Keeping the Beat of a Legacy
By Sara Sobota
Photos by Easton Selby and CCU Photography
When Carolyn Cox founded the CCU music program in 1973, she likely had a student like Rachel Huggins in mind.
Cox led and served the Department of Music for more than two decades, retiring in 1997. When she passed in 2014, a scholarship designed for a promising young music major in the field of music education was established in her name.
Huggins, a current freshman, hadn’t set foot on this earth when the program was founded, yet her talent, determination, and open-ended approach to music make her an ideal recipient of this gift. For the next four years, Huggins will continue the musical legacy that Cox began.
As a high school percussionist with a love for the marimba and world percussion, Huggins had opportunities to attend her choice of universities, but the CCU music program rose to the top of her list when she attended her program audition and met a trio of faculty members.
“After talking to Dr. Willis, Dr. Pendell, and Dr. Griffin, I realized that this program would be a really good fit for me,” said Huggins. “They explained to me the kind of repertoire they play, and that my education wouldn’t just be focused on world percussion; it would be focused on all aspects of percussion, so that’s what really got me to come here.”
Huggins maximized her musical experiences and opportunities right out of the gate. She performs in the CCU percussion ensemble, marching band, and world percussion ensemble Calypsamba, and she traveled in December 2019 to the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Indianapolis, Ind. Huggins plays a wide variety of instruments, including the snare drum, timpani, steel drum, and double seconds steel pan in addition to marimba.
“Pretty much any small instrument you can hand me, I’ll play,” said Huggins.
Jesse Willis, associate professor in the Department of Music and director of the CCU Percussion Ensemble and World Percussion Ensemble, said Huggins’ abilities as well as her approach make her a model music major.
“Rachel’s done a really great job here,” said Willis. “She’s been dedicated; she’s involved in basically everything we’re doing in the percussion ensemble. She’s had some good opportunities, especially on marimba. We’ve thrown her into the deep end on a few things because I know she’s got a passion for it.”
Huggins said her experience at CCU so far confirms that the CCU music program is the right fit for her.
“I’m being challenged a healthy amount,” said Huggins. “I’m definitely getting the education I wanted and the experience I was hoping for.”
Ultimately, Huggins plans to teach music at the elementary school level and maintain a side gig assisting a high school marching band. The flexibility and breadth of the program suits her goals, Willis said, and it will also play an important role in her career as an educator.
“We want people who are interested in being well-rounded, who are open to performing a variety of different things, because in our minds, that’s how we can best prepare students to be not just performers, but teachers as well. If you’re going to be a teacher, then you have to be the expert in the room on as many things as possible.”
A panel of CCU music faculty determines the recipient of the scholarship, and Willis believes Huggins and students like her are valuable investments for the program and the university.
“We’re very excited that she ended up choosing Coastal because the type of musician and the type of student that she is,” Willis said, “is exactly who we want for our program.”
Down the road, when Huggins is in the classroom and inspiring future generations of marimba players, Carolyn Cox’s legacy will continue to reverberate.