Christal Brown teaching
photo of Brendan Slocumb

Brendan Slocumb ’94: Musical Thrillers with a Message

“I just want people to look at people—really see them—not just their outward appearance. Look at me. You could say I don’t look like a person who plays the violin. You could just see me as a scary black man with tattoos.”

Brendan Slocumb (’94 Music Education) says that’s one of the reasons he writes, and why one of the main characters in his new novel is a neurodivergent woman.  

“Everyone has a story. I want people to look beyond the physical characteristics of people.”

Slocumb spoke to a packed house at Footnotes Bookstore in Winston-Salem on April 18th, greeting fans with smiles and “thumbs up.”  It was the national launch event for his second book, Symphony of Secrets, which has been described as a gripping page-turner. 

In the book, music professor Bern Hendricks discovers a shocking secret about the most famous American composer of all time—his music may have been stolen from a Black Jazz Age prodigy named Josephine Reed. Determined to uncover the truth that a powerful organization wants to keep hidden, Bern will stop at nothing to right history’s wrongs and give Josephine the recognition she deserves.

A New York Times review praises the novel, and the genre Slocumb is developing: 

“Brendan Slocumb’s first novel, The Violin Conspiracy, displayed his deftness at crafting character-driven stories featuring amateur sleuths with a deep reverence for music history — and everything to lose. With his pitch-perfect follow-up, Symphony of Secrets, he firmly establishes himself as a maestro of musical mystery.” 

Slocumb grew up in Fayetteville, NC and started playing the violin at age nine, thanks to an elementary school music program. He graduated from UNCG with a degree in Music Education, with concentrations in Violin and Viola. He spoke on campus last spring during the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival.

“I’m the product of public school education. Music is a life-saving force. It took me to college, and it took me around the world. I have so many opportunities that I owe to this place (School of Music). I have “thank you” tattooed on my forearm because I have so much gratitude for the people and places who have helped me get where I am today.”

Slocumb says Winston-Salem, where the book launch was held, is a special place, too. His first teaching job was at North Forsyth County High School. Several “Vikings” were in the audience for the talk, including former band students, who cheered wildly when Slocumb took his violin out of its case to play a brief musical interlude during the Q&A with musicologist Kate Storhoff.

Storhoff asked Slocumb how he was able to bring fictional musicologist Bern Hendricks so perfectly to the page:

“It was that stellar education I got at UNC Greensboro,” said Slocumb with a quick smile. 

After the moderated conversation, attendees lined up to have the author sign their books and take selfies with them. Again, there was that Slocumb smile and his signature “thumbs up”.

Symphony of Secrets is published by Penguin Random House. Read more here.

Learn more about the Music Education degree at UNCG.

Story by Terri W. Relos

Jazmine Warren co-captain of the Spartan G dance team

Jazmine Renee Warren BFA Dance: Choreography/Performance

“I have never had more of a passion towards anything else than being creative and dancing. I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than being an artist for the rest of my life. I have seen and met many people in my life who have had a successful career in the arts, and that’s given me the inspiration to give it a try.”

Jazmine Warren says one of the first sources of that inspiration is a UNC Greensboro alumna. Valencia Lipscomb (‘14 BFA Dance) was one of her teachers at Hillside High School in Durham. Warren says Lipscomb quickly became her mentor, and she recommended that Warren choose UNCG’s School of Dance.

Warren says she took that advice, and after being accepted by the university, a successful dance audition, and a tour of campus, she was convinced:

“My experience here was so good. This turned out to be the perfect fit for me because I was able to deepen my passion for dance on a whole other level. Not only did I have the opportunity to perform numerous times and choreograph my own piece, but I had access to the most beautiful and spacious studios!”

Warren also found good friends and other ways to explore her love of dance:

“I met my best friend Kerrington Palmer (BA Arts Administration) on the first day at a university event for first-year students. She encouraged me to try out for the Spartan G Dance Team (a group of UNCG students dedicated to performing throughout the volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball season as well as various special events during the academic year). We became co-captains our senior year!”

After graduation, Warren is planning to move to Atlanta:

“I’d like to pursue my dream career of being a professional dancer. To be more specific, I want to be successful in the commercial world of dance. This includes dancing for television shows, commercials, movies, music videos, and going on tour. I also love musical theatre and would like to also audition for some shows.” 

Warren says she feels ready because of UNCG:

“Something I’ve gained here is to never be afraid to ask for help. You never know how many doors and connections that could open up for you to be successful.”

Jazmine Warren’s advice for current and future Spartans:

“Please allow yourself to be open to new opportunities and experiences! UNCG has so many opportunities to meet new people, to have fun, to stay connected to cultural avenues, and to express your true self.”

Watch Jazmine Warren’s BFA Thesis here.

Learn more about studying in the UNCG School of Dance.

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo credit: Josh Bell

Heather Lofdahl headshot

Heather Ann Lofdahl PhD: Music Education

Dr. Heather Lofdahl is leaving UNC Greensboro with quite the list of achievements, experience, and three degrees. Lofdahl, who will receive her Doctorate in Music Education this Spring, also earned Masters of Music degrees in Music Education and Viola Performance from the School of Music in 2015.

Lofdahl says she’s known for a long time that she wanted to pursue a career in music:

“I loved orchestra class in middle school and had outstanding viola teachers in school and in private lessons, and I wanted to be like them. When it came time to go to college, I decided to pursue degrees in both Music Education and Viola Performance so that I could learn to teach and continue developing my musicianship skills at the highest level possible. During my time in the School of Music, I taught private lessons in a community partnership at a local church and at my school. I also had outstanding mentors in my student teaching placement. By the end of my degree, I could not imagine doing anything other than teaching orchestra.” 

Lofdahl chose UNCG because a former viola teacher recommended that she study with Dr. Scott Rawls. During a visit to campus, she took a lesson with Dr. Rawls, and she also met Dr. Rebecca MacLeod and learned about her string music education program. Lofdahl was teaching a public school orchestra in Illinois and loving it, so she said she’d consider attending sometime in the future. That changed after a call from Dr. MacLeod:

“Dr. MacLeod had a last-minute assistantship open up in the summer of 2012, and she encouraged me to apply. I did, and when I was accepted, I knew I was receiving an offer I couldn’t refuse. I moved to Greensboro that summer, and that was one of the best decisions of my life.”

After earning her master’s degrees, Lofdahl returned to teaching for four years. Again, UNCG was in her future:

“Pursuing a PhD was always in the back of my mind. I chose UNCG again because I knew Dr. MacLeod would continue to be an outstanding mentor, and I thought the string music education program here would provide me with the greatest breadth of experience of any program in the country. I have been able to grow as a music educator under the guidance of Dr. MacLeod. She has allowed me to assist with and teach undergraduate courses in music education, teach elementary strings classes in the public schools, and coordinate a community partnership aimed at increasing access to string instruction for underserved students.”

Lofdahl says she has been able to pursue all of her interests under the guidance of outstanding faculty and surrounded by outstanding colleagues:

“I have been able to develop my conducting skills through coursework, conducting the UNCG Sinfonia and serving as Music Director of the Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra (GSYO). Though GSYO is not affiliated with UNCG, I would not have had that opportunity without the connections I made and the skills I developed at UNCG. I have also been fortunate enough to teach private lessons at The Music Academy of North Carolina here in town.

“Dr. MacLeod and Dr. Tami Draves have supervised my research and helped me to explore my research interests through quantitative, qualitative, and community-engaged methodologies. 

“I have been able to continue studying the viola with Dr. Rawls, who has been the most outstanding and supportive musical mentor I could have asked for. Most PhD students at other universities take lessons with graduate students—if they take lessons at all —so I have been lucky that Dr. Rawls has let me take viola lessons with him for the past four years.”

Lofdahl already has her next university lined up. She recently accepted a position

as Assistant Professor of Music Education at The Ohio State University in Columbus where she’ll be teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in string music education, conducting research, and supervising graduate research and teaching. She hopes to also do some conducting, and develop a community partnership with schools in the Columbus area:

“This position is an absolute dream come true.I think my experience at UNCG set me up really well for this. I have experience in all aspects of the position. I think the two most important things I will take with me are: (1) some incredible mentors and friends who will continue to be invaluable in my growth and learning in the profession and (2) a continued commitment to equity and access in string music education. 

“Much of my research and community-engaged work has repeatedly reminded me that the field of string education faces many challenges related to access and equity. Because of this work and everything I have learned at UNCG, I am deeply committed to increasing access to string instruction for all people. 

“I can’t wait to get started!”

Dr. Lofdahl’s advice for current and future Spartans:

“Take as many opportunities as you can; you never know when saying ‘yes’ to something could lead to invaluable connections or open important doors. Spend time with people whose backgrounds are different from your own and learn from them. Get off campus and explore the Greensboro community!”

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo credit: Brittany Faith Photography

Quan Apollo headshot

Quan Gabriel Apollo BA: Studio Art

Quan Apollo shopped around a little bit before determining UNC Greensboro’s School of Art was the right place for him:

“I decided on UNCG after going to two other institutions—Methodist University and North Carolina A&T. I was impressed by the number of faculty here after having experienced much smaller departments at other schools. The facilities were a factor, too. The building and studios are expansive and up-to-date, which is vital for experimentation and broadening horizons.”

Apollo says he decided to pursue an education in the arts because the arts give people a way to be heard:

“I found that my work has the ability to be my voice and also for those who take an interest in it. There are obvious joys that come with artmaking, and I find a sense of purpose in taking on residential commissions for people new to the art world and in creating works that inform people to worldviews that are parallel and adjacent to their own.”

Apollo says that, until UNCG, he was more of a solo art-maker, but he soon learned the benefits of creating with others:

“The College of Visual and Performing Arts is pretty adamant when it comes to community building and collaboration. Although that wasn’t my strong suit coming in, many of the faculty and students were willing to share their experience and projects, which helped me grow as an artist and a person.”

Apollo plans to come back to the School of Art in the Fall to pursue his MFA. He says he wants to finish up a longstanding series of artwork he calls Color Theory. His long term goal is to establish a career as a practicing artist and as a professor:

“My hopes are to be able to teach techniques and crafts outside of the Western canon. Life can often be more than unfair to those of us who are of minority status, and the realities of off-campus will make their way on campus. I’d like to help change that.”

Apollo says he feels UNCG prepared him for that career goal:

“I gained confidence during my undergraduate work here as well as a strong sense of resolve. That resolve to help others and to reach my goals through thick and thin no matter the struggles life throws due to circumstance is something I am sure to take with me well beyond in my journey.”

Quan Apollo’s advice for current and future Spartans:

“Use all and any help the University offers you. It is okay to take longer than four years to graduate. Whether you are ill, discriminated against, or seeing a friend or stranger in need, speak up for yourself and others. The best help you can give is the help you afford yourself.”

Learn more about studying at the UNCG School of Art

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo credit: Quan Apollo

Thomas Linger '15 at piano

Music Alumnus Competes in American Pianist Awards

More than one year after learning he was a finalist in the 2023 American Pianist Awards, UNCG alumnus Thomas Linger is finally getting a chance to face the music—and the biggest audience he’s ever played for in his life.

Linger (’15 Piano Performance in Jazz Studies) is one of five pianists who will play in the competition this weekend in Indianapolis, which culminates in the Gala Finals. Each of the finalists will play with a big band and a vocalist:

“I get that one tune, so the pressure is on.  It will be a piece that has been arranged specifically for me, and I’ll be accompanying Grammy award-winner Cécile McLorin Salvant in front of 1800 people!”

Is he nervous?

“Hmm. Kind of. Nerves are a funny thing. I like to use the word ‘excited’ instead.”

Linger is no stranger to competitions. He was the first place winner of the American Jazz Pianist Competition in 2017. But, he says this time is different:

“This one is much bigger, and the stakes are higher. The grand prize is $100-thousand dollars in cash plus another $100 thousand dollars in career support, including a record deal and a tour. That’s crazy money for a jazz guy!”

Linger, who hails from Waynesville in western North Carolina, started playing the piano when he was four years old. He says he dabbled with lots of instruments and he entered the School of Music as a double-major in Bassoon and Piano. During his freshman year he discovered how much he loved Jazz Piano and, on a whim, he decided to try and get into the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program:

“I think I probably barely squeaked in because I was super green.  They must have decided I had some kind of promise because they admitted me.  Steve Haines, Chad Eby, Brandon Lee, Thomas Taylor, and John Salmon are some amazing professors.  You get to be very close to the faculty in a program like that. I played gigs with them around town. For a musician, that was really my best schooling. I had so much fun playing the piano that I dropped the bassoon and made the full switch. It’s been a great journey ever since.”

Linger’s journey took him to New York about a year after graduating from UNCG. Since then he has worked as a performer, composer, and a teacher. He has monthly residencies at Mezzrow, Ornithology Jazz Club, and The Django. He has also performed at some of the city’s most prestigious venues, including the Village Vanguard, Smalls, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Dizzy’s Club. Linger leads his own trio and released his debut album Out In It on Cellar Records in August 2022.

“It feels amazing,” reflects Linger.“I get to play with all sorts of different characters. That’s what is so beautiful about jazz is you can just mesh with anybody. It’s hard to explain. It’s so freeing. And kind of honest. Everytime you sit down at the piano you can create something new that reflects how you feel right then and there.”

Watch the American Pianist Awards live streaming here on Saturday, April 22nd here.

Learn more about the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program here.

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo provided by Thomas Linger