Profile: The Music Never Stops for Doug Andrews
SFCC Cultural Programs dean, Doug Andrews, has always had the music in him. “I was always interested in musical sounds,” he said. “I think it’s just the way I’m wired, and a little bit of genetics as well. My mother wasn’t trained, but she had a good ear and a pleasant singing voice.”
Andrews first stepped into the world of music when he began taking guitar lessons in the seventh grade, and in high school he played in bands, sang in the chorus, and performed in musicals. He also wrote folk style music on his own and could play the piano by ear. But even with all of his innate talent, he never planned on having a career in music. “I wanted to major in Spanish and be a translator.”
When a local college in his town was holding an open house for its music program, his high school music teacher encouraged him to attend. “I really just wanted to get out of school for the day, but when I saw students auditioning, I decided I wanted to try it.” However, once Andrews got there, he wondered if he had made the wrong choice. “I hated it,” Andrews said. “I enjoyed my music theory and jazz classes, but I didn’t want to be a music teacher. I’d tried to change my major to Spanish like I had originally wanted, but they told me I would have to start over. I already had many of my credits completed, so I remained a music major. It wasn’t until I began student teaching that I realized I actually enjoyed teaching music.”
After college, Andrews continued with his passion and played keyboard at a resort hotel restaurant in Pennsylvania as well as other semi professional and professional gigs. He began teaching music as the choral director at a high school in Pennsylvania, and he continued writing songs. In 1978, Andrews decided he would try to get some of his music published. He sent an original chorale composition to Shawnee Press, and the company accepted it. At the time, it was the only one of his chorale pieces to be published.
Andrews had also written some pop songs and sent those in as well. “Some were published and rerecorded by studio musicians to help gain more interest in them,” he said. “I was invited to the rerecording session, where I sat in a room with a wall full of gold records. None of my pop songs were ever professionally recorded, but it was a really cool experience.”
In the years following, Andrews worked as a chorale director and music teacher for high schools and SFCC, never expecting he would have an experience similar to the first. However, in 1995, Andrews’ success increased exponentially after he formed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble for SFCC’s music students. “The group would travel and give performances in different locations,” he said. “We even toured Mexico and performed a series of concerts during spring break.”
While preparing for the ensemble’s holiday performance, Andrews began writing Christmas arrangements. “There aren’t many jazz arrangements for Christmas songs, so I arranged a few for the ensemble to perform.” Then a friend suggested he send them in to Shawnee Press and the company accepted all four, which included a jazz arrangement of “Silent Night.” Since then, Andrews has had 78 pieces published by 13 publishers. His songs can be found in a variety of music books, and many of Andrews’ published pieces are performed world-wide at concerts, in high school and college music programs, and in churches.
For his arrangements, Andrews takes an already existing song and modifies it by changing the melody, rhythm, harmony, and chords. When he composes music, he creates new music to accompany previously written words from poems, church hymns, folk songs, and sacred texts. “When I compose music, I take the words and try to get a feel for their emotional content. Then I try to create music that matches it.”
He has a stack of future projects at home, and if something catches his interest he adds it to his stack. “There’s not much difference between arranging a song and composing new songs,” Andrews said. “The process is in trying to find fresh and interesting sounds that logically lead to each other.”
Andrews spends much of his free time working on his music and inspiration can strike him at any time. “I once arranged a song in my head while I was out on a fishing boat.” The length of time it takes him to compose a song or arrangement varies. “Some come fast and only take a couple of hours; others take longer.” He also plays in the local jazz group Emanon. The group performs local gigs in different configurations and can often be heard at SFCC events such as the Jacaranda Jubilee.
In June, Andrews will be a guest conductor for the Claremont Chorale, a prestigious community choir group in California, when it performs his original composition for “Spring Suite,” a series of poems by Marcyn Clements. Andrews composed the music after a publisher asked him if he would be interested. “The publisher mailed the poems to me, and I really liked them. It gave me the opportunity to stretch and try to capture the visuals she created in her poems. The music is more classical and less jazz influenced than others I have done.”
Andrews next project is a song called “Dona Nobis Pacem,” which is Latin for Grant Us Peace. The song already had a preexisting melody, but Andrews will use the words to write a new melody for it and then combine the two. “When you’re creating music, it’s like you’re creating this fabric and weaving these lines around each other. The fun is in trying to figure out how to go from here to there in a way that makes sense and takes the listener on a journey.”
“I’ve never created music for money or recognition,” Andrews said. “It’s just the way I express myself.”