Christal Brown teaching
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.”

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

Neil Shepherd BA Theatre, Business Coordinator, School of Music: Directing Attention to a Thriving Arts Scene

Neil Shepherd in Lexington’s Edward C. Smith Civic Center where Lexington Live performs its productions.
Neil Shepherd in Lexington’s Edward C. Smith Civic Center where Lexington Live performs its productions.

“The quality of faculty, staff, and resources that CVPA offers a student, no matter what area they’re in, is exceptional. The opportunity for students to augment what they’re learning with real-world experiences is phenomenal. To be able to learn and do so at the same time is invaluable. It is most essential in arts education. You learn it faster by doing it, and Greensboro is a place where you’re going to find those opportunities.”

Neil Shepherd says sometimes he feels like a father figure for the Triad theater community. He’s been involved in productions at UNCG and just about every community theater organization in the area, since coming to the University as the Business Services Coordinator for what was then the Theatre Department in 2002. 

He’s even started his own theater company, Lexington Live Community Theatre, which after a pandemic shutdown, just had its second full season:

“I felt like Lexington was sort of an arts desert. There was all this theater going on in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, Burlington, then over to Salisbury and Concord, but nothing at all in Davidson County.”

Now as Business Services Coordinator for the School of Music, Shepherd says he makes it a point to cast and hire as many UNCG students as possible at Lexington Live because he wants to give back. And he points out that he’s not the only one:

“Every show you see around here is full of UNCG students and alumni. This is a great place to be involved in the arts scene as a volunteer or even on paid gigs. This area is incredibly rich with opportunities. Technicians, sound designers, carpenters, electricians, costume designers, musicians, artists painting the sets—whatever your contribution to the arts world, there is ample opportunity.”

Shepherd says the Triad is also a great place to be an audience member:

“I love to do theater and to see theater. I’ve gotten more interested in attending music and dance programs, too. There are so many things to experience. And lots of those are within a half mile of campus. The biggest problem might be that you just have too many things from which to choose!”

Learn more about the School of Theatre.

Learn more about the Arts in Greensboro. 

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo provided by Neil Shepherd

Kemari Bryant headshot

Kemari Bryant ’21 BFA Musical Theatre on Tour with The Book of Mormon

Kemari Bryant’s acting career has started with some big “firsts.”  He is the first graduate of the UNCG School of Theatre with a degree in Musical Theatre, and now he is on his first national tour with the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon.

“It’s been amazing.  I’ve had a chance to travel to places that were never on my radar. It’s also incredible from an acting standpoint. When you do a show in one place you get used to the type of audience you have there.  Touring is a real experience. You might be in L.A. one week then Springfield, Missouri the next. People in different cities or areas of the country take on the show in different ways.”

Bryant says that’s one of the lessons he learned at UNCG’s School of Theatre—how to gauge an audience and play to it.

“We really explored that in our training, that and so many things that got me to this point. In the UNCG program we talk about the toolbelt. Our classes, workshops, and shows give us all the tools we need. Now I’m doing this show and I’m really reaching into that toolbelt. There’ve been so many times when I think back to what John Gulley (Professor of Acting and Directing) taught me freshman year and how I can use it now.”

Bryant graduated in December of 2021 with plans to go to New York by summer. But before then he signed with an agent and began flying up to auditions and sending self-tapes. His final callback for The Book of Mormon was in May of 2022, and just a few weeks after moving to the city, he got the word.

“I was working in coffee shops, reconnecting with UNCG alumni in New York, and just getting the vibe of being in the city when I got the email from my agent that I’d booked the tour.”

The Book of Mormon won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Musical. With a book, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the show follows two young missionaries who are sent to Uganda to try to convert citizens to the Mormon religion. Casey Nicholaw and Parker co-directed the production, which features choreography by Nicholaw,

Photo from The Book of Mormon
Photo from “The Book of Mormon” Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

“This show is everything from laugh out loud funny to heartwarming to downright shocking,” says Bryant. “I feel like the comedic musical is such a rare thing on Broadway these days. This show has back-to-back jokes. There are references to other shows. You will laugh throughout.  The show is also full of music and dance like a Golden Age show – it’s a spectacle.”

Bryant says the show has made him realize the importance of another tool he packed into his actor’s toolbelt at UNCG.

“Take away the idea of perfection and be a little messy. There’s so much to gain from truthfulness and boldness. Be willing to make choices that might be outside what you might feel is safe.  Experiment. Erin Speer (Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre) always told us to make a choice, just make it honest and make it your own. People really want to see you—that’s why they cast you, right?  Bring yourself to your role.”

And while Bryant is bringing himself to his role, the tour is bringing him to Greensboro.  The Book of Mormon opens at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts on February 21st.

Bryant says he can’t wait to be back.

“UNCG gave me a place to foster my different talents and interests and gave me space to work with mentors and collaborators who always supported me and were essential to my becoming the actor and the person I am today.”

The Book of Mormon will be at the Tanger Center through February 26th.


Story by Terri W. Relos

The Book of Mormon photo by Julieta Cervantes

Headshot provided by Kemari Bryant