Driven by purpose

Doctoral student reports for duty as member of United States Marine band.

On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, Connor Mikula was officially sworn in as Staff Sergeant Mikula at the United States Military Entrance Processing Command center in Lansing.
Mikula auditioned in late 2018 and was selected from a field of nearly 80 saxophonists for the exclusive opening in the 160-member US Marine Band.
Among his many concerts during his studies at MSU, Connor Mikula (left) performed with (from left) Tyler Young (MM), Jeffrey Leung (DMA), and Evan Harris (DMA).
Connor Mikula soloing during a rehearsal at MSU.

Connor Mikula said he feels like he’s going home in May even though he’s not.

This spring, the MSU doctoral student in saxophone performance will move to Washington, D.C., to join the woodwind section of the prestigious “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. It’s an honor earned by a proud few and places him among highly accomplished musicians who perform on behalf of the President of the United States.

“I’m extremely excited to get in uniform and get started,” said Mikula. “It’s a tremendous honor to be part of America’s oldest musical institution.”

Mikula auditioned in late 2018 and was selected from a field of nearly 80 saxophonists for the exclusive opening in the 160-member band. A few months later, he passed the required physical to become a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. Come May, Mikula will report for duty in Washington, D.C., and serve in “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band under a four-year contract. After an additional 10 weeks of training, Mikula will begin his first tour of more than 500 performances a year at White House events, state funerals, and other public and federal celebrations

“Growing up, I never thought of myself as being in a military band,” Mikula said. “But now that I am, I realize that military values and purpose are things that really make me feel at home.”

Raised on logic and purpose

Mikula was raised in a family of scientists in Holland, Michigan. Both his parents are MSU graduates and his brother became a physicist. His grandfather was a veterinarian and had ties to MSU as well.

“I always wanted to be better than my older brother at something,” Mikula said. “So I chose music. I liked playing it and playing music with others. I felt I was good at it and it gave me a great sense of purpose in life.”

Mikula started playing piano at 5 years old and took up saxophone when he got a little older. He played all through high school and became a Spartan after graduating from West Ottawa High School.

As an undergraduate at MSU, Mikula majored in saxophone performance and minored in jazz studies. He went to the University of Michigan for his master’s degree, then returned to MSU in 2017 as a university distinguished fellow for his doctorate in saxophone performance.

While music taps his creative side, Mikula said he approaches things with logic and efficiency in mind. He speculated it’s a characteristic that comes from growing up around the scientifically inclined.

“I’m big on purpose and routine,” he said. “So I’m very much looking forward to being immersed in military values that emphasize that.”

Mikula said MSU also played a huge part in shaping his path, and taught him that music is about more than simply mastering an instrument.

“My professors showed me that being a professional is more than simply being a good musician,” he said. “It’s also about people and being part of a musical society.”

Professor of Saxophone Joe Lulloff has known Mikula for more than 15 years and serves as his lead teacher at MSU. He said Mikula has all the characteristics the Marines look for and exudes the hard-working and artistic qualities that make him a great fit for “The President’s Own” band. He added that Mikula’s work with developing Novus New Music — a non-profit dedicated to advancing saxophone artists and repertoire—also demonstrates his devotion to community.

“Connor is the perfect team player in our studio and a great saxophone artist. He is truly passionate about making music at the highest artistic level. He’s a wonderful role model and is always helping others aspire to attain their goals,” said Lulloff. “He will be a great ambassador for MSU, the saxophone, and our country as a member of ‘The President’s Own.’”

Mikula also credits Professor of Music and Director of Bands Kevin Sedatole for inspiring him give his all to band, and to strive for excellence in whatever part he played.

“Professor Sedatole is a great leader,” he said. “His teachings made me love band a lot and to see that being part of a professional band at the highest level would be a whole lot of fun.”

Sedatole said Mikula has been an extremely dedicated band member as both an undergraduate and graduate student. He noted that Mikula started with the Symphony Band and quickly worked his way up to the Wind Symphony where he served as a principal.

“Connor is the consummate musician, but more importantly, he is a great, great people person,” Sedatole said. “He'll be a fantastic member of ‘The President’s Own.’ We celebrate that one of our own has achieved such a prestigious position. We are very proud. Go Green!”

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