s really easy for it to become all-consuming. When our whole life revolves around one thing, be it playing the oboe or something else, it can be easy for something really small to throw you. But by keeping your life well-rounded, and keeping things in perspective, you’re able to meet all of those inevitable challenges with a lot more grace.

What is a goal or vision you have while at BYU?

 
Castellanos: I would love to do some recordings. That’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and having the resources here is really exciting. I also have a goal for my students. We’re working on some flute choir pieces to play at the National Flute Association Convention in 2024. It’s a thirty-minute program, and we’re trying to incorporate performers from all departments of the fine arts.

Lee: Helping produce great artists that can have a positive impact in the arts and bring greater light and joy into the world. I think the arts need to have positive forces doing good things and being out there pointing people towards God. I want to help my students find that passion for themselves and be good forces in the world.

Reesor: To use the talent God has given me to bless other people. I really hope for my tenure here to magnify God's gracious gifts of talents to all of us and to show others how to use talents to lift and enrich the lives of others.

What activity outside of music helps you recharge artistically?

 
Castellanos: I tend to have my head down a lot when I’m working or practicing, but I have to remind myself that when I get outside or exercise, I always feel much better. And spending time with my kids helps me put everything in perspective. They help me remember what life is all about.

Tran: Reading has been really important for me. I’m always inspired by wonderful musicians and listening to recordings—that makes me excited to do music. But when I hear the great stories that people are telling, true or fiction, it reminds me of the purpose of creating is connection, and it helps me think about music in a different way.

What is your go-to practice technique when you’ve got little time and lots to do?

 
Tran: If I don’t know the music, the first thing is listening to the music with the score. While I’m listening, I’ll mark places that will be difficult to line up with the ensemble or that just look difficult to learn. And I’ll organize all of the music that I’m learning into different levels of hardness. I’ll never start with the hardest music, just because that would probably be a little unmotivating. So I’ll start somewhere in the middle and work into the hardest stuff. And if there is time at the end, I’ll look at the easy things. But I think just making sure that we’re using our time where it’s most needed is the most important.

Who is your favorite composer? Why?

 
Haines: Whatever I’m conducting at the time. I will always have a soft spot for Mahler, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, you know—all of the greats. But more and more I’m trying to find living composers that I can appreciate. I really like the music of Jessie Montgomery and Zhou Tian, a Chinese American composer.

Reesor: My personal favorite is Bach because he achieved such an incredibly high synthesis of emotional expression and technical achievement. But I would also say that Mozart and Beethoven are unsurpassable in their own way. I think that other composers have had something so unique to say and said it so well that you simply can’t compare them to anyone else. There’s no better-than. There’s only possibly as good in a different way.

The mission of the School of Music is to seek truth through great music. What does that mean to you?

Castellanos: Music is everything. It’s my whole life. But I do feel like I feel the Spirit the most when there is a musical number in church or when I’m playing. It’s the way I like to share my testimony. I vocally share my testimony, but I prefer to share it through music because I think that’s the way to people’s hearts.

Haines: For me, truth through music is found by embodying the human experience through the music that we create—the ups and downs, the triumphs and the failures, the heartache and the joys are all wrapped up in different types of music, different styles and genres. Music is humanity's way of expressing ourselves, and music is that layer that provides meaning beyond what language can provide.

Lee: There is truth and beauty in great music, and I love to promote that in not only how I play, but in the music that I choose to perform. I love to perform music that is uplifting and has beauty, and that’s not just crazy and random and chaotic. This is part of my quest working with modern composers that write beautiful music. I think that kind of [beautiful] music reflects the order of the heavens in a way and can uplift others in the art.

Reesor: For as long as I can remember, music has been the most constant source of spiritual truth in my life. I have a bright testimony of Christ and the restored gospel, but there is truth in music that defies description in word. There are degrees of reverence, of compassion, of faithfulness, and spiritual struggle in music that cannot be captured by words.

Tran: I think it goes back to remembering that performing music, interpreting music, is creation. When I’m interpreting a piece, I’m looking for the message that the composer is putting across, and what my reaction to it is, and I'm trying to be truthful about that in my interpretation. I’m crafting my interpretation in a way that not only puts across the truth of the composer but my truth of how I interact with that music.

This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of the BYU School of Music Journal.

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