On Jan. 17, Ben McNaboe, a third-year music education major with a saxophone concentration, from Yarmouth, Maine, will present “An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics,” a fundraiser for the University of Maine School of Performing Arts.
The event, created by McNaboe, is the first of its kind and will feature about 90 musicians and vocalists. It’s McNaboe’s intent to bring together UMaine performers — students, faculty and alumni — while raising money for SPA. The gala event will include a 45-person orchestra and vocalists from The Steiners and Renaissance, the male and female a cappella groups on campus.
McNaboe is also active with music and education throughout the state. He is currently serving as the music director for Hermon High School’s performance of “Little Shop of Horrors” and Yarmouth High School’s performance of “Seussical the Musical,” and as a liaison for the Maine International Center for Digital Learning.
You’re organizing the event, what inspired its creation?
I do a lot of shows. It’s kind of my niche and my passion, and I have always just been interested in common experiences among student bodies.
I identified, when I came to UMaine, that we could be doing more to merge the worlds of the vocal and instrumental majors.
We get so busy with our own recitals and symphonic concerts as instrumentalists and the vocalists get so busy with their tours and shows that we never really go to each other’s performances. We never really collaborate on a big scale. I saw this as a great opportunity to get almost 100 students to collaborate across content area and disciplines.
You’re music directing high school shows, what have you learned from that experience?
Even if I’m not music directing students or kids, 90 percent of what we do as a music director is teaching. You’re creating a product, and I think that’s what I really like most about it.
At Stages Performing Arts Academy where I work in the summers, I have kids as young as 10 to students high school age. There are always some kids in every cast who do unbelievable things. The two leads in the Hermon show are 17 years old and pouring their hearts out on stage at rehearsals, so it’s always exciting. I like that age group, and I think they enjoy working with a university student.
Why did you choose UMaine?
I transferred here my second year. I was in school in Rhode Island when I identified what I wanted my major to be in. I looked at a bunch of schools, mostly big state universities like UMaine. I think for music, they cover a lot with networking and access.
I had been here for conferences before. I love the stuff the Collins Center [for the Arts] does. I think it’s a really nice kind of pocket — there’s a lot going on here. I think it presents a lot of opportunities for people to start their own projects — such as the concert we’re doing — to have some leadership capacity and explore themselves as learners and as students. At a conservatory or smaller music school I wouldn’t be able to do that.
Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better, if so how?
I adore all the faculty here, particularly my flute teacher Liz Downing who also works in New Student Programs. She’s an incredible flute player and she is my flute teacher. She has been great; she’s definitely like my school mom. She’ll listen to my ideas.
Back when I had the idea for the Rodgers and Hammerstein concert I brought it to her in a lesson. It’s not uncommon for us to have a lesson that lasts 40 minutes and then talk for an hour afterward. She’s really good about not saying, “That’s a crazy idea,” but talking me through things, like “How can we do this?” and making a plan. She has been a really great guiding light in those times and a phenomenal teacher.
What difference has UMaine made in your life and helping you reach your goals?
Being here, and particularly being someone from the state who knows a lot of people in the state’s world of education and music, the university has given me an unbelievable opportunity to start something new. This fundraiser is something new; nothing like it has ever been done here. That’s just invaluable for me, as a learning process, to do something for the first time and bring people together. I think it has given me so much opportunity to be a leader.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
About college in general, my big blanket point I make to students graduating from high school is to take some time to learn how you learn. I think that’s really important in college because you are on your own a lot more academically, and professors aren’t going to hold your hand through every little thing. So really taking some serious time to identify how you learn best and what strategies and study habits work for you.
In the process of that, do as much as you possibly can. I think it’s important in college to take advantage of all the opportunities the university has for you. If you don’t come in knowing or thinking you know what your passion is, explore as much as you possibly can and don’t waste any time.
What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine?
Definitely EDB 221: Education in a Multicultural Society. This course did a great job of opening my eyes about so much. We talk about different cultures and trends in the scope of education and the professor, Phyl Brazee, is phenomenal.
What is your favorite place on campus?
I really love being in Buchanan Alumni House. It’s a beautiful building. I’ve been able to go there and study a little bit. The courtyard is really nice, too.
Have you had an experience at UMaine that has shaped the way you see the world?
The one thing I think about a lot is the decision to come to UMaine after going to a high school in southern Maine. The bar is set really high at the school I went to, and I think there is this expectation to look at smaller liberal arts colleges or go out of state. I talk a lot to people about the decision to come here and how it really opened my eyes.
I didn’t go here initially and I think everyone ends up at the right place at the right time for the right reasons. At first I was really nervous about transferring here. I quickly was fine and couldn’t have been happier with my move. I think it opened my eyes to these unnecessary stigmas about staying in the state for school and I’ve gone back to Yarmouth multiple times to talk to students about this realization.
I try really hard to say there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a great university; there’s nothing wrong with going to UMaine or any of the universities in the University of Maine System. It is what you make it, and this is what I think I’ve learned: “Yeah, you can make it fit all those stigmas you hear about going to school in state. Or you can make it this great, vibrant place by being active and involved.”
There’s so much to be involved in, so it has really opened my eyes a lot.