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music department

The SCSU Symphonic Band

Southern’s Department of Music hit one of its highest notes recently, when it received accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and became one of just five schools in Connecticut to hold the prestigious distinction. Now the department, known for its excellence and innovative curriculum, is on chord to develop a new degree program in Music Therapy – the first in Connecticut.

“The NASM accreditation brings prestige and notoriety to the institution,” said Craig Hlavac, associate dean, College of Arts & Sciences. Hlavac served as chair of the department from 2013-2017. “It is a testament to the hard work and dedication the entire music faculty have put forth to meet the rigorous standards of NASM. We should all be proud of this recognition and of the excellent work our faculty and students are doing in the area of music.”

The accreditation process was a years-long undertaking, one that some music students, such as Candace Naudé ‘20, observed first-hand.

“We had NASM representatives sit in on some of our classes, and one of the classes was Beethoven and Revolution, a music history class,” Naudé said. “The professor let us know that he didn’t want us to put on any type of show for the accreditors, and I thought that that was a very important statement to make. It showed that we weren’t trying to show off. We weren’t trying to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just had to show the accreditors what Southern’s Music Department and its students are capable of.”

This capability, coupled with Southern’s commitment to student growth, was one of the key strengths NASM recognized during the accreditation process.

“We meet students at their level and take them to the next level,” Jonathan Irving, professor of music, said, “and NASM recognized us for this tremendous commitment to student growth.” Irving served as Music Department chair from 2007 to 2013 and again from 2017 to 2019; he worked with Hlavac on the accreditation materials.

Growth of the department itself is a consideration as well; in that area, the department looked at how it could leverage growth and synergy with other programs on campus, Hlavac said.

“Southern is a chosen destination because of the strength of its programs, such as those in our College of Health and Human Services,” Hlavac said.

Much like health and human services workers, music therapists work in hospitals, hospice centers, behavioral health facilities, and other health-related settings, Hlavac said, and use music to help patients with physical rehabilitation, patient motivation, and emotional support.

“Music therapy is a natural fit, and we will be the only institution to offer it,” he said.

Irving echoed Hlavac’s sentiments: “Accreditation truly is based on commitment to the program – we are constantly moving forward and thinking creatively about growing this program. We are also extremely grateful for the ongoing support of the Stutzman Family Foundation, which has singlehandedly supported our music programs. In fact, the NASM executive committee cited its importance.”

Other outcomes of the accreditation include the expansion of the department’s outreach, such as using and enhancing Southern’s John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts and the Spring Glen Church in Hamden for performances, to better serve the community outside of Southern. The Music Department also is conducting a search for a full-time tenure-track chair.

“We may be small in size,” Irving said, “but we have a strong, non-traditional curriculum that includes world music and traditional music. We have jazz ensembles, a choir, and a band. We have plenty of reasons — and now the support — to grow the music program in very exciting ways.”

The National Association of Schools of Music is an association of post-secondary music schools in the United States and the principal U.S. accreditor for higher education in music. Fewer than 650 institutions across the country have the distinction of being accredited by NASM.


According to family lore, Romania-born cellist, Mihai Marica, ’07, first asked for a cello at age 3, wanting to emulate his talented father. The family held off, presenting Marica with the longed-for instrument on his seventh birthday. Years of training led to stunning accomplishments — including first-place finishes at some of the world’s most prestigious musical competitions and an invitation to study with the late Aldo Parisot, professor of music at Yale University.

“Even though I was very young — 16 — and my heart was functioning perfectly, I almost fainted. That wasn’t in the plans,” says Marica of the invitation to come to the U.S. At Yale, he completed a Certificate in Performance program, a three-year option for those who do not yet hold a bachelor’s degree but are studying their craft at the highest level. If a student goes on to earn an undergraduate degree, he/she can petition to convert the coursework into a Master of Music degree. [Watch Marica perform at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

This became the plan for Marica, who enrolled at Southern as an undergraduate in 2004, majoring in music while continuing to study with Parisot. “I have very, very good memories of my experience at Southern,” says Marica, who completed numerous Honors College courses and took musical improv classes.

He also formed close bonds with faculty members. Among them is Mark Kuss, professor of music, who wrote a Cello Concerto for Marica. The cellist premiered the concerto with Orchestra New England at Battel Chapel. The two eventually traveled to Romania to record the piece.

Today, Marica performs up to 100 times a year at celebrated venues throughout the world. He’s played in Austria, Canada, Chili, Germany, Hungary, Holland, Japan, Spain, and South Korea.

In the U.S., he’s graced the stages of Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Both are “among the highlights of my musical life,” he says.

At the latter, Marica successfully auditioned for the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center’s highly prestigious Bowers Program — an ultra-competitive, three-season residency for outstanding young musicians. He completed the residency in 2015 and, today, often performs as a seasoned artist with the center. Additionally, in 2018, the cellist joined the acclaimed Apollo Trio, which plays throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Marica also is committed to supporting young musicians. He coaches the Julliard Pre-College Program’s cello choir and is set to work with student groups at the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center. In addition, he spends several weeks each summer at the Classical Music Institute, an educational outreach program run by the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio, Texas. [Watch Marica perform with modern dance master Lil Buck for a youth audience in San Antonio.]

Looking forward, he hopes to travel to Romania — likely performing the six Cello Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach for the first time. “It is a big project, but also one of the most exciting things I can do as a cellist,” he says of practicing the suites. “I will come to learn many new and useful things from this experience. Spending time with myself, my instrument, and this great music.”

Walter Stutzman with former students in the applied music program

Ten years later, the Stutzman Family Foundation is still transforming lives.

In January 2016 Candace Naude, ‘20, was sitting in the audience of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening when she had an awakening of her own. “I realized that I have to pursue music,” Naude says. “I couldn’t escape it anymore.”

Naude had been passionate about music her entire life but had been discouraged from making a career of it.

“Music wasn’t one of the hiring industries, and everyone told me it would be so hard for me to find a job and make a living,” Naude says. “Unfortunately I listened to them, and decided to join the Army. I enlisted immediately after high school and spent four years in the military. In 2014 I was honorably discharged and moved back home to Trumbull.” Money was tight, but Naude enrolled in the music program at Southern.

“I didn’t care if I couldn’t find a job or make an easy living,” Naude says. “I needed to make music.”

An epiphany that calls one back to music is something Walter Stutzman, adjunct faculty member with Southern’s Department of Music, can relate to. Shaken by 9-11 — he was across the street from the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the attacks occurred  — he retired from 30 years of software consulting and came to Southern shortly afterwards to earn a BA in Music.

“My life was transformed through the music I studied and performed and was further changed when I joined [Southern’s] music faculty in 2009,” Stutzman says. He found the experience so transformative, he sought to help other students fulfill their dreams. As a trustee of the Stutzman Family Foundation, which was established by his parents, Geraldine and Jacob Stutzman, shortly before their deaths in the mid-2000s, Stutzman has helped make the music program at Southern one of the best.

“He has transformed the entire program,” says Craig Hlavac, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at Southern. “Music students are studying with professionals in the area, so they’re learning the ropes from these folks and the business aspects as well.”

Mani Mirzaee, ‘14, a composer, educator, pianist, setar and tar performer, experienced that first-hand.

“The care and kindness the music faculty showed gave me the confidence to pursue music as a career, and the Stutzman Foundation truly enabled the faculty to provide the student body with the attention and care they had to give,” Mirzaee says. “The Stutzman Foundation elevated the capacity the faculty had within the music department. Practice rooms, computers, enhanced digital audio work-stations and many other amazing amenities were provided for the students.”

This evolving technology has helped keep the music curriculum relevant — and to attract students interested in the technological side of the field.

“You can have a career in this, and that’s why our degree looks different than most,” Hlavac says. “We have classes in music technology, for example. With other schools, their curriculum may look the same as it did 50 years ago. We’ve adapted. And with Stutzman’s background in IT, he saw this and helped us to build a music studio, which allows us to train students in music technologies. The entire landscape of music has changed, from CDs to YouTube, and we’re right on pace.”

The cutting-edge technology appealed to musicians like Terri Lane, ‘08, who has been in the music business as a professional singer for years. (Similar to Stutzman and Naude, Lane had an epiphany and left a successful 20-year career in the fields of energy efficiency, sales, and marketing to pursue music.)

“When I researched schools, the SCSU professors impressed me school-wide,” says Lane. “The curriculum was so updated. The teachers were performers too and that means they’re continually improving themselves and not stagnant. It was the only school I applied to, and the first day I knew I’d made the right decision. The emphasis on technology gives everyone access to music and music production.”

Access is a crucial component to the Stutzman Family Foundation’s mission. In addition to revamping the program itself, the Stutzman Family Foundation offers the Stutzman Family Foundation Music Scholarship(s) and the Southern Applied Music Program, which provides  free weekly voice or instrument lessons.

Those free lessons immediately stood out to Naude. “Most, if not all, schools charge their students for music lessons,” Naude says. “It was remarkable to me that it wouldn’t cost me a dime. The lessons completely changed my life. I always considered myself as a pretty good singer, but never before have I been pushed so far to discover what I am truly capable of. I have learned to be more confident, have better stage presence, learn more languages (a lot of classical pieces are German and French), and access so many different parts of my voice that I didn’t even know I had. I have essentially become a more improved version of myself.”

International choir trips, available at a discounted price thanks to the Stutzman Foundation and taken with the University Choir, also enable students to improve their skills. This year, the choir is visiting Rome, Tuscany (Florence), and Venice and will sing Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica of St. Anthony.

“For students that have been in the choir consecutively since they’ve attended Southern,” says Naude, “the foundation actually pays for the entire trip, apart from a $500 charge to the student. I was able to travel with the choir to Portugal. I am so appreciative for what [the Stutzmans] have done for the musicians of Southern.”

Mirzaee, too, is quick to express his gratitude.

“What sets Professor Stutzman apart from other human beings is not his philanthropic activities, but his eagerness to partake in the act of enabling others as a teacher and a mentor,” Marzaee says. “Over the years as a student and now a teacher, I have come to the conclusion that we can surpass any hurdle in life if we have someone that enables us to believe in ourselves. Ten years ago, as I was dreaming about my future at Southern, moving forward inch by inch and hoping to get to the next level of my musical career and educational step. I am forever grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to dream and move forward.”

If you are wondering if the music field is right for you, perhaps your epiphany is soon to come. If you’re growing restless, though, perhaps the aphorism Stutzman uses when he begins his Music Survey class may ring true:

“Music in the ears. Listen with open ears and an open mind: There are many musics around the world that are worthy of your careful listening. Music in the head. Knowing what’s inside music (its structures) and how it developed into what we hear today is important. Music in the hands. Practice! One of my teachers at Southern used to say, ‘Music is the only major where you finish your homework and then have to practice.’ Music in the heart. Know your goals, talk to musicians who have achieved those goals, have a plan, and always keep whatever music is important to you in your heart.”