Jazz guitarist heads to dream music school
Denin Koch '18 was inspired to play jazz in high school when he heard an album by renowned guitarist Pat Metheny. In college, Koch came full circle when he met and played with Metheny in Whitworth's 2015 guest artist concert. Since then, the jazz performance major has played with more world-class musicians, gained recognition and honed his musical skills to land him at the graduate school of his dreams: the prestigious Eastman School of Music.
Koch has been playing music for most of his life and picked up the guitar at age 10. He feels called to be a musician and believes music has two purposes: to worship God and to speak truth into our lives.
"There's something about creating beautiful sounds with other humans that is spiritual and divine," Koch says.
Metheney's First Circle album led Koch to realize how special jazz really is. "It struck me that a lot of that record, like all jazz, was improvised, and that it was possible to create tremendous, powerful music from nothing, in the moment," he says.
During his time at Whitworth, Koch had numerous outlets to create music. The guitarist played in the Whitworth Jazz Ensemble for four years, and in 2016 became the youngest member to join the Spokane Jazz Orchestra. He also played for the Bob Curnow Big Band.
Koch chose Whitworth in part because of how the university encourages students to confront difficult questions about faith, and because of the reputation of the music department. According to him, it's one of the Northwest's best-kept secrets.
"Every good thing you've ever heard about music at Whitworth is true," he says. "The faculty are incredible, the ensembles are first-rate, the instruction is world class, and the students that come out of Whitworth with music degrees are head and shoulders above the pack."
Overall, he says, Whitworth molded him into a more inquisitive person.
"For a musician, a liberal arts university is a great choice because everything I learned in my English, communications, theology, Spanish, fitness, Core, education, economics, journalism, etc. classes has somehow found its way into my worldview, which in turn finds its way into my music-making and career building, and I believe that I am a much more well-rounded and grounded person because of it," Koch says. "As such, Whitworth instilled a thirst for knowledge in me that I can carry with me for the rest of my life."
Koch says his most influential Whitworth music professors were Dan Keberle, Brent Edstrom and Richard Strauch. They not only pushed Koch to grow as a musician but as a person too. All had extremely high expectations but also took the time to invest in Koch. They also taught him how faith and music are deeply intertwined.
"Perhaps most importantly, these three men are wonderful human beings that improve the lives of those around them with their presence and personalities," he says. "They are, and forever will be, major role models and influences on my life."
As for life after Whitworth, Koch is optimistic about the types of challenges and rewards that can be found in graduate studies. While studying at Eastman, in Rochester, N.Y., he will continue to write and arrange music as wells as play freelance gigs. He hopes to eventually become a music professor so he can influence young musicians the way Whitworth professors influenced him.
"Life beyond Whitworth seems full of hope and opportunity," Koch says, "and I'm grateful that Whitworth gave me time and space to discover myself so that I can carry my identity and faith into the world at large."
Photos by Leah Meyer '20.