On Tuesday, November 26th at around 1:30PM, Javvieaus Stewart interviewed Dr. James Colonna. He is a newer professor of various subjects such as Orchestration and Arranging and Wind Symphony here at YCP and has already been a great influence on his students. He has taught in other places, but has been teaching at YCP for about four months. Dr. Colonna has done various things in his life, and they are not all musical. He is already accomplishing great things at YCP and will continue to do so.
Question 1: When and where were you born?
Answer 1: I was born in Kittanning, Pennsylvania on May 2nd, 1970.
Question 2: Who was the most influential person to you as a child?
Answer 2: As a child, I would say my dad. I wanted to be my dad. My dad was a high school band director at Punxsutawney Area High School. He was rare because he stayed there his entire career (38 years).
Question 3: How would you describe yourself as a student, both socially and academically in high school?
Answer 3: In high school – nerd. I was the guy who tried to look nice all the time. It was the 80s, so I would wear blue jeans, golf shirts with the collar. I dressed sort of preppy-ish. As far as my social life, I always wanted to date girls that were way beyond my league – all of them very, very, very good looking. But, being that I was the trumpet player and not necessarily the athlete and didn’t have the social skills I needed in high school, I spent a lot of time alone or with a small group of four or five people. That’s just how it was in high school, but mostly because I went to Catholic school as an elementary and junior high school student, the class size was about 8 to 10. Once I got to high school, I was surrounded by all the public school students who I had no clue who they were and they didn’t know me. Academically, I was in the general curriculum because I was told that I wouldn’t be bright enough to do things like foreign languages and sciences, which was not accurate because I was just lazy.
Question 4: Did you ever dream that you would be a doctor of music?
Answer 4: Yes, absolutely. I played basketball in ninth grade, and then left the athletic arena and really pursued trumpet. Starting in high school, I played every day for six hours, including Sunday. At first, my goal was to be the best trumpet player ever, not necessarily the University teaching – I wanted to be a performer. I caught the conducting bug when I went into the army and then said “That is what I want to do: teach at the University level.”
Question 5: What was your rank in the army?
Answer 5: I was a Private First Class. Because the army has it set up in a neat way, if you have a skill that you’re going to use for the military, you’re paid for the knowledge of that skill. So, because I had been playing the trumpet since I was six years old, the military looks and that and goes “Well, you’re coming with a skill that I didn’t have to teach you…” so they take us in as Private First Class first. And then I became a specialist for it, and that is what I was in the end.
Question 6: For how many years did you serve?
Answer 6: I served the standard 3 to 3.5 years contract. I just happened to hit desert storm the first time around.
Question 7: What did you learn from the army that benefited you most in life?
Answer 7: How to be independent, how to think on my own, and do what I need to do for my own survival. I was stationed in Fort Knox, which was about 12 hours away from where I lived and grew up. And the thing that was great about it was that I learned how to say “Okay, I just got paid. I am going to spend it on this, spend money on this with my friends, etc.” I didn’t have to go through the whole college freshman thing where I didn’t know what I was doing and was “running around in the dark.” I had no choice but to know. I think that was great that [the army] helped me become independent. [But] it caused a lot of conflict with my family relationships because they wanted me to be the “Jim that left” and I came back as the “Jim that I wanted to be. “
Question 8: What was your first job?
Answer 8: My first job was army bandsman. Before that, in high school, I delivered prescription drugs to people that couldn’t get out. So I worked for a drugstore in Downtown Punxsutawney, and every day after school, I’d clean the store, stock the merchandise, and there were tons of orders that had to go to old person’s facilities. And I would deliver them.
Question 9: Who was the biggest influence in your career?
Answer 9: I would have to go back to my very first teacher after serving in the military. My first teacher was Jack Stamp at the University of Pennsylvania. He is still there and is going to retire in a year or so. Big influence – he’s a composer and conductor. He taught me that music is something to be loved and something to be shared, but at a very, very high standard. And you can’t drop your standards for any reason. And I think that Jack has been by my side from the beginning and still is now and if I were to apply for other teaching positions or composition things, he’d write a letter of recommendation for me in a heartbeat. So he’s been a very big influence. His approach to teaching was really different from mine so it opened my eyes.
Question 10: What is your goal as a parent?
Answer 10: My goal as a parent [of two children] is to teach independence, how to think, the ability to love, but not to make love the only thing. I believe that children today are treated two different ways: either as property, which is a terrible way to go because then you don’t see them as an individual person. They begin thinking that when they are first born. They are not property. The other side is the “everyone is okay and everyone gets a trophy” side. I’m very opposed to that. For example, my son’s soccer team came in second in the Championship, but they got a medal just as big as the team who came in first. It’s supposed to be self-esteem building, but it creates a false expectation. I’d rather be honest with my children. When they don’t do something well, I tell them. When they do something well, I tell them. It has to be a constant communication because my goal is that when they are on their own, at first they don’t make the mistakes I made which both [my children] will probably do, and the other is to make sure they understand that it is okay to be [themselves] and it is okay to make mistakes. They have an opinion and it matters. I hear often from my daughter, in certain situations, that she feels like some people treat her like she’s just furniture. She’s not furniture. She has an opinion, and she’s thirteen now. Her opinion matters. My nine year old son – his opinion matters. [My son’s] not always right and neither is [my daughter], but their opinions do matter. And I think that it is important to show them that they are valued and they have to work hard for what they get. And sometimes, you’ll work really hard and not get the rewards you want. And that’s a tough lesson to learn. But I want them to learn that that could happen. And what do you do? You refocus.
Question 11: What does the word “family” mean to you?
Answer 11: Family, to me, means people that will accept you for who you are no matter what has gone on in your life.
Question 12: How would you describe yourself as a parent?
Answer 12: I’m extremely loving and I’m extremely open. Maybe more open than some people would like, but I’m very open. Again, to give my kids independence, I listen to what they want and what they think, and I work with that. I’m a communicator, and I think that is really important with [my kids]. So, as a parent, I’d say my role is to be communicative and not their friend, but yet, I am their friend. But I communicate; I listen to their thoughts. For instance, my daughter and I always talk when we’re driving. And she will ask the deepest questions and I give her my cornball, but well thought-out answers concerning religion or politics and any other things that she is starting to think about. And I tell her how I think it is, and often she says “You should teach my blah-blah-blah class,” and I say “No because that is not everyone’s opinion.” But it’s a chance for them to be free-minded and be able to choose things and not to be so sheltered. I was sheltered when I grew up. I didn’t know about other cultures, and so when I went into the military, I see all of these Latinos and African Americans and people from the Pacific Islands, and I just remained quiet until I could figure things out.
Question 13: In what ways have your parents influenced you?
Answer 13: The positive things: My parents did really instill in us to work hard and you’ll have success. There’s a two-sided story to that because, like I said with my own kids, I work hard, but have things turned out the way I want? Not at all. But is it a disappointment? Not really. What I’ve discovered is that the work hard thing is good. It’s to work hard at what you are doing and to be present in that and not to always be looking around the corner for the next good thing.” [My parents] didn’t teach that part, and so I’ve met a lot of frustration in that area. My parents were very good at letting us express ourselves in a certain parameter. Sometimes, I hold that on my kids, but not as much as my parents did for me.
Question 14: Do you wish that you had been raised differently?
Answer 14: Yes and no. No, in the sense that I grew up with really good morals and a really good understanding of things. Yes, in the sense that those morals and restrictive ideas prevented me from exploring things that other people my age were doing. And I’m not talking drugs and alcohol, though that is part of it. I was the kid who, until I was 21, did not sip a single drink of alcohol because that was wrong. I wish that I had a little more of a rebellious streak and would have gotten away with things a little bit more just so that I can relate to other people my age. I’ll hear people talk about their great experiences they had in their youth, and I’ll look at that and go “That was nowhere to be found.” And some of that has caused problems in my social interactions and even my professional life.
Question 15: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Answer 15: My ensemble at Utah University earned a spot to play at National Convention. That was a great accomplishment.
Question 16: What do you want to be remembered for when you die?
Answer 16: That’s a great question. I talk about this a lot, not that I plan on dying anytime soon. I always look back [at my life] and say “Well, what do I want people to say?” And I ask [my girlfriend], Kayla, this all the time. I tease her and say “What do you love about me?” [I ask this because] I want to have a gauge on whether I’m succeeding those areas. I want people to remember this: I’m very serious about what I do (performing music, composing music, teaching, etc.), and I’m very serious about making things on the musical side of things really great. But more importantly, I want people to realize that I’m a very kind human being. I’m a very loving human being. I will have your back until the end. However, I want people to remember that I will drop them when they became “disloyal” or counterintuitive to what I think was best for the relationship. I want people to say that “[Jim] was a lot of fun.” It’s hard, sometimes, when people look at what I do for a living as [just] seriousness. I am a ton of fun if you just let me be a ton of fun. But really, in the end, on my death bed, I want to be able to look back and say “I did this as a musician. I did this as someone who loves other human beings.” And then, personally, I rode my bike thousands and thousands of miles a year… That is very important to me because it makes me feel good about who I am. But in the end, I want people to say that “He was always friendly.” That is the key.
Question 17: Aside from being a professor here at the college, you bike, you compose music, and you do paranormal investigations. Can you please talk about all three of those?
Answer 17: Cycling is the most important thing! I’m very disappointed this year because my computer says that I only rode 3,996 miles, and I need one more day to go out and get those other 4. As a cyclist, the reason I love it is because it’s not music. But you learn cycling the same way you learn music. [When] you can’t do something, you practice the thing you can’t do and you get better. Cycling will always be a never-ending learning curve for me. It includes diet, nutrition, and weight-lifting for me, so it’s fascinating for me. As a composer, I’m working on a piece now that is not commissioned which is rare for me. I’m working on a piece that is about all the school shootings. I’m extremely distraught about it and my anxiety comes out sometimes. But I’m working on this piece that is for Chamber Orchestra. No voices. The piece is called “A Piece of Quiet: Silencing the Voices.” It’s sort of a multimedia/orchestra piece so I’m working on that now. That’s my greatest piece because that is what I’m working on now. As a paranormal investigator, people think I’m a little odd, but I haven’t done it since I moved here [near the York area], which is weird since there is more stuff going on here [in Pennsylvania] than in Utah [where I used to teach]. It’s only because I don’t have my team, and my team had the right combination: Me, the “want-to-believe-it’s-there”; Kayla, the extreme skeptical person; and then one other person who is neutral and in between us. It worked perfectly… I have heard things that confirm, for me, that ghosts are real. Spirits exist. I’ve confirmed, in my mind, that there are demons, which means that on the other side, there has to be something good. And when you do paranormal investigations, I try to avoid Christian religion and demonic whatever. I don’t want to be on either side of that. I want to be in the middle because it’s not always bad when it’s bad. [For example], if you’re a grumpy person in life, you’re going to be a grumpy person in death… It’s more of an experiment. What am I going to do with my evidence? I don’t know. I’m writing a book right now that’s all about [the paranormal investigations], all of the evidence I’ve collected, and my opinions. Will anyone read it? Who knows? But I love doing it for the proof more than anything. And sometimes it’s a thrill.
Question 18: My final question is this: What is the biggest piece of advice anyone has ever given you in your lifetime?
Answer 18: Be in the now. For me, that is hard to do. But be in the now and enjoy what you have now because you don’t know what’s next.