Spotlight on: WCC music program

By on January 10, 2010

Sugar Grove—Waubonsee Community College’s music program has been around since the very beginning of the school. Like the art form itself, the department has continued to grow, change and innovate over the past 42 years, finding new ways to prepare students and expand its presence in the wider artistic community.

For all of its accomplishments, the music program is being recognized as part of the college’s Placing Learning First: Faculty and Program Recognition initiative.

In Waubonsee’s first college catalogue, for the 1967-68 academic year, there were seven music courses listed. Compare that to the 63 courses and performance ensembles listed in the 2009-10 catalog. The listings encompass general education courses like “The Art of Listening,” music theory courses, classroom instrumental and voice instruction, individual instruction, a musical theater practicum, performance ensembles and electronic music production.

It is more about quality than quantity, however. Waubonsee’s ensembles excel at Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference and other national competitions. Several Waubonsee music alumni have gone on to successful music careers, including Kelly Barr, a violinist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Bruce Gates, who was the lead trumpet with the U.S. Air Force Jazz Band for 20 years; Jack Waltrip, a tenor saxophonist who has played with many notable acts such as the Miles Davis Quintet; and 2008 graduate Ashley Lewis, who has found success with her bluegrass band Ashton Gap.

Waubonsee’s music program has not just maintained its quality over the years, it has also managed to stay current, and oftentimes even cutting-edge. In the 1980s, Waubonsee established its steel drum band and rock music ensemble, becoming the first community college in the state to have such groups. The program is currently embracing the new role technology is playing in this ancient art form, developing a Certificate of Achievement in Audio Production Technology. Course work for the certificate covers digital recording and editing techniques, along with electronic music production using the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI).

As students learn new and different ways to create and share music, the traditional ways remain important to both the program and the community. Audiences appreciate the free biannual concerts put on by the college’s steel drum band, chorale, jazz ensemble and rock band in the Sugar Grove campus auditorium. Students in the steel drum band appreciate the opportunity to visit local elementary and middle schools each spring to share its unique sound with local children. It has become tradition for Waubonsee’s music faculty and students to perform at local community events like the Aurora ArtWalk, the Sugar Grove Corn Boil, Geneva’s Steeple Walk and Yorkville’s Holiday Under the Stars.

This connection with the larger community, like many things in Waubonsee’s music department, is owed in large part to the leadership of Professor Gibby Monokoski, who has taught music at the college for 35 years. He was responsible for establishing the instrumental music component of the program and for creating the performance ensembles. He is well-known at the college for his passion and enthusiasm and well-known in the community as a performer and lecturer on music, humanities and the arts.

Fellow faculty member Dr. Mark Lathan has taken charge of the vocal performance portion of the program since becoming a full-time instructor in 2007. In addition to directing the chorale and mixed chorus, Lathan is an accomplished composer, winning both a College Television Award and a Chicago Emmy for his film scores.

Becoming a full-time instructor in 2008, Mark Popowitch is the newest member of the staff and heads up the newest aspect of the program—recording and electronic music production. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electronic computer music at Northern Illinois University before getting his master’s degree in music composition and theory from Southern Illinois University.

For more information about Waubonsee’s music program, visit music or call (630) 466-7900, ext. 2500.

Photo: Ashley Lewis is one of several successful alumni to come out of Waubonsee
Community College’s music program, which was
recognized this month as part of the school’s Placing
Learning First: Faculty and Program Recognition
initiative. Lewis heads up the bluegrass band Ashton Gap.
Courtesy Photo