Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.
It took losing music for Aliyah Qualls to realize how much making music meant to her.
Music had been a part of Qualls’s life since she was young, but in middle school, she quit the band program.
“I did not realize how much music making meant to me and that it was what I truly wanted to do until I was unable to play,” said Qualls, who is graduating in May with a Bachelor of Music in music education and a minor in criminology and criminal justice from Arizona State University.
After realizing how much she missed making music, she re-joined band in high school and participated in drumline and orchestra until she graduated.
“I decided to study music education to hopefully provide students with a positive experience while they learn in their music classes,” she said.
In addition to creating a positive learning environment for music students, Qualls has a passion for equity, diversity and inclusion for all and uses her love of music making to empower others to seize opportunities and reach for success. She has been an active member of the School of Music Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which addresses issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion, and the Student Advisory Council, which addresses and problem-solves issues among music students.
At ASU, Qualls has held leadership roles in Kappa Kappa Psi Beta Omicron Chapter, a national honorary band fraternity dedicated to music service and promotion of the college and university bands, as president and music chair. Her Sun Devil spirit was exemplified as a member of the Sun Devil Marching Band, where she played the mellophone for four years.
In summer 2018, she participated in a study abroad program to Denmark and Belgium with Up with People, a non-profit organization that travels to different countries performing professionally produced live music shows and volunteering time and efforts for community-specific causes.
Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
Answer: I was in a bad car accident during my sophomore year and though I was not seriously injured, I could have easily been because I was not wearing my seatbelt. It was an experience that made me examine how I was going about living my life in general. I learned that I do not have to do something or take a certain path just because other people expect me to. Since then, I have been more open to taking advantage of opportunities that come my way, even if they are outside my comfort zone.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: As a self-proclaimed horn nerd, I faithfully read articles on Professor John Ericson’s Horn Matters’ website throughout high school. When I realized that Dr. Ericson was the main horn professor at ASU, the ASU School of Music became my first choice to study.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I have learned so much from so many professors, but Dr. Jason Thompson is the person I have had the closest relationship with and learned a lot from. He and I arrived at ASU at the same time and quickly bonded over our cultural connections through the ASU Gospel Choir. There is a weekly worship service every Wednesday night on campus called Oasis where people can come and fellowship with one another. It has been great to be a part of this group and I have learned many lessons through Oasis by observing Dr. Thompson’s teaching style in the Gospel Choir and by his approach to everyday life. He always shows us that it's never too late to try something new and to always be intentional and confident in your actions, even though you may not be 100% competent yet.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Cherish this time and soak up all the knowledge you can. Time goes by more quickly than you think it will. As an undergraduate, the sheer amount of information presented to you can be overwhelming so take time to process, adapt and apply it in a way that is meaningful to your life. Also, don't neglect taking care of yourself. Your health is most important and you cannot reach your full potential unless you are physically and mentally healthy.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I loved going to the top floor of the Lattie Coor Building where I could see the entire campus. I'm a people watcher, so it's very interesting to watch everyone going about their day doing normal activities. It was a place that gave me time to slow down, be in the moment and really appreciate the beauty of the world around me.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I will be looking for short-term employment because in January 2020 I will be joining the cast of Up with People to tour the southwest region of the United States, two provinces in Canada and at least four regions of Europe for six months. I hope to expand my worldview and improve my teaching and performing practice for when I return and seek a permanent teaching job. Graduate school will also most likely be in my plans.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I have no idea what $40 million looks like, but something I care deeply about is representation and equity in all areas, especially in the arts. Our society oftentimes unconsciously suppresses a large percentage of our citizens which results in disadvantages in many ways. In many communities, people do not frequently see a reflection of themselves in their leaders or a way to establish relationships which make them feel heard, noticed and cared for. There are many examples of marginalized groups based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. who have reached great levels of success in the arts, but they are grossly underrepresented. I have noticed this in other areas besides the arts but as I have chosen a career in the arts, this is of great importance to me. I would love to see a world where each and every person can look at someone that represents them, feel empowered and say, "I can do that too."