On the second floor of the University Center of the Arts, deep organ music fills the silence.
“We have accompaniment,” said Denise Apodaca, a music teacher at Colorado State University. “It’s quite dramatic. Now I feel like telling a sad story. Isn’t it funny how music does that? It’s a mood changer.”
Her enthusiasm for music is part of what makes Apodaca a beloved music teacher at CSU, and what landed her a nomination for the 2015 Best Teacher Award. Although she did not win, she said she was completely honored because the nomination came from her students.
“I care so deeply for them that it was just one of those things where I thought it was such an incredible honor,” Apodaca said.
Her caring nature toward teaching her students does not go unnoticed. Kasey Kostelecky, a junior health and exercise science major, was so influenced by Apodaca that he wrote a commencement speech about Apodaca for his speech and communication class after taking her music appreciation class in fall 2014.
According to Kostelecky, he assumed the music appreciation class would be an easy A. However, he said he was wrong to think of the class as a joke.
“I still think back to that first day of music appreciation when I was expecting to breeze right through the course,” Kostelecky said in the speech. “I had no idea that I was going to be taught so much more than just learning music.”
Apodaca’s passion for music started at a young age. She said that in kindergarten, she found her sense of communication through music because Spanish was her first language, and she felt like she did not belong.
“No one understood why I was combining these two languages together, Spanish and English,” Apodaca said. “Then they heard me play the piano, and then it almost became this showcase and it wasn’t mine anymore.”
After venturing into medical school and dropping out, Apodaca found her way back to studying music. She said she became interested in teaching through her experiences with her own teachers.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation where I was so excited about doing something and the person introducing it to me just broke that,” Apodaca said. “Or on the reverse, inspired (me) to an extent where I never even dreamed possible.”
Yael Matthews, a sophomore sociology major, has dreams of becoming a musician. She said she credits finding her passion for music to Apodaca.
“I have never had a teacher before who supported my biggest dream of being a musician,” Matthews said.
According to Matthews, Apodaca makes connections with her students to reach them on a different level.
“A lot of teachers will go in to do their job, but she goes in and connects with every single student on a personal level,” Matthews said. “She’s so graceful when she teaches. She talks to you like your friend.”
Apodaca said she loves teaching music appreciation because it reaches students from every major and everybody comes into the class with a different perspective.
“We get to talk about how important it is to have a well-rounded education,” Apodaca said. “Science is great, but there is another side of your brain that needs that creativity.”
According to Kostelecky, Apodaca not only teaches music, but also valuable life lessons. He said the most important lesson he learned from her was having respect for himself and for others.
“Before I took music appreciation, I was afraid of what other people thought of me, but Professor Apodaca has indirectly taught me to be myself,” Kostelecky said. “In order to be myself, I had to respect myself and my peers.”
Apodaca’s music appreciation lectures even draw in people who are not enrolled in the course.
“Friends bring friends and sometimes (students) bring their families,” Apodaca said. “I’ve seen moms and dads and grandparents there. It’s fantastic.”
Not only do outsiders visit her classes, Apodaca said past students will make an appearance too.
“I always tell my kids, my students, that once you’re my student you’re forever my student.”
Collegian Reporter Zara DeGroot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @zar_degroot.