Each month, The Stone House Center for Public Humanities interviews a humanities scholar or community member and asks them everything from why they believe the humanities are important to what they're currently binge-watching. We hope that our blog series, Coffee & Questions, will inspire you, introduce you to a variety of people and fields, as well as create new conversations.
Our guest this month is Dr. Jonathan Helmick, Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music at Slippery Rock University. Dr. Helmick received a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Conducting from The University of Southern Mississippi and a Master in Music Degree in Euphonium Performance, a Bachelor of Music in Music Education Degree, and Bachelor of Arts in Business and Organizational Communications degrees from The University of Akron. Dr. Helmick directs the wind ensemble, concert, band, and marching band at Slippery Rock University.
What inspires you in your current position/role?
Without a doubt, I would have to say my students. I live for those moments when students look into their “rear-view mirrors” and realize how far they have come, the relationships that they have fostered, the skills they have built, and the people that they have intentionally grown into being. I am inspired watching them grapple with new information, musical challenges and obstacles that they never thought possible, only to discover that they are capable of achievement and understanding that extends beyond what they think/thought possible. It gives me hope that they will transfer this belief in themselves, their ability to surmount what they think “impossible,” and build something extraordinary regardless of what circumstance throws at them. Think about it. Every challenge that they undertake and triumph over today is proof to who they will be tomorrow that they are capable of anything. That’s inspirational.
What work experiences (past or present) have been the most educational for you, and why?
While I was working on my doctorate at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), I had the pleasure of being a graduate assistant under Dr. Thomas Fraschillo. Dr. Fraschillo was the Director of Bands at the time and conducted the USM Wind Ensemble. He challenged me both directly and indirectly in ways that I cannot describe or quantify. Understand that watching him bring music to life was more impacting of an experience than I ever thought possible. But more than the study of music, he taught by example what it meant to have integrity, maintain high personal and professional standards, and hold people accountable to themselves and to others. Why was working with him so educational? He taught all of his students how to avoid inertia, shun mediocrity, and have pride in the work that they do.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
Well, that is a big question. I will give you the most immediate.
The Wind Ensemble is currently working on premiering Symphony No. 1: Heroes by composer Onsby Rose. This work was commissioned as part of a consortium, the SRU Wind Ensemble as a member. We will have the pleasure of having Onsby on campus in November as he will be joining the wind ensemble to provide insight on his masterwork. This collaboration will be powerful for our students as they will have the opportunity to better understand the mind of an outstanding composer as they bring his piece to life!
Why do you believe that the humanities are important to everyone, and not just people in academia?
I think that the humanities remind us that life is more than just surviving, it is about thriving. Life presents us with the opportunity to marvel, connect, discover, understand… I think that we forget that sometimes. Or perhaps, we often put that off in favor of the “checklists” in life. There is a significant focus on professional preparation these days which drives a myopic worldview. While professional preparation is most certainly important, so are the experiences that make life meaningful. The humanities, to me, allows us to experience diversity, understand perspective, and connect to each other as well as our past, present, and future. Furthermore, in the right hands, the humanities can be a laboratory for developing values and sharing beliefs, resulting in powerful actions.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you (hobby, skill, interesting story)?
I love running half marathons! It started out as a way to stay connected with a friend of mine after I left Mississippi to come to SRU. Each year, we run a half marathon together – the Disney Princess Half Marathon. Yes, you read that correctly. Each year she and I dress up as Disney characters and run through the parks of Disney. It is so much fun!
What shows are you currently binge-watching?
I absolutely love The Blacklist. Raymond Reddington is one of the most well-written characters – a perfect villain!
What is your first thought in the morning and last thought at night?
What's a book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
The Name of the Rose
What is the worst job that you had while working through your degree and what would you tell your past self now?
I really did not have a terrible work experience while working on my degrees. I think I was lucky in that regard!
Can you describe another aspect of your life or career that is influenced or enriched by the humanities that people would find surprising?
Music has opened up the world to me, quite literally. I have friends and colleagues all over the world that I have had the pleasure of meeting because of music. It translates language, culture, geographic boundaries – you name it. It is an everyday reminder that we are all far more similar than we are led to believe.
Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.