Cowden sitting next to piano

Rudy Sanchez/The Paisano

How UTSA Music’s first female chair is going to make key changes to the department’s future.

This semester, the music department has acquired an ambitious new staff member who believes she can help propel the program forward. Dr. Tracy Cowden ,DMA has been named the new chair of the music department. Notably, she is the first woman to hold the title in the department’s history.

In an exclusive interview for The Paisano, Dr. Cowden expressed what attracted her to UTSA, her thoughts on how the program can play a larger role in the university’s success and how she plans to build the music department’s reputation as a leading institution of excellence and community involvement.

Dr. Cowden began her interest in music as a young girl living in the Detroit area. At a young age, she began to take piano lessons and quickly became a diligent pianist. Dr. Cowden continued practicing and performing in her school’s music program and her church. She quickly realized that her talent in music and working with other musicians could blossom into a successful career.

At Western Michigan University, Dr. Cowden received her bachelor’s degree in piano performance along with a minor in business. During her undergraduate studies, she enjoyed every opportunity to work with other people in various ensembles.

“I really like working with other people,” Dr. Cowden said. “As a pianist and as a musician, I really enjoy the process of making beautiful music together.”

This particular passion for working collaboratively became her motive in attending graduate school, which led to earning her master’s degree in piano accompanying and chamber music. Later on, she also earned her doctorate of musical arts for the same degree at the distinguished Eastman School of Music.

Dr. Cowden’s professional career is no less notable than her collegiate career. She began teaching at Ohio Wesleyan University for four years then went on to teach at Virginia Tech for fourteen years. During her tenure at Virginia Tech, she started as an assistant professor then ascended through the ranks and eventually became chair of the music department.

Dr. Tracy Cowden

Rudy Sanchez/The Paisano

“As a musician and an administrator, I enjoy seeing other people succeed and helping them do their best work,” Dr. Cowden said.

When asked about what attracted her to UTSA, Dr. Cowden explained her desire for another “big challenge.” “Just seeing the enthusiasm everyone has for the work here, how warm everyone is and the support for each other. Those things were especially attractive.”

Not only has Dr. Cowden been moved by the positive moral of the music community at UTSA, she was also impressed upon learning about the many strong programs and potential within the department. She commended the quality of educators that the music education program has been able to produce. She also recognized the potential for the growing programs such as music marketing, music technology and jazz studies.

When asked about the need of university investment into infrastructure for the arts, specifically a highly anticipated performing arts center, a topic President Eighmy has not failed to mention to students and faculty, she believes that such an investment would not only service the arts immensely but also the community. Dr. Cowden makes the case for the arts as the “life” of the university and attributes notable universities to having strong arts programs.

Dr. Cowden is no stranger to the philosophy of success and reward demands hard work and determination. By being a larger influence in the community and also working collaboratively with other departments in research programs, she believes the arts can help propel UTSA to Tier One status and influence the university to take initiative in supplying the arts programs with exceptional facilities.

“We just need to show what we could do if we had such a facility [performing arts center]. As long as we keep showing excellent work and show potential for research and collaboration then hopefully we can be successful.” She also addressed a concern for the department’s current facilities stating, “we are bursting at the seams… acoustically and spatially.” Implying that the facilities are not adequate for the size and caliber of the department.

Dr. Cowden stressed how community engagement is vital for the success of a reputable music program. She explained how becoming a strong presence in the community increases both the environment of the city, the quality of education the students receive and helps build the department’s credibility as a distinguishable arts institution. “I’m really eager to build relationships with the community… I want to build the profile of the department of music in San Antonio as an outstanding arts organization, a wonderful presenter of concerts and educational opportunities for the community such as String Project… It’s a huge city and we can play a bigger role.”

One of Dr. Cowden’s many initiatives is to immerse the faculty and staff into the city in the form of ensembles and chamber music performances. She believes this will help raise the profile of UTSA music into the arts scene of San Antonio and attract larger audiences to events on campus.

Dr. Eugene Dowdy, who served as the interim chair of the music department prior to Dr. Cowden’s arrival, commented on his successor, “[Dr. Cowden] is a wonderful new leader for the department of music because she’s got energy, she’s got cool ideas from Virginia Tech and we’re excited to start a new path… man, everything looks good.”

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