Experts on "Music"

Robert Denham

  • Composition and Theory Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator

Known by students for his caring personality and his precise musical insights, Dr. Denham is currently the area coordinator of our Composition Department. His students appreciate his ability to discuss the fine details of their composition while maintaining a vision of the whole work, and they have been able to glean much wisdom from Dr. Denham's active compositional career and broad range of professional experiences. In addition to teaching composition lessons, he also coordinates the New Music Ensemble, teaches theory and composition courses, and coordinates annual composition concerts and contests for Biola students.

Education & Influences

Dr. Denham's dream since high school had been to play trumpet professionally in a major orchestra, and he dedicated 4-5 hours a day to practice in order to achieve his goal. While he was at Biola, God gave him a desire to compose and ultimately re-directed the course of his life as he had seen it. The change began when he entered his first piece, a short set of duets for tuba and trumpet, into the Biola Composition Competition and won third place. He recalls, " I have to say, first of all, that to this day I still don't think I deserved third place; another work on the program, far superior to any of the other works, didn't even place that year. But the Lord used that experience to trigger something in me. Composition immediately became an obsession, and through the course of time has proved to be an enduring passion."

Teachers include Michael Fiday, Joel Hoffman, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, Roger Bourland, Ian Krouse, and the late Jerry Goldsmith.

Career

A diverse body of work that spans a range of genres, Dr. Denham's music has been performed the world over by individuals and groups such as:

  • Carl St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony
  • Timothy Lees (Concertmaster, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
  • Ilan Morgenstern (bass trombonist, San Antonio Symphony and Houston Grand Opera)
  • Texas Tech University Trombone Quartet with Jame T. Decker (former trombonist Honolulu Symphony Orchestra)
  • Brian Bensing (Silicon Valley Symphony)
  • The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music Philharmonia
  • Rodney Winther and the CCM Chamber Players and Wind Symphony
  • University Wind Ensembles from Kansas State University, Cal State Bakersfield, University of South Carolina, and University of Redlands
  • Los Angeles Flute Quartet
  • Orion Saxophone Quartet
  • Credo Trio
  • Vientos Trio
  • Los Angeles Flute Quartet
  • Orion Saxophone Quartet
  • Academia Musicale di San Casciano Orchestra e Coro di bambini (Florence, Italy)

His music has been performed in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia in countless venues. Some of these are

  • SCI National and Regional Conferences (SCI)
  • Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers Conferences (CFAMC)
  • 8th and 11th Annual Festivals of Contemporary Music
  • CBDNA Virginia Regional Conference
  • Southwest Regional Tuba Euphoniun Conferences
  • The American Bulgarian New Music Festival (Northern Kentucky University)
  • Composers Inc.
  • Culver City Chamber Music Series
  • The Pacific Contemporary Music Center (Long Beach CA)
  • Ernest Bloch Festival (Newport OR)

His publishers include:

  • Falls House Press
  • GIA Publishing
  • Pasquina Publishing Company
  • Imagine Music Publishing
  • Pelican Music Publishing
  • Tuba Euphonium Press
  • Cimarron Music Publishing

Dr. Denham has received wide recognition and acclaim for his skill, winning the Hvar International Composition Competition (Croatia), the CCM Philharmonia Composition Competition, and the Gluck Brass Quintet Composition Competition. In 1998, he also received the prestigious Stanley Wilson Composer's Award (UCLA), and he has received awards from ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) annually since 2005.

Dr. Denham is passionate about exploring the works of recent composers. While studying at Cincinnati, he managed the annual new music festival Music X for four years. At Biola, Dr. Denham coordinates the student ensembles that perform in the annual New Music concert, which features less-familiar works by contemporary composers. He strongly believes that the study of contemporary methods opens up new ways of expression. While he acknowledges students' initial trepidation, Dr. Denham says "New music encourages students to 'think outside the box,' and that, put quite simply, is how innovation occurs."

The Biola Conservatory has had the blessing and the privilege of having Dr. Denham's work performed on campus. He has received several grants and commissions, including one Faculty Research and Development grant for the production of his song cycle, Sutter Creek: 21 Songs for Baritone and Piano, and another for a CD project with bass trombonist Ilan Morgenstern. The Sutter Creek song cycle proved to be an important work in Dr. Denham's career as it was taken on tour and performed five times. Other notable works that have been performed at Biola include Three Attributive Psalms for chorus (premiered by the Biola Conservatory Chorale in the Fall of 2008), and Missing Missy for English Horn and orchestra (premiered by the Biola Conservatory Symphony Orchestra in the Fall of 2008). Dr. Denham expresses the great joy that he has experienced in working with Conservatory ensembles and students who perform his compositions. He notes, "I've always been impressed with how the student ensembles respond to my music and capture the small nuances…They've always been excited about the opportunity to perform something for the first time, and I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed rehearsing with these students!"

Commissioned specifically for Biola's Year of the Arts (2011-2012), Dr. Denham's latest work was created as an avenue for reflection at the end of a campus-wide exploration of the topic of sacred spaces and of the role of the arts in strengthening the faith. His oratorio, Under the Shadow: Five Sacred Spaces in a Fallen World was premiered in May 2012, and the concerts were made possible by the financial gifts of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson (Fieldstead and Company), and Biola University. He worked closely with Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony Chamber Orchestra to present two performances: one at Lansing Hall, and the other at Village of Hope, a homeless shelter run by the Orange County Rescue mission.

After the concert, Dr. Barry Corey, Biola's president remarked: "The dramatic images and rich lyrics reminded me of John Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Such incredible work and precision in every detail! It was truly a work of art--and a fitting finale event to Biola University's Year of the Arts . " (A recording of the performance is accessible online through the Center of Christianity, Culture, and the Arts at http://ccca.biola.edu/resources/2013/oct/1/under-shadow-oratorio/. Hard copies are also available for free plus the cost of shipping and handling through the Conservatory Music Office.)

Faith in Action

Under the Shadow, an oratorio on how sacred spaces interact with a fallen world, is perhaps one of the most profound expressions of Dr. Denham's faith in Christ. He remarks that writing this oratorio on sacred spaces caused him to reflect seriously on the brokenness of this present world, which he has also personally experienced. Though the oratorio portrays the darkness and pain of the good world God has made, Dr. Denham also takes great care to present the triumph of creation's restoration at Christ's return.

Writing "Soli Deo Gloria" at the bottom of many of his finished works in imitation of J.S. Bach, Dr. Denham intentionally reminds his audience (and himself) why he engages in the art of composition. He writes in his personal website, "If I can have some small part in promoting [Christ's eternal] kingdom, then I am satisfied to compose music to His glory."

Why Biola?

While Dr. Denham has had positive experiences teaching at other institutions, he remarks that there is something unique in the Biola atmosphere. He says, "You just can't beat the atmosphere here at Biola." Teaching at Biola since 2007, he says that his interactions with students provide just one example of the ways he has seen God's grace working in the life of the Biola community. "It's always a blessing to be able to help students find their way, but how often do students return the favor with interest? Here at Biola they do; I've had students extend grace to me in so many ways, not just by their earnest participation in my classes, but also with prayers, warm smiles, and notes of encouragement. Here at Biola we don't just say we believe in Christ, we live it out."

His greatest hope for his students would be that they would come to the realization that all of their skills come directly from the hand of God. He says, "I'm really convicted that when God gives us skills as musicians, perhaps our greatest obligation is to remember that He gave those to us, and we didn't somehow come into possession of them on our own. Pride is ugly, and the moment we achieve something, (let's say we write our first song cycle or something like that), it meets us at the door; it wants a place in our hearts, and our sinful hearts are all too eager to give it a place. There's a tough balance there: we should celebrate the achievement together— a great deal of work and commitment went into making it happen, and it is right to give honor and encouragement; but the credit has to go to the God that made us—our work would amount to nothing if not for Him."

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Robert Feller

  • Professor, Brass, Winds & Percussion
  • Area Coordinator, Brass, Winds & Percussion
  • Professor, Music Education
  • Symphonic Winds Coordinator
  • Brass Ensemble Conductor
  • Honors Brass Quintet Coach

Teaching at Biola for a little over 27 years, Mr. Feller has contributed to the development of thousands of aspiring instrumentalists at Biola as well as in a variety of high profile educational venues over the course of his career. He is the conductor of the Biola Symphonic Winds and the Biola Brass Ensemble; Mr. Feller also coaches the Honors Brass Quintet and acts as instructor for classroom courses focused on conducting, pedagogy, and literature. "Mr. Feller is an extremely energetic and passionate professor who wants nothing but the best for his students," remarks alumna Savannah Faranal ('13), who served as student conductor for the Symphonic Winds during the 2012-2013 academic year. "Every class or rehearsal he leads is aimed at cultivating students' musicianship to greater glorify our Lord. His standards are planted at the peak of excellence while his office doors remain open for any assistance needed to reach these goals. It has been an absolute privilege to study with Mr. Feller…and I know that my education would be incomplete without having done so."

Education & Influences

Mr. Feller remembers growing up listening to great music with his parents, who were both amateur musicians. He recalls deciding to play trumpet after attending an L.A. Philharmonic performance with his family. Attending music camps and participating in the nationally-acclaimed Anaheim Kingsmen Drum and Bugle Corps established in him a foundation of discipline and a heart for excellence.

Major Teachers include Barbara Butler, Tony Plog, Boyd Hood, Joan LaRue, and Gary Wiedeman.

Career

Throughout his career, Mr. Feller has had strong connections to Disney. In 1993, he played Lead Trumpet for the nationally acclaimed Disney Symphonic Fantasy Tour, which traveled across the country performing with some of the best musicians in the industry. While he has performed in many of Disneyland's "atmosphere groups" since 1972, he is also active in their education and outreach programs. He is the Head Clinician for their "Disney Performing Arts, Excellence in Entertainment Workshops," a program for junior high, high school, college, and other community musicians from around the world who participate in live studio recording sessions during which they record soundtracks to clips from Disney movies. In the past, he was also the assistant director of Disney's "All American College Band," which is comprised of the best collegiate musicians in the country who perform in a 20-piece band 5 days a week during the summer at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.

Apart from his work for Disney, he is in demand as a guest conductor for junior high and high school honor bands in the western United States. In addition, Mr. Feller frequently appears as a clinician for workshops and as an adjudicator for band festivals. At seminars, he has spoken numerous times to present his lecture, "Band Aids: Fixing All Those Annoying Habits Your Students Have Perfected By Replacing Them with Concepts That Lead to Better Musicianship." Being in contact with thousands of students throughout his career, Mr. Feller is aware of the tremendous responsibility laid upon him in his position of authority. "God's Word says we as leaders (teachers) will be held to a higher level of accountability (Hebrews 13:17)," he remarks, "so knowing you are responsible directly to Him for what you are doing usually keeps you pretty humble."

As a trumpet player, Mr. Feller has participated in many ensembles throughout the United States—often playing as principal trumpet—including:

  • The California Philharmonic
  • The Long Beach Municipal Band
  • The California Wind Orchestra
  • The San Gabriel Civic Light Opera
  • The Rochester Philharmonic
  • The Ontario Brass
  • The Nazareth Brass Quintet
  • The Pasadena Symphony
  • The Pasadena Chamber Orchestra
  • and numerous freelance performances.

Conducting and playing trumpet has taken him across the globe as an ambassador for his country and for the Lord Jesus. He was a founding member of Gabriel Brass, a trumpet trio with a four-piece rhythm section who had the honor of representing the United States in North Korea, South Korea, and China. For the past two years, he has traveled to China alongside other Biola faculty members Dr. George Boespflug and Marlin Owen; he had the opportunity to perform as a trumpet soloist with the Changsha Symphony Orchestra in addition to recitals. He has a standing offer to return to China to perform in the future. (An article describing their visit may be found at this link: http://now.biola.edu/news/article/2012/mar/17/three-biola-conservatory-professors-travel-china-t/)

As a performer, Mr. Feller offers his time and talents to the Lord on a regular basis. "Every time I sit down to practice trumpet, before I play a note, I dedicate that time to the LORD, asking Him to take it and use it to make me the trumpet player He wants me to be." He notes that growth is not always an easy process. "Sometimes that's frustrating because His timetable doesn't seem to coincide with my timetable. If we consecrate and redeem that time for His glory, how could it be time wasted?" His passion for music stems from feeling God's pleasure when he plays, "or at least," he adds, "I feel pleasure playing for Him."

Faith in Action

Finding the intersections between his faith and his music making has been a life-long pursuit for Mr. Feller. For over 10 years, he was involved with "The Continental Brass and Singers," a traveling Christian group comprised of a 20-voice choir and 17-piece big band; he was involved in performing over 2000 concerts with them in 30 countries worldwide. Mr. Feller enjoyed playing trumpet for 3 tours and then serving as Tour Director for 7 years. Participating in the "Continentals" caused him to realize that his musical life and spiritual walk could work in tandem for God's glory. Mr. Feller recalls this experience vividly: "I was sitting in the back of a dank stone church in Zagreb Yugoslavia (now Croatia) on a Continental tour during a Sunday morning service and I literally felt the Holy Spirit descend on my body…It was at that instant I realized I could have a spiritual life and a musical life at the same time. It changed my perspective on what I wanted to do with music."

Now, Mr. Feller walks alongside his students as they have similar transforming experiences during the Symphonic Winds' trip to Romania every other year. In 2002, he accompanied the Brass Quintet to Romania in order to begin a relationship with Heart2Heart International, and in 2009, he returned again with a larger group of students from the Symphonic Winds. The students are there to do "anything" (as Mr. Feller says), which includes holding babies in the Baby Hospital, teaching private music lessons on instruments, playing frisbee or soccer, talking, and giving hugs, just to name a few. When asked why he thinks this experience is an important one for his students, he replies, "Just go and hold one of those precious babies for a few hours and you will know the answer! Your heart will never be the same." He notes that he has seen God completely change students because of their experiences there, and being able to go every other year is a precious experience for him as well. One of the things he hopes his students glean from their experience at Biola is that they would see that God can use them to impact the world. He remarks, "Many times we can go to places others cannot, just because music is the tool for ambassadorship."

Why Biola?

Mr. Feller has been teaching at Biola since 1987 and served for five years as a part-time faculty member before becoming a full-time professor. For Mr. Feller, seeing the student's growth in enthusiasm for their craft is one of the chief blessings of being involved in this community. He says, "There is something different about Biola students. I hear it all the time from our adjunct faculty, many of whom teach at numerous universities around the area. I sense a kindred spirit with our students. There is a seriousness and a striving for excellence that I love." He also says of his fellow faculty members, "There is a tremendous respect for each other and great appreciation for their talents. That's what helps make Biola so unique!"

He is especially active in training the students who desire to enter the educational field after graduation. He says, "Obviously, they will have an influence on young people. Our prayer is that they will have a positive influence musically so they will have credibility spiritually." He sees the integration of faith and learning as an amazing foundation from which to build the rest of their careers and their lives, and his desire is that students in the Conservatory would leave with a commitment to musical integrity and a heart for reaching young people.

Among his students, Mr. Feller has gained the reputation of being a professor that coaches them toward wanting to be excellent. He is adamant that there is no tolerance for mediocrity. "Once you hear what music played at the highest level sounds like, you just can't settle for anything less. I was fortunate to have played in some of the best collegiate musical ensembles during my education, and, as a professional trumpet player, sitting next to some really great players reminds you of how moving music can be. How can we offer anything but our very best to the LORD?"

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David A Horner

  • Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies & M.A. Philosophy

Dr. Horner has taught at the University of Oxford, Denver Seminary, and served as a Visiting Scholar and Research Associate at the University of Colorado. He has lectured in numerous classrooms and university forums nationally and in Europe, and he has written numerous articles and book chapters on ethics, apologetics, and ancient and medieval philosophy. Dr. Horner serves as Research Scholar for Centers for Christian Study, International, an effort to develop intellectual Christian communities within secular university contexts. He also serves as Executive Director of The Illuminatio Project, whose aim is to bring the light of a classical biblical vision of goodness, truth, and beauty into the thinking of the church and culture through strategic research and communication.

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Elizabeth Larson

  • Strings and Chamber Music Associate Professor and Area Coordinator

Ms. Larson has been described as a teacher who mentors her students toward becoming involved collaborators who have a deep understanding of the craftsmanship within the music they play and a joy for sharing it with others. Teaching at Biola since January 2010, her primary responsibilities include teaching applied violin, coaching chamber music, and teaching courses in string literature and string pedagogy. Outside of the Biola classroom, Ms. Larson has an exciting international performance career as a solo and chamber musician, and participates in festivals all over the world both as a performer and instructor. Alumna Amanda Sansonetti ('13) says, "Ms. Larson has a wonderful way of helping her students reach toward the joy of playing music, which is really the heart of excellence in performance. She persistently guides her students toward a deeper level of musicianship and a greater attention to the details, and her desire to use music as ministry is inspiring. Most of all, I am so grateful for the care she shows for her students as whole people; we are continually reminded that we are God's beloved children, first and foremost."

Education and Influences

Ms. Larson gives much credit to her parents for encouraging her in her pursuit of music. "My parents just really saw music as a precious gift from God that we discovered almost by happy accident in our lives, and they wanted to foster that. They never pushed it, but rather provided for it in every way they could; I'm really grateful for that approach they took." She emulates her parents' attitude with her students by presenting the study of music as a joyful pursuit of excellence as worship to God rather than as a means of self-glorification. One of her most influential teachers was Marylou Speaker Churchill, the first woman to hold a principal chair in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Larson began studying with her at age 11, and she notes that Mrs. Churchill inspired her students to love their music rather than to approach it with worry or intimidation. "She was the one who taught her students how to fall in love with music on a daily basis. One thing that she was famous for was, when you looked at her music, rather than a lot of bowings and fingerings, she had hearts over her favorite notes in the music instead. That taught us as her students that music is about loving others, and not just getting the right bowings and fingerings."

As for her love of teaching, she remarks that she learned much from watching her mother, Trudy Larson, as she taught in her home studio. Her mother is the premier teacher on the north shore of Boston, and someone who started a youth orchestra of 8 students in her basement, growing it to a full organization of 300 students today. "She played a big role in showing me how to teach, and how to care for the whole student, and not just how they play…The approach I have ended up taking is because of her example."

Teachers include James Buswell from the New England Conservatory, Franco Gulli at Indiana University, Yfrah Neaman at the Guildhall School of Music in London, Peter Oundjian at Yale University Grad School, and Marylou Speaker Churchill.

Musical Career

Ms. Larson began her studies at the age of 3 and gave her recital debut at the age of 6. One year later, she gave her orchestral solo debut performing with the Milwaukee Symphony in a series of 10 concerts. She went on to solo with the Boston Pops at age 11. Since then, she has performed concerts throughout the world and has numerous prestigious honors to her credit. The Boston Globe has praised her playing as having "great charm and refinement…and capable of breathtaking virtuosity." She has performed in such halls as Symphony Hall, Boston with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Weill Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Kennedy Center, and Victoria Hall, Geneva, as the featured soloist in a concert honoring Lord Yehudi Menuhin on the day of his death.

Her solo tours have brought her to four continents in concerts throughout the U.S., Japan, England, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Finland, Taiwan, South Korea, Estonia and India. Ms. Larson has been heard on radio on NPR, both in feature programs aired throughout the U.S. and also live in performance from the Chicago Public Library. In Korea, her performances have been broadcast both on radio and Korean National TV.

An avid chamber musician, Ms. Larson has been a Resident Artist at festivals including the Banff Festival for the Arts, the Caramoor Festival, New York, where she collaborated with pianist Joseph Kalichstein, Prussia Cove, England, and the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. She has also collaborated with pianist Menahem Pressler and in a series of chamber music performances with Gidon Kremer, Boris Pergamenschikow, and Eugene Istomin at the Kronberg Festival in Germany. For two years, she was invited to join Yehudi Menuhin's prestigious chamber ensemble, the Camerata Lysy, Switzerland, performing as soloist and in chamber ensembles throughout Europe, and on tour to South Africa. This led to three additional years of performances as the violinist of Duo Shanti under the auspices of Live Music Now in the UK and in the concert venues of Europe and the U.S. She was also a member of the Credo Trio from 2009-2012, the performance and touring ensemble of the Credo Festival, giving concerts and workshops on integrating music, work, and faith throughout the U.S.

This season, Elizabeth will be performing as recitalist and chamber musician in concert series throughout the U.S. and Europe. Ms. Larson continues to serve as Consultant for Angelos Mission Ensemble, an intensive chamber music program, dedicated to the development of young leaders in chamber music and the arts. In the summers, she returns to the festivals of Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music, Credo Festival and Masterworks, where she performs and is on faculty each summer. Ms. Larson was most recently the Founder, Director and Instructor at the Geneva Conservatory of Music, a music school in New York City, which she founded in 2002, and divides her time between performing and teaching, residing in both New York and Los Angeles.

Faith in Action

For Ms. Larson, her music was often the way in which God met her and taught her. "I think I knew from a young age that this was something I wanted to do," she recalls."I wanted to speak through music, and I wanted people to know about God through the process. I wanted to know more about God through music, and that's what He used to teach me more about Him and draw me closer to who He is." As she has traveled around the globe to teach and to perform, she has seen God's hand at work in weaving together her circumstances. "If there is one thing that I learned it is that God certainly has full control over where I am and when. I just need to always follow His loving lead. And I can truly trust that because I learned that taking this leap [into Biola]." During lessons and in studio class, Ms. Larson encourages her students to think and to discuss the ways in which they can live out their faith in the larger artistic community. "Music is one of the most powerful ways that God brings us into His presence," she notes. The way that she shows her students to approach their performances is a clear manifestation of this attitude of worship.

Why Biola?

During Biola's campus-wide Year of the Arts (2011-2012), Ms. Larson played a crucial role as the Founder and Coordinator for the Random Acts of Culture: A Moving concert series. This project facilitated weekly 30-minute casual concerts performed by students "at random" all over campus in order to minister to the Biola community and to explore the concept of transforming venues into sacred spaces. Through her efforts in the Conservatory, students have more opportunities to serve their university with their musical gifts, and to bless people beyond our campus, as well as to bring more awareness of the arts to the wider community. An example of this is the music recorded by the Biola Honors String Quartet.

Ms. Larson sees her interactions with her students as an enriching part of her experience at Biola. "The students are hungry to learn about their craft, about God, and about each other. They are open about sharing what they are learning, and so the family atmosphere allows us to easily learn from each other and not just from the professor. I have found that in the string department, there is a close-knit family who can trust each other. We are free to make mistakes, to learn, and then grow." Her desire for her students is that they would learn to trust God and worship Him through their efforts. "Great music comes out of a heart that trusts Him and a willingness to spend the time developing one's gifts…wherever that may lead."

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Barry Liesch

  • Professor (Area Coordinator)
  • Music in Worship Area Coordinator

Dr. Liesch is the founder of the Music in Worship program at Biola. He also writes curriculum for courses in Improvisation and Pop Theory, and teaches several courses in the Music in Worship department.

Education & Influences

  • Additional studies in Piano with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada
  • Teachers include Pulitzer-prize winners Bernard Rands and Roger Reynolds

As a nine-year old boy, he was greatly affected by a performance at his church that featured a professional pianist and vocalist; his desire to imitate what he had heard in church reawakened his desire to study the piano, which he had stopped studying a year earlier. At age 12, he began playing in church, and from this point his life of ministry began.

Musical Career

During his youth, Dr. Liesch played for many Christian evangelistic events including Youth for Christ rallies and City Wide Evangelistic Crusades. He also toured with Mel Bowker, and played for Billy Graham crusades throughout Canada.

Dr. Liesch is also an influential writer and speaker on the topic of music in the church. He has also written articles for prominent ministry journals and developed the website worshipinfo.com with resources for those involved in church music.

In addition, Dr. Liesch has been a guest lecturer and teacher at institutions all over North America, including Azusa Pacific University, Trinity Western University, Regents College, Simpson College, Ashland Seminary, Baylor University, Hope International University, and Canadian Bible College. He also speaks at major worship conferences such as Break Forth and the American Baptist Conference on Worship & Evangelism.

During his undergraduate years, Dr. Liesch performed and arranged for World Records of Canada. While at UCSD, Dr. Liesch was actively composing music, especially electronic music. He also contributed original arrangements for the CD entitled "Moments with You."

Why Biola?

Teaching at Biola since 1974, Dr. Liesch has played a key role in shaping the Conservatory into the program that it is today. He started the Music in Worship program in 2004. He has also written much of the curriculum for core classes within the program. He says, "I saw the need for good pedagogical materials in improvisation and pop theory not only for our own students, but for those already involved in music ministry." Dr. Liesch is enthusiastic about teaching his students to the best of his ability, remarking, "We have so many fine students in the Music in Worship program; they are just quality people. These kids are going to go on and do great things. It's a privilege to be able to be a part of their lives."

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Jeanne Robison

  • Voice Professor and Area Coordinator

Dr. Robison is an opera trailblazer who has had a significant impact on the vocal departments of several institutions. Currently Area Coordinator of Vocal Studies, Dr. Robison also teaches private lessons, acts as instructor for several Conservatory courses including Lyric Diction, and is the head of the Conservatory's Opera program. Her students have a wide variety of backgrounds and aspirations, and she is enthusiastic to work with each of them to push them to higher standards of excellence. Alumna Katelyn MacIntyre ('13) notes, "In my lessons she has blended a highly technical approach with a balanced focus on artistry and performance practice that has challenged me in all areas as a vocalist." Current student Elizabeth Sywulka ('15) also remarks, "She is truly a teacher who invests in the goals of her students and makes sure that they leave Biola prepared for the next step in their plans."

International opera soprano and alumna Katie Van Kooten ('01) was profoundly influenced by Dr. Robison's patient and insightful guidance. "One of the main focuses of my time with Dr. Robison was on singing as a viable career option. Her instinctual directing style taught me that being an artist means letting the music dictate how I respond emotionally and technically to the staging and character of a role. She challenged me to think deeply about character development, connecting, and communicating emotion through musical choices and style. And with her vast knowledge of repertoire, and the pedagogy of the voice, chose music that not only challenged my learning, but was also suited specifically to my vocal capabilities. She saw beyond my current technique and training to the potential I had as a person who could—and would!—have an international career in classical music…I am thankful for her continued influence in my life and excited for the students whose lives and careers she continues to bless with her gifts and love of music and singing."

Education & Influences

Her studies with Mrs. Pegors at Kent State had a profound influence on her own artistry as well as on her own teaching style. Dr. Robison says, "I learned solid technique from her. In fact, my current vocal pedagogy is patterned after what I learned in her studio." Noticing the insightful ways she analyzed vocal issues and suggested solutions to fellow students in their weekly studio voice class, Mrs. Pegors encouraged Dr. Robison to pursue a career in teaching and later offered her a part-time position at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Dr. Robison says, in retrospect, "Every door God opened prepared me for college teaching. Never would I have imagined when I began my undergraduate degree that I would one day have earned a doctorate and be directing opera and teaching voice at the college level."

Teachers include Donna Pegors, Nancy Carr, and Patricia Berlin for voice; James Stuart and Italo Tajo for opera; Lenna Kaleva for opera make-up; and W.K. Fauser for opera costuming.

Musical Career

Dr. Robison has had an active singing career, participating in college opera workshops and professional companies. Some of the companies she sang with include the CCM Opera Theatre and Opera Studio, Ohio Light Opera Company, Duluth-Superior Opera Association, Des Moines Metro Summer Opera Festival, and Opera Festival di Roma; furthermore, she has also collaborated with regional orchestras throughout Ohio, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

While Dr. Robison loves to perform opera, she has an equally great passion for directing opera and passing along her love of this medium to her students through university opera programs. While completing doctoral work at the University of Cincinnati, she crafted a cognate in opera direction and production, and a number of doctoral students chose to follow her lead in the years following. She has also pioneered opera programs at some of the institutions at which she worked, including Delta State University and John Brown University. In 1990, she participated as a director with the Wesley Balk Insitute, a summer program focused on training singer-actors. She has directed a wide variety of operas, musicals, and opera scenes programs, including:

  • Bizet's Carmen
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, Patience, The Mikado, and H.M.S. Pinafore
  • Mark Adamo's Little Women
  • Menotti's The Telephone, The Medium, and The Old Maid and the Thief
  • Mozart's Cosi fan tuttè, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute
  • Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites
  • Puccini's Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi

After completing coursework for her Master's degree, Dr. Robison began her teaching career at the University of Minnesota, Duluth in 1976. She had 40 students, acted as vocal coach for university musicals, and actively participated in the University's opera productions. She has also served on faculty at Mansfield University, John Brown University, and Delta State University where she taught courses in lyric diction and vocal pedagogy, and facilitated voice class; she also directed opera at all four of these institutions.

Dr. Robison is a long-standing and active member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. She has had students place in local, state, or regional NATS competitions since 1986.

Many of her students from Biola have continued their studies at premier graduate schools here and abroad, including Eastman, Peabody, Manhattan School of Music, AJ Fletcher Opera Program, University of Michigan, Boston University, Florida State, Guild Hall, and the Royal Academy in London. Her students have continued to sing professionally both regionally and internationally.

Faith in Action

Having substantial experience in the professional music world, Dr. Robison desires to prepare her students to act as ambassadors for Christ in a field in which a wide range of world views are represented. "I tell my students that the performing world is one of the greatest mission fields," she notes. "They must learn to love those who have differing opinions while standing firm in their faith. They will be tested." She hopes that her students interested in professional opera would become committed storytellers and would represent Christ to their colleagues. For her students looking to teach at the collegiate level, she hopes that they would be humble learners who would always be seeking new ways to help students reach their fullest potential.

As a teacher, she hopes to lead students to listen closely for God's leading in their lives. She recalls the ways that God completely changed her initial plan of teaching at the elementary level after graduation. As a teacher and mentor, her desire for her students is that they would also experience the blessing of following God's direction. "Besides the musical skills to pursue the vocation or a vocation they feel God is calling them to, I endeavor to encourage them to listen to God's call in their lives. Often students will come asking me what I think they should do with their lives and future. Though I may give them some advice, I ultimately come back to the question, 'What do you sense God is directing you to do?'"

Why Biola?

Serving at Biola since 1995, Dr. Robison has worked hard to share her rich experiences of studying opera with her students. She pioneered the opera program at Biola in 1996, which expanded from an opera scenes program to a major opera production with orchestral accompaniment almost every year, the most recent of which was Cosi fan tutte earlier this year. She considers the opera program a vital part of a singer's Conservatory education: "If we want to recruit the best singers, we need to give them opportunities performing opera." Knowing the high caliber of students who choose to attend Biola, Dr. Robison wants to provide them with the high-quality educational experiences that have prepared alumni before them for the career paths God has set before them. Examples include Katie Van Kooten (2001) who made her international debut at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and continues to perform internationally; Jessica Howard Stavros (2005) who is a contract player with the Opera am Rhein; and Dr. Louima Lilite (1999) who is the current head of the Voice Area at Oklahoma Baptist University. Dr. Robison considers it a great honor to have been called to be a part of their training.

Dr. Robison considers such gifted students to be a primary aspect that makes the Biola community unique. She notes, "The most special aspect about being a faculty member here is using one's gifts to serve the students. I am honored that God called me to be a part of the training of the exceptionally talented students that have come to major in voice here over the last 18 years."

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Joshua Smith

  • Assistant Professor

Joshua Smith is very pleased to join the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola. He brings a wide range of experience in the instruction of literature and composition. He received his B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles in American literature and culture. He received both his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Southern California. His research is in American literature, where he specializes in the nineteenth century, the American West, popular culture, media and race. As an ordained minister, he has participated in pastoral and short-term missions ministry at his local church for several years. Joshua is also a professional speaker and saxophone player. Animated, humorous, thought-provoking and explosive, he engages students with a personable and inspirational teaching style. Joshua and his wife Marsee have two boys, Josué and Angelo.

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Victor Velazquez

  • Chair, Department of Modern Languages
  • Assistant Professor of Modern Languages

Victor Velazquez is currently a modern language professor at Biola University. He is a member of the Modern Language Association, American Association of Teachers of French and American Association of Teachers of Spanish, Portuguese and Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA). Velazquez invests in his community and serves as a volunteer speaker for Child S.H.A.R.E., an organization that supports and encourages faith communities through the foster care and adoption process. He received his bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and master’s degree/doctorate in French Language and Literature from the University of California, Irvine. While working towards his doctorate, he was honored through several awards such as the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Award. Velazquez previously taught at Mount San Antonio College, Coastline Community College and University of California, Irvine.

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Allen L. Yeh

  • Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies & Missiology

Allen Yeh is a missiologist who specializes in Latin America and China. He also has other academic interests in history, classical music, homiletics, social justice, the California missions, the Maya, and biographical interest in Jonathan Edwards (America's greatest theologian) and Adoniram Judson (America's first intercontinental missionary). He serves on the Board of Trustees for the Foundation for Theological Education in Southeast Asia. He earned his B.A. from Yale, M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell, M.Th. from Edinburgh, and D.Phil. from Oxford. Despite this alphabet soup, he believes that experience is the greatest teacher of all (besides the Bible). As such, Allen has been to over 60 countries on every continent, to study, do missions work, and experience the culture. As Mark Twain said in 1857, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

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