Undergraduate music student shares her passion for learning and teaching, engaging others

April 19, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Eliana O’Brien thrives in environments that require personal engagement and creative flexibility. Eliana O'Brien Download Full Image

In May, she will graduate with a Bachelor of Music in music learning and teaching.

In spring 2020, O’Brien was awarded a grant from the Kennedy Center to create a one-minute short film through the center’s Art Under a Minute project (O’Brien’s video is fifth). The short-form videos, called “brain breaks,” are described as breaks from at-home learning – moments to interact and shift one’s thinking or perspective. 

“This process helped me realize that I really, really love learning,” said O’Brien. “I am so grateful for the interdisciplinary opportunities this school has offered throughout my time here.” 

O’Brien is an accomplished pianist, harpsichordist, jazz vocalist and plays the euphonium.

“Eliana is first and foremost a creative individual, always thinking big, including community and finding ways to engage audiences,” said Deanna Swoboda, associate professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “Her professional history and personal hobbies center around the craft of organizing creative community experiences, and she intends to connect people and support fine artistry in all that she does.”

This May, O’Brien will complete her third year as a resident assistant in Arizona State University Housing, where she coordinates creative programs for over 500 residents and streamlines communication between university staff and residents.

In 2019, O’Brien worked with the Santa Fe Opera as a substitute usher for the summer; served as collaborative pianist and librarian with the Quintessence Choral Festival, where she accompanied rehearsals and prepared scores for the Santa Fe Symphony and mass choir; and served as artistic director and conductor of the New American Chorus, a premiere Women’s Chamber Chorus at ASU.  She has also worked as a freelance pianist for over eight years. While student teaching full time this semester, O’Brien was involved with jazz classes, private lessons and completing an internship learning how to tune pianos.

“Eliana is committed to being the best she can be by learning about everything she can,” said Margaret Schmidt, assistant director and professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “She has pushed herself to stretch her teaching and musicianship skills, so that she can design exciting learning opportunities to share with her future students.”

As a member of the Arizona State University tuba/euphonium studio, O’Brien designed and currently maintains the studio’s first Instagram account. She received a special talent award and an academic scholarship, which allowed her to attend ASU as an out-of-state student.

“Eliana brings her creative energy and curiosity to her teaching as well, and whatever she does next, her future students are going to be lucky to work with her,” said Sandra Stauffer, professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and senior associate dean in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I cannot name one specific moment, because music feels less like an “aha” and more like settling into my favorite spot on a big cozy couch. I look forward to it every day. There have been countless moments where I perform with an ensemble, hear a new record or read about some nerdy instrumental thing, and I get goosebumps and just laugh to myself at the realization that the silly little intended college major decision I made at age 17 was so, so good.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Curiosity is precious. I have taken a smattering of courses in different areas, simply because I was curious about random stuff and my time at ASU has taught me the value of honoring those obsessions. Devoting the time and energy to inquire about something that interests me — or even bothers me — will almost always result in rewarding new experiences and knowledge.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU was the final school that I visited, and Professor Swoboda was by far the kindest, coolest professor I met in my auditions. I was not entirely set on an instrument and ASU had a very welcoming attitude toward my enthusiasm to explore multiple artistic paths. The buildings on campus were beautiful, and it felt like the right place to be.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: I have always dearly appreciated the landscape architecture on campus. My favorite spots revolve around plants and the little public areas just for hanging out. One of my friends in the urban planning major introduced me to the concept of the “third space,” which is essentially an intentional space that exists outside of home and work. It’s just a place for people to be, and it improves the health of communities. To me, this is just the most tender, wonderful thing ever. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Write. It. Down. I cannot count the number of times I thumbed through a messy notebook to find one single sentence I jotted down during a lecture. And in 30 years, I know I will really enjoy reading the thoughts I had as a 20-something. 

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


Honduran pianist realizes his dream at ASU

April 19, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Music has been a crucial part of Joel Adalid Martinez Lorenzana’s life for as long as he can remember. Joel Martinez Lorenzana Joel Lorenzana Download Full Image

This spring, he will graduate with a Master of Music in performance with a concentration in performance pedagogy.

Martinez Lorenzana has been collecting music from his home country of Honduras for years, so when he had the opportunity to program a lecture recital consisting exclusively of music composed in Honduras, he was thrilled. Some of the works were handwritten or missing pages, so he had the daunting task of transcribing and reconstructing the pieces. In addition, almost half of a second recital was programmed with contemporary Latin American music.

“Given that I personally know all of these composers, and that I commissioned and premiered two of the works for the first time in my career, made me feel a connection to the music I had never experienced before,” said Martinez Lorenzana. “It was a fantastic experience.”

For several years prior to attending ASU, Martinez Lorenzana had been teaching piano at the largest university in Honduras, the National Autonomous University of Honduras.

“Joel chose to study at ASU with the goal of raising the level of music education in his home country of Honduras,” said Hannah Creviston, clinical associate professor of piano.  “When a student clearly has a vision that reaches far beyond themselves, they take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, and that is just what Joel has done. Additionally, he has used his time here to share Honduran piano music and composers with us, thus enriching our lives and expanding our repertoire. Joel has grown tremendously as a teacher, performer, presenter and musician while here and I am very excited to see the impact he will have in the future.”

Fifteen years after he first learned about ASU in 2006 through an initial meeting with ASU Professor Emeritus Walter Cosand at a summer festival in Indiana, Martinez Lorenzana was able to attend his dream school and complete his degree at a large research university.

Martinez Lorenzana received a Fulbright Scholarship administered by the Latin American Scholarship Program of American Universities, a section of the Fulbright program oriented specifically at Latin American university faculty, which covered his tuition and living expenses while attending ASU.

“Being selected for one of the most prestigious programs of education and cultural exchange in the United States makes me feel very privileged and honored,” said Martinez Lorenzana.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I have the fondest memories of my father teaching me piano and the fundamentals of music theory and of my mother taking me to private lessons for years. After an initial business major and halfway through a civil engineering degree in college, I transitioned fully to a music degree and never looked back.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Everyone is so open and helpful at ASU that it has definitely changed my perspective on how to be a true mentor to my students and to think of creative ways to help them reach their true potential even outside of the classroom.  Every course I have taken has helped me view problems I had been thinking about for years with a fresh perspective. Some of the courses on musicology, music theory and even Latin American studies have shaped my way of thinking and heavily influenced my degree capstone projects.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Hannah Creviston taught me unwavering passion for teaching students of all ages, while also tackling difficult scenarios that require tremendous energy, commitment and preparation head on, such as working with people with disabilities. My piano professor, Dr. Cathal Breslin, taught me to listen and to approach my playing in a whole new way, paying attention to every nuance and detail.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Live in the moment. Every stage of life is wonderful, so make sure to put in the work in everything you do as it will certainly pay later. Take advantage of all the incredible resources available at ASU and its knowledgeable faculty. Time flies and before you realize it, you will be done.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?  

A: The Music Library. The huge collection of books, videos and CDs, and especially all the scores made it my favorite spot by far to read and to work on all the writing assignments.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am starting a PhD in music education at Western University next fall.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle community music making. Western culture has rendered hundreds of cultures around the world invisible. Without limitations imposed by curriculum, standardization and accreditation of institutions — I think, therefore I am — community musicmaking can thrive and engage in practices from different native peoples that does not limit their view of the world as something to just know but something that has to be lived and experienced. I would aim to bring forward the “otherwise” of being-feel-make-think (embodied experience) of native cultures as opposed to knowing only.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music