Aspiring musician combines composition, music theory, performance degrees

April 23, 2021

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

Vashawn Arora’s intellectual curiosity and musical drive have challenged him to explore snippets of musical styles that have intrigued him and led him on a path to create his own unique style. Vashawn Arora Download Full Image

Arora will graduate with a Bachelor of Music in performance (clarinet) and a Bachelor of Music in music theory and composition (theory). He will also graduate with honors from Barrett, The Honors College, and is the recipient of the Outstanding Creative Arts Award as a 2021 Outstanding Graduate.

“During this past year when many artists found it difficult to stay motivated with their work, my clarinet professors encouraged me to take the time to improve as an artist in new ways,” Arora said.

What began as his Barrett, The Honors College thesis culminated in an album of his music, “This is Jam Music,” that is scheduled for release on digital platforms later this year.

Arora’s thesis involves nearly every stage of creating an album — writing music, learning recording and editing techniques, performing and facilitating collaboration with his peers within COVID-19 restrictions.

“Vashawn's role as a theory tutor, his work on groove in minimalist funk and the impressive scope of his honor's thesis – which sought to combine performance and composition interests with his theoretical work on groove through a transcription, composition and album creation project encompassing both composition and theory – is remarkable,” said Kristina Knowles, assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.

In addition, Arora has conducted extensive research on the clarinet in the area of multi-phonics and other extended techniques to help promote an acoustical understanding of the instrument.

“Vashawn is a talented, driven and curious musician who has a great desire and drive to learn new music, as well as ‘traditional pieces’ from our repertoire,” said Robert Spring, professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “In addition to his ability to learn written music, he also has a talent in improvisation, and especially in American jazz, which he developed during his time at ASU through listening and transcribing.” 

In addition to composing and research, Arora performs in ASU’s top wind band ensembles and in the ASU Philharmonia Orchestra.

“Vashawn has grown to be an incredibly creative and skillful performer,” said Joshua Gardner, clinical associate professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “His recital performances have been polished, with attention to detail in not only his playing and collaborating, but also in his exploration and mastery of various musical genres and styles. He takes any opportunity he can find to perform, and if none are available, he will make opportunities, such as transcribing and recording to remain creative and productive.”

Arora received scholarships from the Obama Scholar and New American University Scholar programs.  He also received a full scholarship through Barrett, The Honors College to study abroad in eastern Australia for four weeks in summer 2019.

“The opportunity to study at ASU and abroad would not have been possible without this financial support and I am extremely appreciative,” Arora said.

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

Answer: I have been inspired by many different musicians, educators and colleagues along the way that have shared their world of music. I am forever grateful to those people for giving me a framework to explore and express myself.

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

A: Through the last four years at the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at ASU, I’ve been exposed to different genres and musical environments that have positively changed my perspective on the function and purpose of music. For this, I have to say thank you to Samuel Peña, community engagement coordinator; Jeffrey Libman, clinical associate professor of jazz studies; and Jason Caslor, associate professor and director of bands. Each of these individuals, among others, have opened up my ears to new music that has inspired my own musical performances and compositions.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’m originally from downtown Phoenix, so ASU was just a skip over the pond.

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

A: My clarinet professors, Robert Spring and Joshua Gardner, have been great mentors throughout my undergraduate studies. They have taught me so many lessons and have seen me grow as a person and a musician. During this past year with the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than doing nothing during this time away from in-person collaboration, my clarinet professors encouraged me to improve as an artist. I took this to heart because it is a lesson that has a much broader meaning. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and do the hard work yourself, especially when everyone else seems to be heading in the opposite direction.

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

A: Do what makes you happy!

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

A: I have a very dear friend from high school, Cole McLeod. He and I would play frisbee throughout the school year on the grass patches at Barrett. When that area was occupied, we would go to the SDFC fields or the front lawn of the School of Music. We would each become busier throughout the years, but we would always come back to these areas of campus to hang out and catch up.

Question: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be attending graduate school for a master’s degree in music. I have auditioned and been admitted into some great programs across the country and abroad. As of now, I’m still deciding which one to attend. I am very thankful for my clarinet and music theory professors, Drs. Robert Spring, Joshua Gardner and Kristina Knowles for helping me through this process.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre


Graduate shares how ASU pre-health opportunities helped influence career in medicine

April 23, 2021

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

Bayley Brennan knew she wanted to pursue a career related to health and wellness early in life. Her mother, a physical therapist, spurred the interest early as she taught Brennan about the body’s muscles. Soon her interest expanded to include the topic of nutrition. Bayley Brennan Bayley Brennan will graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in May with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology, and behavior), a minor in nutrition and healthy living, and a certificate in health and wellness coaching. Download Full Image

“Especially in high school, I feel like there is a lot of societal pressure to look a certain way. My friends and I fell into that pressure. In college, I really wanted to learn about why nutrition was important and how to filter through the stuff that we see on social media versus what we should actually be doing to treat ourselves right,” Brennan said.

This spring, Brennan will graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology, and behavior), a minor in nutrition and healthy living, and a certificate in health and wellness coaching.

Early on in her Arizona State University journey Brennan connected with resources including ASU’s Pre-Health Advising and found professional opportunities to learn from, like working as a chief scribe in an emergency department.

“We work with the doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the emergency department during their whole shift. As they see their patients, we follow them and complete the documentation for the provider,” she said. “It's really cool because you get an insight into the providers’ medical decision-making, why they're doing certain things and also how they can balance multiple patients.”

That hands-on experience helped Brennan determine what career path she would like to pursue after graduation.

“All the doctors I work with are amazing, but I noticed there isn't much of a focus on nutrition. I like the concept of integrative health and wellness coaching – using people's own abilities to help them improve with whatever they're trying to work at.”

Brennan shared more about what drew her to ASU and her experience in The College.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I'm from Tucson and I always thought that I was just going to go to the University of Arizona, but then during the college admissions process, I looked more into ASU and Barrett, The Honors College. I always wanted to be an honor student in college because I was in high school. I thought ASU’s education was already good, but then adding the honors classes and the opportunity to get to know your professors a little bit better, that’s what ultimately really drew me to ASU.

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

A: In the emergency department, we always see crazy critical cases and I never really understood the background behind those cases, until I took an animal physiology class my spring semester of my sophomore year. We learned all these different things, about the kidneys and the heart and how it ties into body function. Then when I went to work, I noticed the lab values matched up and then when we gave medications, I actually understood the mechanism of action and how it worked. It was really cool that my education could tie into what I want to do in the future and that was the first time that I actually saw it in action.

Q: Did you receive any scholarships or financial support while at ASU? If yes, how did those impact your experience?

A: I received the President's Award which is basically the reason that I got to come here. My parents are very fiscally responsible, and wanted me to go to (UArizona) and live at home to save money. I compared the costs and was able to show ASU was not that much more expensive and I could live on campus and get to grow up a little bit. So that scholarship is basically the reason that I got to come here and I'm really glad that I was able to.

Q: Were there any clubs/organizations or opportunities that positively impacted your ASU experience?

A: Alpha Epsilon Delta is the pre-health club on campus and I joined when I was a freshman. I was looking for guidance and knew since everyone was applying to some sort of pre-health program that they would be able to be there and guide me. It has been probably one of the best experiences I've had. I was president this past year, so being able to lead the club that really helped me out when I was an undergrad was a really good experience.

Q: What message or advice would you share for future first-year students?

A: Even if you want to pursue medical school or whatever your goals are, still enjoy your life. I would be nowhere if I didn't have my boyfriend to hang out with outside of class and do fun things with, or my roommates. Make sure that you make time to also care for yourself. I have my exercise routine and my personal self-care stuff.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I got into the University of Arizona College of Medicine, which I'm going to be starting in June. I don't know what I want to do necessarily, there are so many options and I'm looking forward to getting to explore them.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences