Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor
Biola University Chorale Conductor
Vocal Jazz Conductor
Dr. Stewart directs the Biola Chorale and Vocal Jazz ensembles, and she is also the instructor for Beginning and Advanced Conducting courses, Choral Methods, and Choral Literature. A significant role model to students seeking to pursue a career in music education and choral conducting, her love of music and for her students has been an inspiration to many young teachers entering the field of education today. Alumnus and music educator Tyler Wigglesworth ('12) notes, "Dr. Shawna Stewart is a master of her craft; with impeccable technique and a fiery passion she conducts the Biola Chorale and Vocal Jazz Ensemble. She expects excellence from her student conductors, which in turn produces high performing conductors that are ready to step onto the podium. I learned a great deal from her and can attribute my initial passion for conducting to the opportunities I had to sing under her direction."
Education & Influences
Her musical training began at age 4 when she was enrolled in an outstanding program for young children called Children's Music Academy, and throughout the rest of her education up to her graduate studies, she participated in school and church choirs. In the fourth year of her undergraduate studies at John Brown University, she took her first conducting class and was drawn to pursue a career in choral music through exposure to the great works of master composers. She says, "The music of Bach, Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff was the first to convince me that I wanted to spend my life conducting choirs. One of her professors during this time, Paul B. Smith, played a key role in her approach to choral conducting. "I owe him thanks," she remarks, "for instilling in me a love for quality choral music, and understanding of musical line, and his never-ending support of my gifts in conducting and teaching." She also notes that her musical style and approach is a "conglomeration" of her lessons with and observations of some of the best choral conductors in the nation and in the world.
Teachers include Dr. William Dehning, Helmuth Rilling, Kenneth Jennings, Donald Neuen, René Clausen, Donald Hunsberger, and David Effron.
Dr. Stewart has had many opportunities to teach students of all ages. She served as an instructor of choral music at John Brown University and the Director of Choral Studies at North Dakota State College of Science. She also served as a vocal director for the musical productions of Trollwood Performing Arts School in Fargo, ND, for five consecutive summers. Dr. Stewart also owns and teaches a Whittier branch of Children's Music Academy (CMA), a Denver-based school for early childhood music education.
Dr. Stewart is active in the wider L.A. music education world, serving as a guest conductor for Jr. High and High School choirs, and as an adjudicator for choral and vocal jazz festivals. She intentionally seeks to build relationships between Biola and local schools through the invitational choral festivals hosted on campus by the Biola University Choral Department. In addition to holding memberships with MENC (now the National Association for Music Education, or NAfME), SCVA (Southern California Vocal Association), and ACDA (American Choral Director's Association), she was a board member of the California chapter of ACDA for six years, and the president of the Pacific Southwest Intercollegiate Choral Association for one year. At the collegiate level, she also served as an adjudicator at Chapman University and Mt. San Antonio College.
Dr. Stewart has also been involved in church music ministry throughout her career. She has held both short and long-term positions at several churches in Southern California including the Crystal Cathedral, Whittier Area Community Church, and Granada Heights Friends Church.
Faith in Action
In Spring 2014, Dr. Stewart and the Biola Chorale had the opportunity to tour South Korea to perform concerts at schools, churches, and concert halls across the country. Rehearsing for this trip since the fall, they could not foresee how timely their trip would be. As the nation grieved the loss of the passengers of the ferry that sunk on April 16, the Chorale sought to bring comfort through music and to share in the sufferings of these families. Dr. Stewart wrote about their experience in the Korea tour blog blog (http://biolachoralekorea.blogspot.com/): "It's hard to put into words our experience last night at Jindo. We are humbled to have been invited into their grief. It sounds like much good has come from it even in the smallest of things like the expression of our emotion through tears. We concluded by singing Amazing Grace with the families, us in English, the families in Korean. Soli Deo gloria."
Reflecting on the trip, Dr. Stewart comments, "We are marveling at the way God is choosing to make His name known in Korea. And we are marveling at how much we are growing. We have learned so much about hospitality and respect from our hosts. We are learning about God's magnificence and lavish love from the way we are being cared for here. We are learning and seeing first hand that music really does comfort and heal; that music is the universal language; that music can bridge gaps otherwise untouchable. We are learning that God's grace is enough… We thank God for using us. I thank Him for not only bringing us here to help Korea heal and know Him, but also to change lives amongst ourselves."
Dr. Stewart began teaching at Biola in 1997. During her time at Biola, she has led the Chorale on tour throughout Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Calling the community "remarkable," she notes that Biola is marked by the quality of its students and the community they forge with one another. "The students genuinely love one another and encourage one another to grow, to have fun, to work hard, to enjoy college life. In an artistic community, competition will arise, but in the Biola community, competition is used to spur one another on to greatness not to tear one another down. Students want the best for each other spiritually, relationally and academically." Dr. Stewart sees the same supportive spirit in the relationships between Conservatory's faculty members. "We have relationships outside of the Conservatory, and we care about each other on far more than a professional basis. We as a faculty also deeply care about the students. "Learning" at Biola goes far beyond book content. As the students want to see each other grow, we as faculty also want to see the students grow in a holistic way: spiritually, mentally, relationally and academically. That means, among many things, that we attend their concerts, invite them to our homes for dinner, have one-on-one time at office hours or at coffee shops, support their mission trips, pray for them regularly, and give them the best that we have inside and outside of the classroom."
Having taught for 19 years, she finds joy in the connections she makes with students as she witnesses their passion for making music. She reflects: "The best moments for me are when students have life and excitement in their eyes as I conduct. It means to me that they "get it." There is nothing more thrilling than when I look up and see them looking at me with passion and purpose, and singing with commitment to the music. My deepest desire is for them to be inspired to learn more about music. I love it when they ask questions; it means they are thinking. Above all, I am most interested in seeing students understand the purpose of music in God's kingdom. If they get that, they will be motivated to produce and be involved with great music for life."