ASU graduate student builds community and inclusion through choral conducting and composition


Colin Cossi is earning his Master of Music in choral conducting this May from ASU.


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Graduate student Colin Cossi has been extremely active in the choral conducting and composition communities at ASU. As a conductor he has led the Sol Singers, been a teaching assistant for the Concert Choir and a co-conductor for the ASU Choral Union, and co-taught beginning and advanced undergraduate choral conducting.

Cossi will graduate in May with a Master of Music in choral conducting.

“Colin is a natural leader,” said Joshua Palkki, assistant professor and interim director for the choral program. “He has, in many ways, served as a leader in the choral program for the past two academic years. He is a creative and accomplished composer, a fine conductor and a teacher. “

In addition, Cossi composes choral music, vocal solos and chamber works that have been performed in Arizona, California, New York, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I started writing compositions at 18 for my friends,” said Cossi. “As an undergraduate, I chose to pursue music education as my career, which left little time for composing, so I stopped for almost 10 years.”

Then, two events inspired him to begin composing again.

He discovered students were having difficulty singing again after COVID-19. So, he made a list of all the things the students were doing well and all the things they were not doing well, and he wrote a piece that would fit their strengths.

The second was writing a three-movement work as a gift for a three-day multicultural wedding of a childhood friend. Since the Indian couple were from different backgrounds, he wrote what he called a culturally and linguistically correct piece to celebrate each day of the wedding. The piece was premiered by the In Medio Chamber Choir of Portland, Oregon, at a concert attended by the couple.

“It was life-changing,” said Cossi. “I had no formal training in composition, but I knew then that I also wanted composition to be part of my life. I discovered that writing compositions is another chance to contribute to the world of singing with new stories.”

He recently won the Phoenix Chamber Choir student composition competition in Vancouver with his composition “The Last Lagoon.” His composition “Light from Light” has been selected for the 2024 American Choral Directors Association Western Region Conference Composer Playlist.

Question: What was your "aha" moment when you first decided you wanted to study choral conducting?   

Answer: When I was trying to figure out what major to pursue in college, I knew I loved music, theater and band. But I was also teaching at a preschool and liked the idea of teaching. I thought if I could do something that I love and help people individually, that would be wonderful. I felt propelled towards the policy and planning of music and the way that you can uplift students as a teacher and as a school, so I chose to major in music education. I began my music teaching career in Washington state in 2016.

When COVID happened and singing in schools was canceled, I discovered I missed being around singing and started applying to programs in choral conducting.

It was also a very divisive time, and I saw this as an opportunity for people of different belief and value systems to come together through song.

Q: Why did you select ASU?

A: I was originally supposed to attend the University of Hawaii but decided to come to ASU with two other graduate students in the choral program.

At the time, I was also following a Black Haitian American composer named Daniel Bernard Roumain. I read a news story about him having written a piece for the Tulsa Opera Company to commemorate the Tulsa race massacre. I started following him on Instagram, not knowing he was a professor at ASU. When I got to ASU, I met him in our office areas and told him how much I loved his work, and he said I could study with him. I've been taking lessons with him for the last two years. He really inspires me to compose by the meta questions he asks me that drive me to be a better composer.

Q: How has being involved with the local choral community impacted you?

A: I had not been to Phoenix until I moved here, so I thought of it as hot and full of concrete.

What I learned was that not only has ASU been wonderful, but getting off campus and into the Phoenix community was incredible. Musically, this city is a tapestry full of many different colors, of threads of different kinds of music, different kinds of people, and different kinds of experiences that you can have if you choose. I have worked with two Grammy Award-winning choirs. I have been taught different lessons about art, business and teaching from Christopher Gabbitas, artistic director of the Phoenix Chorale; and Tom Peterson, assistant conductor of the Phoenix Chorale; and Nicole Belmont, the executive director. I have been mentored by Herbert Washington, the conductor and artistic director of the Phoenix Boys Choir, and worked with their choirs for over six months. The president of Arizona American Choral Directors Association, Katie Garrich, who is the choir teacher at McClintock High School, has also offered mentorship and advice.

This community is full of musical stars who have been so gracious to take me under their wing and offer me moments of mentorship. It has been a lesson that no matter where you go, there are people who you can learn from even if they are not your professors.

Not everyone is blessed to get the opportunities I have had. I'm grateful to every person and experience – from the teachers and professors to the other students, from the leadership to the Dean's Office, for every grant, scholarship, professional opportunity, coaching session and off-campus experience. I am so grateful to everyone who has made ASU such an immersive educational experience.

Q: What's the best piece of advice you give to someone who's still in school?

A: The only person whose job it is to take care of you is you, so make sure you take care of yourself. Even if that means sacrificing something else in your life. Everyone is going to steer you down the path that worked for them. You have to be open enough to receive education from as many sources as possible, so you can make the right conclusion for you.

Q: Did you receive any scholarships or fellowships at ASU?

A: I was fully funded through a teaching assistantship and special talent award.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: I have been accepted into the doctoral program in choral conducting at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

I'm excited for the new journey, but I am sad to say goodbye here. My hope is that I can keep my friendships and connections in the Phoenix Metro area alive by collaborating with people artistically over media. I believe art is meant to be collaborative, and we don't have to be limited by the distance.

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

A: I would probably turn it into some type of endowment or music scholarships to make sure that students who wanted to study music and music education could do so.

My dream is to start an organization called “Story and Song.” I'd like to have a multi-choir organization, a children's choir, an unpaid semi-professional volunteer group and a small paid ensemble. Each would premiere one new composition per concert. Each new composition would be recorded and documented from the beginning of dreaming it up and talking to the composer all the way through the rehearsal process to the performance and interviews after the performance. There would also be a podcast or YouTube series of what it's like to bring these stories into song.

So, if I had $40 million, it would be to have that organization and a massive network of scholarships to make sure that we are keeping music alive and accessible for people who want to be in it professionally.

More Sun Devil community


Mountain America Stadium

Hey, Big 12 fans: This is what ASU athletics is all about

To fans from Manhattan, Kansas; Ames, Iowa; Stillwater, Oklahoma, and all the other Big 12 stops, welcome to Tempe, home of the Arizona State Sun Devils.We look forward to seeing you this season, and…

ASU football helmet sits on a pedestal with other Big 12 helmets on a football field

Big 12 Football Media Days open new world for Sun Devil Athletics

LAS VEGAS — The Mountaineer from West Virginia carried his musket in one arm as he walked across the field at Allegiant Stadium. A few yards away, Cosmo the Cougar, the mascot for Brigham Young…

Turtle being measured and photographed.

School of Ocean Futures student to conduct marine research as NSF fellow

Nicole Kaiser grew up spending summers at Lake Michigan and developed a deep appreciation for aquatic ecosystems at a young age. Now, as one of the first doctoral students in the newly launched…