For Brent Assink, music is more than background noise or something pretty to fill the silence. Music shapes and molds lives, including his own. "It is hard to imagine life without it," he says. "I think music has made me a more empathetic person and better able to relate to others."
After the suggestion of his Dordt College admissions counselor that even orchestras need managers, Brent combined his passion for music and appreciation for business, majoring in music and business. That was the beginning of his journey toward his current position as executive director of the San Francisco Symphony.
After graduating from Dordt in 1977, he continued his education at University of Minnesota, where he earned his master's degree in musicology and business administration. Prior to his appointment as executive director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1997, Brent served as president of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and general manager of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It was his Christ-like service in all areas of life that earned him the distinction of being a "Distinguished Alum" of Dordt College in 1995.
His education at Dordt gave him a solid foundation for graduate school and for his future careers. In fact, Brent said that Dordt's education proved so rigorous that graduate school was easier than he expected. "Dordt gave me such strong academic grounding that I could go on to grad school and have time on my hands. It was easier [than Dordt]."
"Dordt gave me such strong academic grounding that I could go on to grad school and have time on my hands. It was easier [than Dordt]."
But Brent's journey took time and patience. After graduating he worked for two years at KDCR radio [Dordt College's radio station], though he thought it felt like a detour from where he was planning to go. "In hindsight, it wasn't. It was extremely valuable to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I wrote all the program notes for the classical music programming for all the student announcers. So it deepened my knowledge of the repertoire. And the other usefulness was I was on the air five hours a day."
Recently he reflected on the importance of Christian higher education. "College years are extremely developmental years where you're building up. You're still developing your own sense of self." Brent used the analogy of a bicycle with training wheels: when students begin their education, they may still need training wheels, or a little support to help keep them from falling. "If you find yourself leaving high school and going into a huge public institution, for example, suddenly whatever wheels you have had on, helping you, are gone. And you're being buffeted from all different sides." He believes Dordt helps provide a gradual loosening of the training wheels until students are able to ride on their own.
Brent's career path since Dordt College has had many successes and noteworthy accomplishments, but he says the true measure of success is about following Christ. He encourages students to view success in the same way.
"Being a servant requires you to look out for others instead of in at yourself. When you do that, you are successful no matter how the world defines success," he says. "I urge you to be successful servants as you follow Christ's own example. God will do his work through your service."
After Dordt, Tricia Van Ee (’02) dreamed of a life as an opera singer. Several years after she graduated with her master’s in voice performance from the University of Minnesota, the classical musical scene was reeling from the effects of the Great Recession. Within a season, many opera houses across the country closed their doors.
“It was frustrating. I had been told much of my life that I have the voice to do this, and yet it wasn’t working out,” she says. But then she auditioned for the Minnesota Opera Chorus, and began to make a life for herself as a classical singer in the Twin Cities, teaching voice lessons and working an office job on the side. Between 2013 and 2016, she performed a lead solo role in The Magic Flute, an opera “brought back season after season” due to its popularity.
Van Ee says attending a classical music performance isn’t simply about entertainment. “An opera can make us ask questions about ourselves, and about the time we’re living in,” she says. Music can also be a solace. “In a time that’s very divisive, and that sometimes feels chaotic, music makes sense out of sound. It brings the chaos of sound into order. And it elicits emotions that might be very useful for people at a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty,” she says.
The Mill City Quartet spends half of its season performing in traditional venues like concert halls and the other half performing for inmates inside correctional facilities.
Erika Hoogeveen (’02) says she’ll never forget the time a woman came up to the group after a performance and thanked them, saying, “You made us feel like we were really human.”
“Inmates become an almost forgotten population,” Hoogeveen says. “The experience of having someone come and play for them is a way of showing them their lives are valuable.”
She says watching string musicians play together live—reading one another’s tempo in the movement of their bows, anticipating changes, making mistakes and recovering—can be like a small glimpse of the unity God calls us to embody as the church.
Aside from performing a regular concert season with the Mill City Quartet, Hoogeveen teaches violin lessons in her studio at home and serves as concert master for Dakota Valley Symphony.