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Interview with Joseph Legaspi, D.M., University Director of Music

Q. How did you become the University director of music?

A. It was an accident. I moved to America to go to university and I attended Indiana University where I was a vocal performance student. While in school, I would travel to New York and New Jersey for auditions and I eventually moved to New Jersey because of its easy access to New York City. Getting back to how I got to Saint Peter’s University, the Philippine Madrigal Singers performed on campus and at that concert, I was introduced to Fr. Braden and Fr. Sullivan. They were looking for someone to play piano at Mass. I played the piano for a long time and then started a choir at St. Aedan’s: The Saint Peter’s University Church. They eventually assigned me the Aidan C. McMullen Chorale and it kept getting bigger and bigger. I eventually applied for and got the position of director of music.

Q. In your past, you had the opportunity to work with a famous Filipino musician, composer and conductor, Ryan Cayabyab.

A. Yes, Ryan Cayabyab. In fact, he is so famous in the Philippines that people refer to him by his first name. I was his assistant for many years. I learned a lot from him and met many famous people. I learned from his behavior and his music skills. His networking skills were just as valuable as his musical talent.

Q. How did you transform the music program at Saint Peter’s?

A. I transformed the program by thinking about the students. I discovered their interests and what they had not yet experienced. Most of them have not had voice lessons or music theory classes. I feel more at ease training beginners. You have to be creative and that comes naturally for me. You have to use your imagination to help them grasp concepts. I always start with songs they know or that they will like.

However, they do not know what they like until they experience it; they resist. They have to trust me that we cannot sing all pop songs or musical theatre pieces. They may not know that they actually like something until they try to sing it.

Q. You also coordinate programs for the public on behalf of the University. Can you explain Arts on Bergen?

A. Indiana was blooming with entertainment but there were not that many arts programs in Jersey City when I came here. I believe that we need to experience art in our community. We need to bring art to the students and to the community. Arts on Bergen is a free concert series intended for the communities in and around Saint Peter’s. There is a midday and evening edition. Arts on Bergen adds a lot of value because it is accessible and created for the public. The lineup is as diverse as possible and I performed last season. My recital was called “Recycled,” which means it is a recycled repertoire from my doctoral dissertation, which focuses on classical pieces that were re-used and re-used. It was meant to educate people on music borrowing.

Q. What is something about yourself that most people do not know?

A. I love photography. I tend to think about work all the time and this gets my mind off things. I love the whole process of photography. I went to Spain just to take pictures.

To learn more about Arts on Bergen, visit their Facebook page.