For Phillip Drange, music is more than just his passion, it’s a way to honor his late brother
Clad in a black tuxedo, Phillip Drange confidently approached the conductor’s podium at Harlen Adams Theatre one April evening, ready to the Symphonic Winds Orchestra in a debut performance during the its spring concert.
It was a heady moment for the senior music education major, whose original composition, “Aaron’s Song,” featured a 25-member choir and a 30-member orchestra. Phillip also wrote lyrics for the 13-minute piece, which he said expressed his emotions as he tried to process living life without his twin brother.
During the performance, however, Phillip said he focused his mind on the mechanics.
“Everything else disappears, and it’s just you and the musicians,” he said.
Driven by his devotion to music and his dream of becoming a music teacher, Phillip has demonstrated great discipline and passion for his major, spreading his interests into as many performance opportunities as possible, including serving as a member of the Wild Cat Pride pep band, the Wind Ensemble, and the Jazz X-Press ensemble. And, for the past two years, he has been a percussionist in the North State Symphony, the Unviersity’s professional, regional orchestra that performs in Chico and Redding, and other communities.
“That’s the nice thing about Chico State; you get to do a little bit of everything if you want to, because the music department’s so flexible,” he said. “You can perform, compose, teach—anything else you want to do.”
North State Symphony Executive Director Elizabeth Quivey says Phillip has distinguished himself as a versatile musician and consummate team player. His attitude has been especially heartwarming.
“I appreciate the many times he’s walked by my office and cheerily said, ‘have a great day!’ out of the blue. Phillip is a genuinely nice person, and has made a positive impact on many,” she said.
After graduating this month with a bachelor’s degree in music education, Phillip will continue his journey toward becoming a music teacher.
“Teaching first- and second-graders how to sing—there’s nothing like it,” Phillip said about what attracts him to teaching.
“You work so hard on your own instrument, and it’s like, ‘ah, is it worth it?’” he continued. “Then, you see a kid get excited about music, and you say, ‘oh, it’s so worth it.’”
For Phillip, the experience of discovering the awe of music hits home.
As he grew up in Pasadena as with both of his parents as music educators, no one was surprised when he chose to pursue a music education degree at Chico State, along with his twin brother, Aaron.
The pair took many of the same classes, performed in some of the same music groups, and even showed up—rain or shine, sick or well—to play at the downtown Chico Certified Farmers Market every Saturday, along with a few friends. Phillip played the cajon, a Peruvian wooden box used as a drum, while Aaron played the saxophone or sang.
They were a vibrant pair around campus, synchronized through years of performing with each other.
Drange, who plays a variety of percussion instruments—as well as vibraphone, guitar, and piano—said he and Aaron wanted to stay together in college.
“Our plan for after graduation was always to get gigs together,” he said.
Everything changed the summer before the brothers were to begin their third year at the University, when Aaron, then 20, died in a tragic accident.
In the hard weeks and months following his brother’s death, Drange pushed forward in his studies with the emotional support he received from his professors and friends.
“Everyone was there for me,” he said. “People definitely wanted me to succeed and did not want me to give up. They would hear me out when I wanted to talk about Aaron, and tell me about their own experiences with him.”
In the months following Aaron’s death, their older brother Matt worked with the College of Humanities and Fine Arts to establish the Aaron Drange Memorial Scholarship. Many friends, family, faculty, students, and community members have made contributions to support it.
“It’s really nice to know that his memory will be passed on but also to know that people will get some of the same opportunities that I got and that Aaron got,” said Drange. “It’s good to know that people will get to pursue music the same way he did, with love and passion.”
The power of personal connection resonates with Phillip, not just because of his twin brother, but also because of a bond he has made as the recipient of a scholarship honoring a former faculty member, the Daniel Hiestand Music Education Scholarship. Drange received the award in 2015.
The scholarship—supported by Marilyn Hiestand, the professor’s wife—requires that recipients be selected by audition, as well as participate in Chico State bands and belong to the Music Educators National Conference. During his years in the program, Drange heard many amazing stories about Professor Hiestand and wished he would have had the chance to learn from the legendary professor personally.
Just one of seven scholarships Phillip earned during his time at Chico State, it remains a powerful reminder of his own talent and passion, and inspires him to continue refining his craft.
“I promise that we will always remember Mr. Hiestand,” Drange wrote in a two-page, hand-written, thank-you note to Marilyn Hiestand. “His impact has spread so far and wide.”
Drange will be part of that, passing the legacy of loving music from himself to his future students.