Ben Blasko, Lipscomb University’s new director of instrumental studies, noticed the strong relationship between the students and their professors from the moment he set foot on campus. The number of students pursuing a music major at Lipscomb is much smaller than the 2,500 music majors at the University of North Texas where Blasko was used to teaching, a part of the reason he was excited to teach at Lipscomb.
“I taught at the University of North Texas in the marching band, and there were over 400 students in the band, so I didn’t know everyone’s name,” said Blasko. “The (size) is really appealing here, and so is the faith aspect. A very small part of my story is that I had a seven-year battle with cancer and my faith was a huge part of getting me through that. The fact that I can talk openly about faith with these students, and that they can share as well, is really important to me.”
Blasko received his Bachelor of Science in music education from Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He then received a master’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate from The University of North Texas. During his senior year at Messiah College, Blasko began to get headaches and have dizzy spells. At first, the doctor thought it was an ear infection, but his diagnosis turned out to be much more serious.
“‘Oh, you have a brain tumor,’ the doctor said. They gave me three months to live,” said Blasko. “I worked it out with my mentor there, and he found things for me to do so I could stay on campus and stay busy so I would be occupied during treatments. I had really good people around me and I was surrounded by a lot of love and help. I got better. Against all odds.”
As he went in and out of remission, Blasko continued at Messiah College for a fifth year and obtained his bachelor’s degree, but it wasn’t an easy journey. He started his day at 5 a.m., taught classes for a few hours, participated in ensembles, then, ended his day with six hours of chemotherapy.
“My faith really pulled me through it all,” said Blasko. “I then went to Las Vegas to teach and had another bout of cancer which had migrated to my lungs. So I went back to Pennsylvania, and I had some people really care for me and pour into me.”
Although it was a trying time, Blasko said that a lot of good came out of his sickness. If he had not been sick, he would not know his two best friends, he would not be here at Lipscomb, and his story would not be featured in a music video.
“There is a local (Nashville) artist in town named Colton Dickson,” said Blasko. “I’ve become really good friends with him, and his music has been a real inspiration to me. Through various connections, I was able to work with him, and my story, among others, is told in his music video, ‘Through All of It.’”
Blasko is now 14 months into remission and upholds his positive outlook on life. He is often asked how he reconciles his faith with cancer. Blasko said this trial positioned him to look at difficult situations differently.
“Did God give me cancer? No, he doesn’t do that,” said Blasko. “What he does do is take situations that are not great and allows for light to shine through. If you think about it, if you take a candle it doesn’t really do great outside on a (bright and sunny) day like today, it does really well when its dark and the light really shines through. So that is how I feel and how I describe it.”
Something Blasko said he is particularly passionate about is showing his students that their worth is not defined by their performance. Blasko said he was fortunate enough to learn that lesson early on in life.
“We all went through identity crisis in college. Being sick in those formative years made me realize that none of this really matters–your worth is not tied into how you perform,” said Blasko. “At the end of the day it won’t matter, relationships matter, pouring into people matters. I had that, and I was really fortunate. I know not everyone has that. So, trying to make sure the students I interact with have that is really important to me.”
Along with learning that their value does not depend on their talents, Blasko also desires to instill an appreciation for a wide array of music to lay a sturdy foundation for his students.
“My goal is to expose students in the 21st century to the classical side of music from centuries past. If you think about the Bible, scriptures were written thousands of years ago, but they still influence what we do today. It’s very practical to life, and it’s still very much alive today, it’s the same with music,” he said.
Blasko came to Lipscomb in August and currently teaches a wind ensemble class, a fundamentals of music class, a conducting class and private brass lessons.
Under the direction of Blasko, the wind ensemble will perform their first concert, Oct. 8, at 5:15 p.m. in the Collins Auditorium. The ensemble will play five pieces – “Awaken Fanfare,” a piece Blasko wrote for this group; “A Little Three Penny Music,” by German composer Kurt Weill; “Strange Humors,” by John Mackey originally written to accompany dance; “Dum Spiro Spero,” which translates to “when I breathe, I hope;” and “Chaos Theory Electric Guitar Concerto,” showcasing students Ben Van Maarth and Piper Smith.
Blasko said he selected several really different pieces because he wants the audience to stay engaged and to be entertained. He wants people to come experience the performance because they might hear something they have never heard before, he said.
“You know people always say, ‘End with a big bang!’ Ah, no, I am going to leave people with a hug,” said Blasko. “We’re going to sing together and play music together, and I am going to talk people through it because I want this to be an engaged experience, I don’t want to just play at them.”
For more information about the wind ensemble’s first concert, click here.