August 27, 2012

Finding his musical direction

Most music majors — in fact, most college graduates — would give an arm and a leg to be in the shoes of Pier Debes ‘10 right now. Boasting three positions in his chosen field, he is building a resume that even graduate students would be envious of.
Debes has long had a passion for music directing — he even formed and directed his own acapella group for his senior project in high school — but, ironically, he certainly did not intend on going to school for it. He originally came to Knox to become an architectural engineer through the “3-2” dual-degree program. However, having Knox College’s Professor of Music, Director of Choral Activities and Chair of the Music Department Laura Lane as an advisor changed all that.
“She basically handed me the music major declaration form and said, ‘if you sign this, you get up to two sets of lessons per term paid for by the college,’” he said. “So I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I can finagle something with a music degree.’”
A current member of Lane’s premier vocal ensemble Nova Singers and former member of the Knox College Choir, Debes attributes much of his musical education to Lane’s influence.
“Ever since I took on the music education major, Laura Lane has been my biggest influence and mentor … being [with her] in choir every day, you learn something new, just by watching her. It’s crazy,” he said.
With Lane guiding him along the way, Debes quickly changed his direction to music and education and began paving the way for what would be a future in conducting. Thanks to Debes’ hard work and the help of Lane, Debes filled his first paid choral directing position at Grace Lutheran Church in Knoxville, Ill. during his junior and senior year.
“Doing the church choir … opened up my eyes in terms of expectations, and what one should expect as a choir director … from different choirs,” he said.
Debes described specifically the uniqueness of church choirs and how a choir director must be careful to assess the atmosphere.
“With the church group, you have to remember that the focus … is worship, worship and community,” he said. “Their first priority is not to make a remarkable, stellar product.”
Following this position, Debes spent his fifth year at Knox directing the Costa Jubilee Choir at Costa Catholic Academy in north Galesburg to fulfill his student teaching requirement. A choir consisting of children grades 2-8, the ensemble was a challenge for Debes. However, his performance greatly impressed Costa music teacher and Knox music faculty member Jill Marasa and he was offered a permanent position with the choir.
“I was able to really effectively run the choir and really impress Jill in the process, so by the end of my student teaching, Jill just offered me the job to direct that choir for the rest of that year,” Debes said.
Debes’ connections continued to pay off. Shortly after he was offered the position at Costa, he applied and was hired to be the director of the concert choir at Monmouth College, a position typically only given to applicants with a post-graduate degree.
With this position, the challenge for Debes has been how to accommodate a vast range of skill and interest levels. Some join for music requirements, while some join because they could not get into the better choir and are hoping to improve so they can get in the next year.
“They’re a non-auditioned choir … there are straight-up college kids who couldn’t give a rat’s a– about being there … and then there are other kids that are really hoping to get better at music,” he said. “So that’s another difference in disposition that I have to pander to.”
Shortly after graduating, Debes picked up another job as director of the Chancel Choir at First Presbyterian Church in Galesburg. He chooses from a “vastly beautiful” collection of choral music each week to prepare an anthem to be sung in accordance with the weekly sermon.
While Debes does not currently hold any full-time positions, he figures he can always add one to his current activities with relative ease whenever the opportunity presents itself. Besides, he knows he has more than most college graduates can boast.
“That’s what I really like about my position[s],” he said. “Unlike most other kids in my age group who are in their first year or second year out of college, I am doing what I went to school for, and I am really appreciative of that.”
Debes sees graduate school as a possibility and his work experience as a step in that direction. Although, he is not too worried about the future right now.
“I’m accepting the fact that I’m probably going to live here for a couple of years and I’m completely okay with that because I don’t feel bogged down,” he said. “At least in the field of conducting … I feel like grad schools want to see experience.”
Debes’ next project is to try his hand at instrumental conducting with a Christmas cantata by Daniel Pinkham, which will incorporate a brass section and organist in addition to his chancel choir. The cantata will be performed at First Presbyterian Church in Galesburg on Dec. 11.

Sam Brownson
Sam Brownson ’12 majored in philosophy and minored in anthropology and sociology. This is his second year copy editing for TKS; he is also currently a post-baccalaureate fellow in music and theater and will be composing the music for two productions as part of Knox’s Repertory Theatre Term. A self-described grammar Nazi, Sam worked as a TKS reporter and as a writer and editor for his high school newspaper before joining the TKS editorial staff. He also manages social media for Brownson Properties in Holland, Mich.

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