James Cunningham - Class of 2018
Hi James! We know that you played the bass guitar for the senior class band, Steel City, for a few years now. Tell us about how you guys decided to start up.
Steel City started with the idea of getting some classmates together to play a song at the Variety Show our D1 year. That never materialized, but we revisited the idea shortly thereafter when a couple of us were invited to play some songs at the ASDA Crawfish Boil. I don’t remember who was initially asked, but I was eventually asked to play bass with Alex, Nathan, and Mac. We had planned to only learn four to five songs for the event, but oddly enough we landed another gig during our first practice. While we were in the middle of the second or third song we had ever played together, an employee of a non-profit organization walked up to the garage and hired us to play for an upcoming fundraising event. All of a sudden we needed to add about twenty songs to our repertoire for this other event. That gave us the motivation to start playing and practicing more frequently, and by the time that event had passed we had more gigs lined up. We decided to make a go at having a band in dental school, and we’ve kept at it ever since.
What kind of events have you guys played?
Outside of playing at school functions, such as the Crawfish Boil and Miles for Smile, the majority of our events have been wedding receptions. We have also played at fundraising events for the UAB Alumni Association and non-profit organizations.
How long have you played the bass guitar? And have you ever played any other instruments?
I started playing guitar in high school when most of my friends started getting in to listening and playing music. I continue to play guitar today, but I picked up the bass guitar in about 2009 when my friends and I decided to start a band to play at bars and events around Tuscaloosa. We had three guitarists, but no bassist. I wasn’t as good at the guitar as the other two guys so I went out and bought a bass and fell in to that roll by default. I’ve been my main instrument ever since. I’m also working on playing the piano, but I’m far from being respectable at it right now.
Have you ever had private lessons?
I had a handful of private lessons for the guitar while I was in high school, but other than that I’ve learned everything else on my own.
What is your favorite song to play?
My favorite song to play with Steel City is “Bring it on Home to Me” by Sam Cooke. It’s a fun, relatively simple song to play on the bass, and it has an air of nostalgia for us as band mates. It’s one of the first songs we played together, and it continues to be one of the best songs we play together as a band. For some reason it always takes me on a trip down memory lane through our time together as a band, and reminds of just how much fun being in this band with my classmates has been.
What advice do you have for a dental student who wants to start a band while in school?
Start the band sometime around the end of D1 year or the beginning of D2 year with people in your class. Making room in your schedule for practice is tough, but it’ll be easier if everyone at least has the same school schedule. That particular time in dental school wasn’t as demanding for us, and it allowed us to make time to practice.
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Julie Dean - Class of 2018
Hi Julie!! We heard that you have one heck of a voice and have been in the process for trying out for The Church of the Highlands choir. Could you tell us about the experience? (how many hours per week and how many weeks and what the practices/auditions consist of)
Sure thing! I auditioned to be a vocalist for Church of the Highlands’ worship team last summer, and I am currently involved in a program called Infuse, a training program all musicians and production team members go through after the audition process. This training involves some basic music theory lessons, group vocal training, and lots of on-stage worship experience. I never realized how much preparation goes into the worship services until I began this process! Leading worship at Church of the Highlands requires that you be completely comfortable with everything on stage—the in-ear monitors, the bright lights, the voice of the music director in your ear giving notes to the musicians during the set—so that you can fully focus on worshipping The Lord without Ricky Bobby-ing your way into an awkward hands situation. We have rehearsal every Thursday night, where we go through the following Sunday’s worship set (with the production team, as well) and receive feedback from the instructors. I have gotten the opportunity to sing at several Sunday services at various campuses around Birmingham (FYI, call time is 6:30 AM!!), and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve on this awesome team!
How old were you when found out that you could sing?
I think I started singing about the same time I started talking—now my family and friends can’t get me to stop doing either! Some of my earliest memories involve my grandmother teaching me how to sing “Amazing Grace,” and I would perform it at every family gathering until everyone finally got sick of hearing it. So I had to learn some new material.
Did you take any professional voice lessons?
I was a musical theatre major for two years in undergrad, so I had weekly voice lessons during that time. We did a lot of Italian arias and Broadway tunes. Every semester ended with a vocal jury, a graded performance in front of the entire music faculty… I still have nightmares about those!
Have you ever sung at special events like weddings, sports games, or talent shows?
I frequently sing at wedding ceremonies (mainly of family and friends), and I participate in the annual UABSOD Variety Show every year. I love singing at weddings, but it is definitely very nerve-racking. I would hate for someone to be watching the recording of the ceremony a few years down the road and be like, “Well no wonder that marriage failed, did you hear the singer??”
Do you have a specific routine you do before performing?
No matter where or what I’m singing, I always get lots of nervous energy. I’ve found that this is a good thing though, because it motivates me to do my best. To calm myself down, I take a walk or do a couple of jumping jacks beforehand. Not during the wedding though, I don’t want to be too winded once I get up there.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in trying out for a singing group while in dental school?
I say, “Go for it!” It’s always good to have interests and hobbies outside of school in order to keep yourself sane. While it will require some good time-management to juggle professional school while learning music and making it to rehearsals every week, it’s totally doable! And if you find that it’s not, then just drop out of dental school and work on your music full time!
Just kidding, stay in school.
Bright Chang - Class of 2019
Hi Bright! We know that apart from being a dental school student, you are a talented photographer and was recently spotlighted in the national ASDA magazine, “Contour”. Your photographs came in runner-up of a huge pool of applicants for the monthly photography contest this past month. Congratulations!! Could you tell us more about why you chose to capture these amazing moments?
To me, every moment in time only happens once. It’s my choice whether or not to capture that special moment and cherish it for the rest of my life. When I started college, I realized that I had really no way of sharing my experiences with the rest of the world aside from words. I wanted a way to visually share my experiences with my family and friends.
How long have you been interested in photography?
I enjoyed photography as a child but never had the opportunity to buy a nice camera until 2013. That’s when it all began. It’s been about 4 years since I started learning photography.
Have you taken any special classes to learn more techniques?
I haven’t taken any special classes to learn photography. I taught myself photography by reading books, watching YouTube videos, and talking to experienced photographers. The best photography class for me was to wander around the city and practice different techniques. The fun was in learning from mistakes that I made and trying to figure out a way to fix them.
What type of camera do you use?
I use DSLR Canon 70D and Mark III cameras. Both are great cameras but the difference boils down to whether it is a crop-size or full-size sensor. Because I really enjoy night photography, I bought a Mark III. Now, it’s the go-to camera. But I still use 70D for videography because of its more advanced auto-tracking features compared to Mark III.
What has been your favorite object/person to capture?
I really enjoy capturing anything and everything I can. But I think the most interesting photos that I like to capture are time-lapse photos. These photos are created by making light streaks during the day or night. I also enjoy capturing people's candid smiles at weddings, dances, and other events.
What is your advice to dental students who are interested in picking up photography while in school or refining their skills?
The best but simple advice for learning photography or any other hobbies and skills is to practice, practice, practice. If you are interested in learning something, you will always find a way to learn more about it. It’s just a matter of whether you want to spend your time and energy learning and improving that skill and whether you have the courage to ask for advice from those who have more experience than you.
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