It's your time to SHINE 

AQ MusicThe mission of the Music Department is to provide both to the music major and general education students: first, a deeper understanding and experience of music from the abundant diversity of cultures present today and through the ages; and, second, the verbal and technical skills to communicate that knowledge of music.

The Music Department’s role is a unique and treasured component of a solid education within the context of the Catholic Dominican tradition. To further fulfill the Aquinas College mission, the Music Department offers programs of study to prepare students for graduate schools and careers in such fields as teaching, liturgical music, conducting, jazz studies, and performance.

Aquinas College is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM)



Explore music at AQ


Concerts & Events

Events and Concerts

Upcoming Performances


Throughout the school year, the Music Department hosts many concerts and events. All events are FREE and open to the public unless otherwise noted.View the event schedule







Olivia Vargas '18

"I was in almost every choir," said Olivia Vargas '18. A liturgical music graduate, Vargas was the only student in the program who utilized her voice as her primary instrument. Passionate about exploring her faith through singing, Vargas was a part of the majority of the on-campus singing groups, as well as off-campus churches and organizations. Studying to become a music director, Vargas had made a commitment to music and faith, looking to guide others in their own musical and faith journeys. 

faith and choir

A Detroit native, Vargas was originally attracted to Aquinas' business program, and entered the College as a dual major in music and business. However, after just one semester, "I fell in love music and less with business," said Vargas. Realizing a passion that had been rooted in singing in her home church's choir. "I really enjoy the messages that are coming from the music," she said.

After joining choir in high school, becoming part of her church’s youth group and eventually writing her own Christian music, Vargas sought a deeper understanding of worship through music. These experiences "really propelled me into discovering this faith on my own," said Vargas. "I just wanted to know more." So, when faced with switching her major to focus solely on music, the decision was a no-brainer. What came next was the hard part.

As part of the liturgical music major, students are required to designate a primary instrument. "It was a very difficult decision," said Vargas, who noted that most students choose piano or organ. "For me to be a voice emphasis is really not normal," she said. Again, Vargas followed her heart, and became the only vocal musician in the program, choosing to continue to hone her piano and eventually her organ skills as well. In the meantime, she began joining choir groups with fellow vocalists. 

Vargas soon became a vital part of AQ College Chorus, AQ Collegiate Singers, AQ Women's Chorus and the Bukowski Chapel Choir, in addition to singing in her own contemporary Christian band, Islands of Mercy. She also serves as the choral librarian for Dr. Mark Webb, associate professor of music, who directs her in three of her four choirs as well. 

"Olivia stood out for a few reasons," said Dr. Webb. "First is her natural talent – she is a gifted musician–exceptional voice, good piano skills, composes beautiful songs. She was a tireless worker, and basically lived at the AMC, practicing (piano and voice) and studying."

This work ethic, paired with her passion for exploring faith through music, allowed Vargas to be involved in so many groups, even holding an internship at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Grand Rapids. Despite this experience, Vargas noted, "I have so much to learn."

But with a music program with deep Catholic roots, "Being at Aquinas makes it quite easy to incorporate faith and worship in choir," said Dr. Webb. "Most of the music that we learn has sacred texts, which we can discuss quite freely."

A music degree is a multi-faceted and engaging path, utilizing many learning approaches to investigate everything we recognize as Music. The great 20th Century American conductor and composer, Leonard Bernstein said “Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” While some degrees (such as the Bachelor of Arts) may be less of a singularly defined career path like others that are offered at Aquinas College (such as the Bachelor of Music Education or the Bachelor of Arts in Music with a Concentration in Church Music, Jazz or Performance), the nature of these studies which encompass music theory, piano, history and literature, performance - solo and ensembles, pedagogy and conducting, jazz and more enables students to develop skills desired by employers today, such as self-direction, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, perseverance, verbal and written communication, and creativity. 

At Aquinas College, many students who are pursuing a Major outside of Music desire to continue their musical involvement and development after high school by: making Music their Second Major; adding Music as a Minor; participating in Performing Groups for General Education credit; taking other Fine Arts or Humanities courses offered by the Music Department; or taking Lessons for credit - Private or Group Instruction - in areas such as Piano, Voice, Guitar, Brass, Strings, Percussion, Harp, Jazz, or Organ. Learning music is a meaningful and gratifying experience for people of all ages.

Quick Facts: Music Directors and Composers
2022 Median Pay $62,940 per year
$30.26 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation Less than 5 years
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2022 51,800
Job Outlook, 2022-32 1% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2022-32 6,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

music department essentials

Throughout the school year, the Music Department hosts many concerts and events. All events are FREE and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

Click here to view the Music Events Calendar

Contact if you’d like more information.

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Contact: Barbara Witham McCargar, M.M.
Office: Arts & Music Center 126
Phone: (616) 632-2417
FAX: (616) 732-4487

Art & Music Center, Aquinas College 
1700 Fulton St. E.
Grand Rapids, MI 49506 

Want to Request for Musicians from the AQ Music Department? 

Please complete this form for any on or off campus event(s) that you would like to request the involvement of the music department and its musicians. We ask that you allow 5 business days for a response back from a music department faculty or staff member.

> Request Musicians

1 Graduates are: teachers in PK-12 and higher ed positions; church musicians; choir and band conductors; opera, classical, jazz, folk, musical theatre, and pop performing artists; private and community school teachers; composers; directors of arts programs; songwriters; and hold master and doctoral degrees in many areas including Performance, Composition, Sacred Music, Choral Conducting, Education, Film Scoring, and Collaborative Piano.
2 Faculty members have received numerous honors and awards including: Fullbright Award, Governor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, Director's Excellence Award, Young Artist Finalist, Silver Medalist at the American Traditions Singing Competition, New World Symphony Fellow, International Touring Artist, Michigan Arts & Humanities Touring Artist, and multiple Grand Awards for musical theatre roles in West Michigan.
3 Aquinas is home to a 2017 three-manual Allen Bravura L333 organ, a 2012 two-manual Laucks pipe organ, the 210-seat Kretschmer Recital Hall with two 9-foot concert grand pianos- Steinway and Baldwin- on stage, a recording studio, the 418-seat Performing Arts Center, and 30 additional grand, upright and electronic pianos from top makers: Steinway, Schimmel, Boston, Kawai, Yamaha, Mason & Hamlin, Young Chang, Kurzweil, Roland, and Casio.
4 Prospective music Majors, Minors, and Ensemble performers must apply and audition (live, virtual, or recorded) for the music faculty in order to receive music scholarship consideration. Almost every Music Major or Minor at Aquinas College receives a scholarship(s) from the department's endowments, over $100K this year. Talent scholarships are also awarded to strong instrumental/vocal ensemble performers who audition for a director.