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Music grads’ successes at ASU hit all the right notes

Carlos Castañeda, who received a Bachelor of Music in Music Education, was selected as the 2015 Outstanding Undergraduate for the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

May 27, 2015

May 11 was commencement at ASU, marking the bittersweet end of years of study for graduates, as well as the start of exciting plans for the future. The 2015 graduates in the ASU School of Music include 59 undergraduate, 55 master of music and master of arts, 16 doctor of musical arts, and 6 doctor of philosophy degree recipients. Each of these graduates deserves recognition for their achievements; three in particular exemplify the school’s mission to empower students to become creative leaders who transform society through music based on their exceptional projects, research and accomplishments in their respective programs.

Carlos Castañeda

Bachelor of Music in Music Education student Carlos Castañeda, selected as the 2015 Outstanding Undergraduate for the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, has focused his studies on mariachi music teaching.

“Education in mariachi music has been growing exponentially in the U.S., but there are very few resources out there to help teachers instruct more efficiently in their classrooms,” says Castañeda.

“As part of the School of Music — one of the best schools of music in the country — I have been given the opportunity to get involved in many projects that have helped my current research. Although the curriculum for my music education program was made mostly for band, choir, orchestra and general music teachers, my teachers have been very flexible to let me experience and research in these areas and obtain techniques and skills and apply them to mariachi music teaching.”

“Carlos has worked very hard to earn his BM in music education and tries to learn as much as he can,” says Marg Schmidt, associate professor of music education – strings. “He always maintains a positive, ‘can do’ attitude towards learning that is contagious to his students. His students play well, and parents and supervisors comment about his exceptional teaching skills.”

“I am lucky to have been chosen to represent all of the other outstanding graduates at ASU,” says Castañeda. “I thank my professors and colleagues that have believed in me, in my work and my future.” Castañeda plans to return to ASU in fall 2015 for a master’s degree in music education. He will continue his research by starting a beginning mariachi ensemble, with students aged six to eight years old.

Serena Weren

In addition to her conducting studies, Doctor of Musical Arts in Conducting student Serena Weren helped design and carry out a large study, using the ASU Sun Devil Marching Band, that investigated the association of musical engagement, biomarkers and social network dynamics.

“A better understanding of physiological responses and social connections in musical engagement has the potential to inform our personal music choices, promote the development of viable musical therapeutic tools and methods, and lead to the evolution of evidence-based educational policies,” says Weren. “It is my hope that this research will contribute to our understanding of the benefits and unique qualities that come from musical engagement.”

Weren’s mentor and supporter for this research was Gary Hill, professor of music and director of ensembles. “Serena exemplifies the ideal, 21st-century academician — she is, at once, passionately pursuing her specialty (wind band conducting), while deeply engaged in interdisciplinary research involving psychoneuroendocrinology, social network analysis and music,” says Hill.

Weren has big plans for after graduation: She has accepted the prestigious position of director of bands at Loyola University in New Orleans, beginning in the fall. Although excited for this new role, Weren admits that she “will definitely miss ASU’s vibrant community of incredible scholars, musicians and friends who encourage dreaming big and who aren't afraid to support the realization of those ideas in any way possible.”

Melissa Modifer

Bachelor of Music Theatre student Melissa Modifer’s vocal skills earned her the high honor of singing the national anthem at the spring undergraduate commencement ceremony. Modifer is a gifted actress and, singer and a talented songwriter. During her time at ASU, she has enjoyed putting on recitals and performing in studio classes because, she says, she gets feedback on her music from her peers.

“I’ve obviously always loved performing, but what I love about theatre is not only that it entertains, but it causes the audience to reflect upon their own lives,” says Modifer. “That is the same reason why I write music. There is no way one can be a believable actor on stage, or genuinely connect with people if one doesn’t have a full understanding and awareness of oneself as well. As a songwriter, I have learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined, and because of that, I am able to change lives on stage both as an actress and as a songwriter.”

“Melissa Modifer is truly one of the most talented singing actresses we have ever had in the Music Theatre Program,” says Dale Dreyfoos, professor of opera and musical theatre. “In addition to her magnificent voice and superb acting skills, perhaps Melissa’s greatest talent is that she radiates the joy of performance in everything she does. Her performance of Reno Sweeney in the recent Lyric Opera Theatre program production of ‘Anything Goes’ was truly unforgettable.”

In the fall, Modifer plans to move to New York City to pursue a career in musical theatre and songwriting.

“I am very honored and humbled to be chosen as one of the outstanding graduates of my class,” Modifer says. “Having graduated high school in 2005, I’ve taken the long way around in life, and receiving this honor is something that reminds me that all of my hard work was worth it.”

Public Contact: 
Heather Beaman
School of Music Communications Liaison

Media Contact:
Heather Beaman
School of Music Communications Liaison