Music Department Faculty
Click on any faculty member's name to see a list of achievements.
Dr. Stephen W. Sachs, Professor of Music Music Chair at Belhaven University since 2004, has been active as a piano soloist, duo-pianist, chamber musician and accompanist in the U.S., Costa Rica and France. Dr. Sachs is a founding member of the Belhaven Piano Trio. He has appeared as soloist with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra (MSO), the Jackson Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra of Jackson, MS, the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival Orchestra under Dr. Kenneth Nafziger, the Richmond Symphony, the Eastern Mennonite University Symphony, the Cumberland Valley Chamber Orchestra, the Ohio University Symphony Orchestra, and the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra. In February, 2013 Sachs performed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491 with the MSO of Jackson, MS under the direction of Maestro Crafton Beck. Other concerti performed with orchestra include Concerto No. 1 in E-flat by Franz Liszt, Wanderer Fantasie by Franz Liszt, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58 by Beethoven, Fantasy in C Minor for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra (The Choral Fantasy), Op. 80 by Beethoven, Concerto in C Major (Elvira Madigan), K. 467 by Mozart; Concerto in D-flat by Aram Khachaturian, Aubade by Francis Poulenc, Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise by Chopin, Double Concerto in E-flat Major, K. 365 by Mozart, Concerto for Two Keyboards in C Major, BWV1061a by J. S. Bach, The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens, and Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 (harpsichordist) by J.S. Bach. By special invitation, Sachs has performed at the University of Costa Rica in San Jose, the Hall of the Americas, Washington, DC, the Brahms Festival at The Catholic University of America, the American Liszt Society in Washington, D.C, and Music at La Gesse, Boulogne-sur-Gesse, France. Numerous local performances have occurred at Belhaven University, Mississippi College, Tougaloo College, St. Paul's Episcopal Church Chamber Music Series in Meridian, MS, for the "Music in the City" series of Jackson, the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra Chamber Series, at the University of Southern Mississippi, at the University of New Orleans, as an orchestral pianist with the MSO, and the MacDowell and Chaminade Music Clubs.
Sachs received the MS Humanities Council, Belhaven University 2011 Humanities Teacher Award for his paper on "The Art of Teaching through Encouragement and Critical Thinking" which was presented three times to state-wide music teachers meetings. He presented a paper and performed at the College Music Society Regional Meeting/Roger Sessions Symposium, Elon College, 1996 and received a research grant from Eastern Mennonite University for a paper titled "Mostly American Duo Piano Music Composed since 1960". He appeared frequently at the Garth Newel Chamber Music Center, Hot Springs, VA in addition to numerous appearances in Washington D.C., Roanoke, VA, Colona, IA, Goshen, IN, Sarasota, FL, Lancaster, PA, Lansdale/Souderton, PA. Competitions include: Semi-Finalist in Young Keyboard Artists Association, Grand Rapids, MI, 14th Annual University of MD International Piano Competition, Robert Casadesus 5th International Piano Competition, OH, Winner of Ohio University Concerto Competition, Winner of Youngstown Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition, OH.
He earned the D.M.A. degree in piano performance from The Catholic University of America studying with Dr. Thomas Mastroianni and Dr. Bela Nagy, the M.M. degree in piano performance from Ohio University as Trisolini Fellow studying with Richard Syracuse, a B.A. degree in music and a B.S. degree in music education from Lebanon Valley College studying with William Fairlamb and additional study with Dr. Donald Isaac at Arizona State University. Sachs has also coached with Horatio Gutierrez, Lili Kraus, Raymond Lewenthal, Garrick Ohlsson, Gyorgy Sebok, Eugene Jennings, and chamber music with cellist Leighton Conkling.
Dr. Sachs serves as Director of Music Ministries at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Jackson where he plays the organ and directs the choir. Under his direction, The Covenant Choir has presented Handel's "Messiah", Pergolesi's "Magnificat", Vivaldi's "Gloria", Vaughn-Williams "Five Mystical Songs", and "Te Deums" by Walton, Hayes, and Rutter. Sachs served on the board of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra from 2007-2010 and sat on the Artistic Advisory Board. From 1978-2004, Dr. Sachs served on the faculty of Eastern Mennonite University teaching piano and music theory and directing the Wind Ensemble, the Jazz Ensemble, and the Swing Sisters vocal ensemble. He founded the community jazz band Just Jazzin' in 2000, which still performs regularly in the Shenandoah Valley.
Dr. Paxton Girtmon (2007) Professor of Music
B.M.E, Northwestern State University
M.M.E. Northwestern State University
D.M.A. University of Southern Mississippi
Dr. Paxton M. Girtmon, Associate Professor of Music, is Director of Bands and Music and oversees the music education program. He is in charge of all aspects of the Marching, Pep, and Concert Bands, as well as the large and small ensembles in the spring terms. He supervises student teachers, as well as teaching instrumental method courses and instruction, instrumental orchestration, and undergraduate and graduate level conducting courses. Dr. Paxton earned his D.M.A. from The University of Southern Mississippi and his B.M.Ed. and his M.M.Ed. at Northwestern State University. Dr. Girtmon has performed professionally with the Shreveport Symphony and Northwestern/Natchitoches Symphony where he performed with jazz legend Pete Fountain, the world renowned Ray Charles, and former "Tonight Show's" band leader, "Doc" Severinsen. Dr. Girtmon has served as Associate Director of Bands/Coordinator of Music Education and Assistant Professor of Music at Jackson State University. He has been published frequently in national magazines and periodicals for music education and research. He also maintains an active conducting schedule and is a frequent honor band clinician and adjudicator for concert band events around the nation. Dr. Girtmon's most precious and valuable treasures are his family: Lauren, Calvin, Jace and Georgia.
Dr. Andrew Mark Sauerwein is Associate Professor of Music. As a teacher of composition and theory, he oversees the theory and musicianship curriculum, teaches various courses in theory and composition, and directs the Composers Forum. He has also contributed to Belhaven's Worldview Curriculum and provided lectures on music for the High Scholars program, which is part of Belhaven's Virtual Campus. Dr. Sauerwein earned his PhD in music composition from Duke University. He also holds a Master of Music and Bachelor of Music from the University of Oregon, as well as an Associate of Arts in Biblical Studies from Multnomah University. A native of the Northwest, Dr. Sauerwein came to Belhaven in Fall 2005 after a visiting appointment at Northwestern College of Iowa. He is married to Quita and has two children, Christopher and Hannah.
Song Xie is Professor of Music in violin and viola, Conductor of the Belhaven Symphony and Chamber String Orchestra, Chamber Music Coach, and Violinist of the Belhaven Piano Trio at Belhaven University.
As a concert soloist, Mr. Song has played concerti and other solo masterpieces with many orchestras In China and the U.S., repertoire includes Beethoven Violin Concerto, Wieniawski Violin Concerto No.1, Mozart concerti, Carman Fantasy and many more. He received the Excellent Performance Award at the Chinese National Violin Competition in 1984, won the LSU Symphony Concerto Competitions in both 1991 and 1994, and was one of the three finalists at Chautauqua Festival Concerto Competition in New York. With God's blessing, Mr. Song has developed a strong, excellent string program at Belhaven University that enjoys a high quality reputation on the state, regional, national and international stage. Belhaven string students competed in many top level competitions with some of the highest level students from many top conservatory and music schools in the nation.
Mr. Song Xie is committed to the excellence of string performance and string education. His students have won numerous competitions, including but not limited to, the MSO Concerto Competition, MTNA State and Regional Competitions, MMTA and ASTA Mississippi State competition, many other concerto/string competitions in MS, AK, UT, AL, NY, SC, KY, MFMC scholarship awards, final/semi-finalists at WA, IN, TX, and some international competitions. His students have been accepted with outstanding scholarships to many top conservatories and universities in the nation to continue their graduate study include University of Michigan, Rice University, Easterman School of music, Peabody Conservatory and Julliard School of music. Others actively teach in private studio, music schools, serve as missionaries or win auditions successfully as professional orchestra musicians. Mr. Song believes that God has a unique calling for each student that is completely different. We all strive for excellence as we answer the Lord's calling in our lives here in the Belhaven String emphasis. He has also developed the Belhaven Orchestra and Chamber Music programs.
Mr. Song keeps a very busy performing schedule in solo andchamber music as well as orchestra and conducting. He is currently the Principal Second Violinist of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since 1998. To teach and to share his music talents is his desire; to share his personal experience of God's love and caring in the professional music performing world for young students is a wonderful answer to his prayer. Mr. Song served as President of Mississippi Chapter of the ASTA (American String Teacher Association) from 2006-2008. He frequently judges many local and regional string competitions, and has actively taught and still teaches in many summer string/orchestra Festivals including: Masterworks Festival, IN, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra String Camp, Millsaps Chamber Music Camp, MS, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, MI, and CICA String Festival, AR.
Before his current positions at Belhaven University and with the MSO, he was on the faculty of Guangxi Institute of Arts,(China), Mississippi College, Millsaps College, and Jackson State University. He has also served as Assistant Concertmaster of Lyric Mountain Festival at PA, Principal Second Violinist of Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp Festival Orchestra MI and Masterworks Festival Orchestra, IN, Concertmaster of Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra and Delta Symphony Orchestra here in Mississippi.
Song Xie received his BA from Guangxi Institute of Arts and Shanghai Conservatory of Music, his MM is from Louisiana State University. He has studied with many wonderful professors include ShiXiang Zheng, Sally O' Reilly, Camila Wicks. He resides in Jackson living with his wife Renee Chen and two sons, Caleb and David Xie.
Dr. Rebecca Geihsler, a native of New Orleans, has served as an Adjunct Music Professor in Voice and Music History since 2009. Additionally, she serves as an adjunct instructor for Northwest Community College since 2004 where she has designed and implemented an online curriculum for Music Appreciation for non-majors. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Centenary College of Louisiana, a Masters of Music in Vocal Performance and Doctor of Arts in Pedagogy from the University of Mississippi, where she held a University Fellowship and an Assistantship in Opera. Dr. Geihsler has been a finalist in both State and Regional NATS Student Auditions and represented the University of Mississippi in performances at the National Opera Association Convention and the Midwest Opera Festival. She is a member of Pi Kappa Lamda and the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Past operatic and musical theatre roles include: Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, Ms. Silverpeal in The Impressario, Little Red in Little Red Riding Hood, Lauretta in Gianno Schicchi, Ann Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Marianne in Tartuffe, Papagnena in The Magic Flute, Casilda in The Gondoliers, Tuptim in The King and I, and Minnie Fay in Hello Dolly. Dr. Geihsler resides in Clinton with her husband and five (soon to be six) children.
Mr. Christopher Phillips, vocal/choral and worship arts, is a a native of Alabama. Chris studied church music at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. He holds a master’s degree in music education from Samford University. Both degrees included a focus upon vocal performance. Currently Chris serves as Specialty Instructor in the areas of choral, vocal and worship arts at Belhaven. He also serves as Director of Worship at Lakeside Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brandon, MS. Chris has been leading worship in local churches throughout the Southeast for the last 25 years. With energy and joy, Chris seeks to invite the people of God to exalt their Lord and Savior and to edify one another. One of his greatest passions is the cultivation of corporate worship that is deeply rooted in Scripture, covenantally focused, and wonderfully creative. As a teacher, Chris employs a student-focused, collaborative philosophy. He believes every classroom or rehearsal space should be an environment of joy and safety in which both talking and listening are equally valued. Chris' genre of choice for page and screen is science fiction. His musical interests range from Bluegrass to Beethoven with an occasional dose of Mongolian Throat Singing. He practices moderate coffee snobbery.
Owen Rockwell, DMA is Specialty Instructor of Dance and Music at Belhaven University where he serves as Director of Music for the Department of Dance and Director of Percussion Ensembles in the Department of Music. He provides music for modern dance classes, coordinates musicians and musical activities within the department of dance, teaches private percussion lessons, and coaches the Belhaven Percussion Ensemble. In 2014, he began the Belhaven Night of Percussion (and Classical Guitar), a much anticipated, annual event held in the Belhaven University Center for the Arts.
“Doc Rock,” as his students affectionately refer to him, is a versatile performer and experienced music educator committed to challenging his students towards musical excellence and lifelong personal growth. His former students are high school band directors, graduate students, and professional performers throughout the country.
Additionally, Dr. Rockwell teaches as an Adjunct Instructor at Jackson State University, where he was formerly an Assistant Band Director with the famed “Sonic Boom of the South” marching band, and Instructor of Music from 2006-2012. While there he has taught Graduate and Undergraduate applied percussion lessons, Honors Music Appreciation and Percussion (Methods) Class
Rockwell performs regularly with the Mississippi and Meridian (MS) Symphony Orchestras, as well as his jazz trio, the Vibe Doctors. He has appeared on NPR, PBS, and participated in the 1994 World Cup opening ceremonies in Orlando, FL as a snare drummer with the World Finalist, Magic of Orlando Drum and Bugle Corps. In July of 2016, he was interviewed on ”The Mississippi Arts Hour,” an radio show produced by Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) that features Artists and Arts organizations from around the state.
He can also be heard on several recordings, including Vibe Doctors (Elegant Trainwreck label, 2015), The Celestial Sliphorns (Sea Breeze Jazz label, 2007), with Universal Republic label recording artist Matt Wertz on his collaborative recording, Damascus Road (Windmill Music label, 2001), and on his own solo percussion recording: Owen Rockwell, Percussion (produced by the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 2001).
He is the recipient of many awards recognizing his skill as a performer. In 2015, Rockwell was granted a Performing Arts Fellowship by the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC). While a graduate student at the University of Illinois, he was named the 2000 “Debut Artist,” the School of Music’s highest honor for a student performer each year, culminating in a professional “Debut” recital, held in the Foellinger Great Hall in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Rockwell earned the Master of Music and Bachelor of Music degrees in Percussion Performance from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His primary teachers were marimba virtuoso William Moersch, and long-time percussion educator and scholar Thomas Siwe. Prior to moving to Jackson, MS, he worked as a free-lance musician and educator in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Nashville, TN. In 2015, he completed the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Percussion Performance and Pedagogy, at The University of Southern Mississippi where he was a student of Dr. John Wooton.
Mr. Adam Almeter, Low Brass Adjunct
Mrs. Nancy Bateman, Adjunct Music Professor in Cello since 2005, received both her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Music from Wichita State University and pursued advanced musical studies at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She has performed as a cellist in the Wichita Symphony from 1974-90, the Omaha and Lincoln Symphonies from 1990-93, and the Mississippi Symphony from 1993 until the present. She has performed as a soloist as well as in various small ensembles for weddings, funerals, and church services since 1974. She has enjoyed starting and maintaining String Music Programs at both First Presbyterian Day School since 1999 and the Veritas School since 2002, as well as teaching a Summer String Orchestra Workshop at Jackson Prepartory School for three summers and the Mississippi Symphony Summer Camp for several summers. Since 1999, she has started over hundreds of children on a stringed instrument, as well as prepared many private students for festivals, competitions and auditions. God has blessed Mrs. Bateman and her husband, Jim, with five children through whom she has learned very much about teaching. Mrs. Bateman understands what a great honor, privilege, and responsibility it is to teach, especially to young people who are making career choices at this time in their lives.
Mr. Dennis Bonds, Adjunct Music Professor in Jazz Guitar since 2009, has been blessed to appear on well over one hundred-fifty recordings as not only a guitarist, but at times, a producer, composer, arranger, bandleader and recording engineer. He is the founder and director of God First, a music ministry he formed in 2005. Together with the group, Dennis has released one recording project to date, "The Guest of Honor", which is a musical celebration of the birth of Christ. Dennis is, perhaps, most proud that he is now a professor of Jazz Guitar Studies at his beloved alma mater, Belhaven University! He also works as a private music instructor. With all that he is involved in, however, Dennis still makes time to be a part of his local church's music ministry! Of this, he said, "When you get past the so-called accomplishments and awards, and come to where my heart is, you will find a worshipper there!" Dennis J. Bonds resides in Jackson, MS with his wife and three children.
Mr. Richard Jess Brown, Jr., Adjunct Music Professor in Double Bass and Electric Bass. He received a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Memphis and a Master of Music from DePaul University. Mr. Brown won the Graduate Competition Award at DePaul University in 1985, performing the first two movements of the "Dragonetti Concerto in A Major for String Bass" and the "Koussevitzky Concerto for String Bass" in which he earned the opportunity to study and perform with Warren Benfield, Joe Guastafeaste and other members of the Chicago Symphony. He arranged and performed Nina Simone's "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl" produced by Grammy Award Winning singer, Cassandra Wilson, it was the first rendition ever recorded. He has been noted for classical and jazz performances in publications and magazines including Down Beat, Coda, Cadence, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Boston Globe and others. He has recorded for P.B.S. and National Public Radio. He has performed with many legendary artists including Andre Watts, Gary Karr, Ed Wilkerson, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Gary Bartz, Dave Brubeck, and "Doc" Saverinson of the Tonight Show Band. He can be heard on such recordings as "The Memory is a Living Thing" by Lester Senter, written to commemorate Pulitzer Prize Winner, Eudora Welty, "The Standards of Living" by Barry Leach, "8 Bold Souls" by Ed Wilkerson of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and numerous live performances recorded by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Brown frequently performs and records in various professional ensembles where he is needed. He performed in Tokyo, Japan with the Belhaven Connections Team in May of 2010. He has released a contemporary jazz CD entitled "Homemade Brew" which can be viewed on iTunes. He has been dedicated in helping students to grow and achieve. Mr. Brown produces and teaches on Internet Radio with listeners world-wide. He came to Belhaven University in the fall of 2008. He credits his mother and father for piously supporting his musical endeavors.
Mrs. Sybil Cheesman, Adjunct Music Professor in Flute since 2004, was born into a musical family. Piano lessons were followed by flute lessons at an early age. Throughout her educational experiences, she was blessed to perform in numerous musical settings including band, chamber music and orchestra. Mrs. Cheesman has been with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra since 1972. She became principal flute and one of the founding members of the MSO woodwind quintet in the fall of 1978. She retired from the MSO in May 31, 2015 after 43 years of service. She performs locally, teaches at Belhaven University and has an active private flute studio. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi (B.M., M.M.), she has performed with the Meridian, Pensacola, Gulf Coast and Mobile symphonies. She has also played with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Mississippi Opera Orchestra. She is a member of MMTA and is frequently asked to adjudicate at the high school and collegiate levels. She is a performing member of The Chaminade Club which is a Federated Music Club located in Jackson. Her husband, Bob, is a member of the trumpet section of the MSO. They have two adult children.Mr. Frank Dolansky is Adjunct Professor, and teaches courses in the audio, video, lighting, and software technical area for both music and theatre. He holds a B.A. from the University of Buffalo, and an M.F.A. from Michigan State University. He also serves as our Facilities Coordinator for the entire Belhaven University Center for the Arts, where he oversees all the scheduling of arts events, as well as the technical aspects of lighting, audio, video, and software as it pertains to running the weekly chapels, and other BU and outside events that take place here throughout the year. Frank and his wife Theresa have one son, and attend church at Southside Assembly of God here in Jackson, MS. Frank is thankful to serve Jesus Christ through the arts. His scripture to live by comes from Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”