As a first-year student, Christopher Navarrete was certain he would want a career using his hands. So when he enrolled at Chico State in 2009, he declared as a mechanical engineering major.
Having had a fondness for the trumpet, however, Navarette couldn’t let his passion go so easily. There was something about the grind of learning his instrument that just wouldn’t stop calling to him.
“I just played every day, and I really loved it—there’s a feeling of an instrument just making a good sound that sticks with me,” he says. “But mostly, I like the working part of it. I like the thought of persisting at something and constantly getting better.”
That theme is one that guided his life throughout his undergraduate years, and one he hopes to pass on to his students now as the University’s new director of bands, leading the Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, and Wild Cat Pride, the University’s pep band. He arrived here, somewhat predictably, through hard work—and with plenty of support.
“He was unique in that he was already a bridge-builder as a student, and he comprised aspects of all disciplines and participated with everybody,” says Joseph Alexander, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. “And he’s always been conscious and passionate as a musician.
“We’re really lucky to have him back,” Alexander continues. “He’s a magnet—the students absolutely love him.”
Navarrete’s predecessor, Royce Tevis, presided as something of an institution for four decades before retiring this spring. As a freshman, Navarette auditioned to play the trumpet—the same instrument Tevis began with as a student himself—and the director of bands and other faculty took notice. As Navarrete applied himself more and more to music, he grew fonder of the department’s staff, Tevis in particular. He loved Tevis’ teaching style and principles, and the idea soon grew within him that he, too, wanted to teach music one day. After switching disciplines, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in music in 2013 and finished his single-subject credential a year later.
“Being under Dr. Tevis’ direction really started connecting some dots for me,” Navarrete says. “I saw how he used music to teach young individuals how to become people, and how that changed them for the better—helped them mature but also gave them a skill set through discipline and work ethic, and I thought that was the coolest thing. I still try to be all about that.”
Navarrete’s office, a small but cozy room in the Performing Arts Center, is, to a degree, austere: There are expected items adorning this lair, more or less neatly. A pair of horns on stands sits on the floor—one is a chunky-looking Civil War-era cornet he acquired on the cheap in hopes of capturing a classic New Orleans jazz sound; the other is a gleaming, modern trumpet, stashed by the foot of an upholstered green leather chair. Sheet music hangs over his desk, his monitor, his bookshelf. A small cabinet behind him props up a half-gallon water jug, and a large bag each of Granny Smith apples and dry almonds—Navarrete, 30, is a CrossFit athlete and prefers to have healthful snacks on hand. Everything in here serves a purpose, even the old cornet, which he takes with him to jam sessions in town with students.
“It’s got that sound, and it captures what I’m looking for, and it’s neat to share,” Navarrete says. “But I’m still learning on it. It’s important for my students to see that I can struggle, too. It’s a never-ending process.”
Concurrently working on his doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado, Navarrete is in the throes of preparation for this Saturday’s Daniel Hiestand Memorial Concert, a 7:30 p.m. show in Laxson Auditorium that is free, open to the public, and meant to support the Hiestand Music Education Scholarship—an award which Navarrete was presented with during his time in school here. He will conduct the ensembles in this concert.
A two-part show featuring the Chico State Ensemble and the Alumni Band, “the Hiestand” is named after the late Daniel Hiestand, the former director of bands before Tevis. The primary purpose of the concert is to bring band alumni back to campus and to honor the current Hiestand recipient. The Daniel Hiestand Music Education Scholarship was established in 1992 and endowed in 1998 to support music education majors who are active in the ensembles. Marilyn Hiestand endowed the fund to honor her husband by supporting aspiring music educators, and 25 students have benefited through the years.
Hiestand was known for being a “teacher’s teacher” and a true friend to students—a legacy Tevis furthered and that Navarrete hopes to continue. Having seen his own story unfold thanks to the support he received from the scholarship and several other music department awards, Navarrete is particularly aware of the importance of donor support as a music student.
“It was huge—money was always a problem for our family,” says Navarrete, a first-generation student. “My family’s working middle class, and school is expensive. For some students, students like me, a pat on the back or show of support can jumpstart things for you. When I got that scholarship, it was a key moment for me. I looked at all these fantastic musicians around me, and saw that I was the one getting this scholarship. That was a lot of validation for me.”
Navarrete still keeps the letter he received upon graduating college from North State Symphony donor Victoria Simone-Letcher, pledging to support him with $1,000 each semester he continued to further his post-grad music education, and he hopes to see the Chico community continue that culture of support for its musicians. It’s his role, as he sees it, to continue to push those musicians to excel.
Gifts for the Hiestand Scholarship are made to the fund throughout the year, and participants in the concert often give a gift in addition to their participation cost. Marilyn’s daughter, Mary Schmutz, is the primary contact for the fund. Attendees can make a donation at the door or send in their gift following the concert. To donate online, visit the HFA giving page.
“Chico State—our students, our faculty, our alumni—we have this community of support that’s beyond compare,” he says. “We’re a family, and we all have this shared experience together. We’ve all cultivated this community through music, and all these people are coming together because of that, and that’s what music has instilled in us as people.”
Beyond this weekend’s concert, Navarrete has a long list of goals he’d like to achieve with the University’s bands, including more live performances on and off campus, a new mixed ensemble class, and future collaborations with other departments to develop combined ballroom dance and live jazz monthly for students.
Though he acknowledges the big shoes he has to fill—he’s only the program’s third director in a half century—he feels little stress or pressure from it, thanks to the incredible department, faculty, and alumni support he’s received. His compass remains the same as Hiestand’s, the same as Tevis’: Make meaningful connections with students, and pay it forward.
“For me, music is really about connecting humanity,” Navarrete says. “Teaching music is instilling the ability to express yourself, and make others feel it, to make that connection happen.”