Release Date: 
Friday, November 3, 2023

HFC welcomes four new music faculty members

The four music instructors standing in a row outside by a tree.
From L-R: New faculty members David Petrie, Madeline Merwin, Amy Saari, and Jiana Hunter have joined the HFC Music department this semester.

Four new faculty members have joined the HFC Music department: Jiana Hunter, Madeline Merwin, David Petrie, and Amy Saari.

“Music students at HFC are much more diverse in their backgrounds and goals than you might find in some other academic music programs,” said HFC Interim Director of Music Anthony Lai. “In addition to aspiring music educators and classical musicians, we have songwriters, producers, rock musicians, and recording artists of every genre. I really wanted our new faculty to represent that same beautiful diversity that we find in our students. Each of our new instructors hold a master’s degree, and they all make their living in different ways.”

The next step in the new era of music at HFC

Lai is expecting great things from the new faculty members and is excited to work with them.

“David and Madeline, our two new classroom instructors, are self-made, self-motivated musicians,” he said. “David owns the very successful Dearborn School of Music and is a guitarist with years of studio and stage experience. Madeline has worked as a songwriter and session vocalist in Nashville. She's an award-winning composer, and is currently writing a ballet for a Detroit-based dance company.”

Lai continued: “Our new music directors, Amy and Jiana, impressed me with how dedicated they are to their craft. They're also quite active outside of academic music; Amy is director of Sing Out Detroit, and Jiana is a well-known voice in Detroit's jazz scene. Hiring these impressive musicians has been an exciting first step in shaping the new direction of music at HFC. I am looking forward to what’s next!”

Meet the new instructors below.

Director of Blue Fusion Vocal Jazz Ensemble Jiana Hunter

M usic has always been a source of happiness and confidence for Jiana Hunter.

“Singing harmony with my family and friends has always been easy and brought a strong sense of community into my life. I was inspired to go into teaching as a middle schooler while attending the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, OH. As this was a grade 4-12 school, students who attended all eight years were considered ‘survivors’ – and survive we did! I loved conservatory style education because of the professional real-life experiences it offered. So I wanted to teach it,” explained Hunter, an Ohio native.

When she was 5, Hunter had her first solo, singing the Irving Berlin holiday classic “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” made famous by Hollywood legend Bing Crosby. In eighth grade, she was the youngest member of her high school jazz ensemble. During her undergraduate days, she participated with her concert choir in a national choral competition in Las Vegas. While in graduate school, she performed solos at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Carnegie Hall, both of which are in New York City.

“As an adult, I have released two gospel jazz singles: ‘True Love’ and ‘Grateful,’” she said. “I will be releasing more music by the end of this year and in the first quarter of 2024.”

The eldest of three, Hunter lives in Troy. After graduating from high school, she earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Kentucky State University in Frankfort, KY. She later earned her master’s degree in jazz studies performance (voice) from Western Michigan University. Hunter is a certified music educator in Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. She is an active performer, songwriter, worship leader, choir director, and recording artist.

Prior to coming to HFC, Hunter taught at the Detroit Public Schools, Music Hall Detroit, the Motown Museum in Detroit, Detroit Children’s Choir, Oakland University, and Visible Music College in Memphis, TN.

“The best part of my job is developing artistry, musicianship, and enjoying my students,” said Hunter. “Not only am I looking forward to collaborating with other departments here at the College, I am also looking forward to experiencing the stages of growth within our new ensemble while maintaining old and developing new vocal jazz traditions. Bridging the gap between commercial music and traditional jazz will help to continue the lineage of vocal jazz among and beyond a mainstream jazz audience. My singers are committed and eager to continue in vocal jazz. I'm honored to lead them.”

RELATED CONTENT: Jiana Hunter sings her gospel single “True Love”

Music Theory and Aural Skills instructor Madeline Merwin

M usic runs in Madeline Merwin’s bloodline.

“My dad was a professional trombonist playing in orchestras when I was a child, so I was always around rehearsals and was interested in what was going on,” said Merwin, of Ann Arbor. “My parents made me take piano lessons growing up. Over time, I developed an interest in composing on the piano and ended up challenging myself until I started doing commissions and completing my degrees. I find music to be a super challenging and rewarding field, and there's always more to learn.”

Born in Atlanta, Merwin – the eldest of three children – is a graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy. Merwin earned her bachelor’s degree in music composition and theory from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. During her time at Vanderbilt, she spent a semester studying at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam at Amsterdam University in the Netherlands. She later earned her master’s degree in music composition from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which she attended on a George Balch Wilson Scholarship. While at U-M, she attended the European-American Musical Alliance summer program in Paris.

“During my undergraduate studies, I taught at a community music school for underprivileged children. It was such a fun and rewarding experience that I decided to pursue teaching post-grad. I love being able to share my enthusiasm about music with students who are excited to learn,” she said.

Aside from her teaching duties at HFC, Merwin is completing a residency in the Arts Initiative department at U-M, where she has earned a grant to compose a full-length ballet for Eisenhower Dance Detroit. This ballet will debut, complete with an orchestra, in February 2025. She also runs a small private studio for piano, composition, and music theory students.

Merwin is looking forward to experiencing more exciting learning moments from her students and being able to watch them grow this semester at HFC.

“The best part of my job is seeing students get excited about what they're learning!” she said. “As a fellow music nerd myself, I feel honored to be able to be the person to introduce them to so many cool facets of the field they are passionate about.”

Her new colleagues at HFC have been very welcoming, enthusiastic, and helpful.

“That’s what makes the music department at HFC such a wonderful place to work!” she said. “I am excited to be teaching older students for the first time. The students in my classes range from fresh out of high school to distinguished professors from other departments. It's so inspiring to see people following their passions, and I love that HFC provides a space for everyone to do that!”

RELATED CONTENT: Madeline Merwin performs Claude Debussy’s “La Plus Que Lente”

Musical Fundamentals instructor David Petrie

F or David Petrie, music was an act of rebellion.

“I wanted to make living playing guitar. Now I’m a business owner and music instructor,” said Petrie, laughing. “Sometimes music can seem like a unique and elite club. Teaching allows me to hold the door open and let others come in.”

Petrie has been teaching music privately for 26 years. In 2012, he founded the Dearborn School of Music, which is committed to providing a quality music education to students of all backgrounds, ages, and skill levels. It provides a learning environment that is free from commercial distractions, such as music schools operating within music stories, and focuses solely on music education.

“We seek to instill in each student a love for music and a desire to learn, while fostering both creativity and individuality,” he said. “We aim to provide our students with the necessary tools to be successful in all their musical endeavors.”

Born in Wayne, Petrie is the youngest of three and makes his home in Dearborn. He graduated from Wayne Memorial High School. He earned his associate degree in music, graduating magna cum laude from HFC (then Henry Ford Community College). One of his instructors at the College was the late Rick L. Goward.

“After years of touring with a rock band, I wanted a more settled life and started attending the College – only to find myself on tour in Europe with the HFC Jazz Band!” he recalled.

After graduating from HFC, Petrie transferred to Wayne State University. There, he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music composition.

The Fall 2023 semester is Petrie’s debut teaching at the collegiate level. Besides his teaching duties at HFC, he still performs occasionally. He is also composing a rock musical set at Christmas during the 1970s and a multi-part composition inspired by each of the national parks utilizing various instruments, electronic sources, and sounds recorded at each of the parks he has visited.

“While I was studying at the College, I received encouragement and practical knowledge from my instructors,” said Petrie. “They were creative, inspiring, and hilarious. Through HFC, I have made friends and connections, and I like being part of the community where I live.”

Director of the HFC Chorus Amy Saari

W hen she was in graduate school at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the most important thing Amy Saari learned about being a conductor is unrelated to the music.

“It’s about knowing your singers,” she said. “That changed everything for me, because music is about people, about community, and about the connections that we make to each other. In the arts, it’s one of the ways we learn how people matter, how their cultures matter, and how their histories matter.”

Born and raised in Des Moines, IA, Saari has lived in Michigan since 2001. She and Kevin, her husband of 10 years, reside in Eastpointe. After graduating from Des Moines North High School, Saari earned her bachelor’s degree in music from Grinnell College in Iowa. She later went on to earn two master’s degrees from BGSU: the first in choral conducting and the second in composition.

The magic moment that made Saari decide to pursue music professionally happened during her senior year of high school when her music teacher chose her and two of her peers to conduct choral pieces during the spring program. Saari conducted an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” with the entire choral program.

“I remember getting onstage and all the eyes looking at me on the stage and all the eyes looking at me from the audience,” she said. “I felt that was the moment that I knew I wanted to make music my career.”

Saari has taught music for nearly 25 years. HFC marks her first time teaching at the college level.

“I saw HFC as an opportunity to fulfill a long-ago dream of teaching at the collegiate level,” she said. “This opportunity was great because I saw that this institution has a strong music program of some renown. One of the major players was G. Kevin Dewey, who left a great legacy for the choral program. This is the opportunity for me to see where I can go further with the choral program here. I just completed my first season as the director of the Sing Out Detroit, an LGBTQ+ and Ally chorus. After gaining confidence and having a great season with them, I felt I was ready to step into the collegiate realm.”

Saari is the music director at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit. Previously, she was the music director for Grace Episcopal Church in Mt. Clemens for 10 years. She was also part of a cabaret trio called Lady Bones at Theatre Bizarre, an annual Halloween masquerade staged at the Masonic Temple in Detroit.

“I am very interested in creating the culture of the future for choral music and seeing what’s possible beyond established traditions here at the College,” said Saari. “My big task right now is getting to know the singers. I am looking forward to creating a really great show with them and seeing how they evolve as musicians.”

Saari is impressed with HFC’s Recording Arts Studio, which was recently renovated with state-of-the-art equipment in time for the Fall 2023 semester.

“The technology here is amazing,” said Saari. “In Fine and Performing Arts, we boast a certain allyship with the STEM fields because of our embracing technology. I would be interested in seeing the STEM community encourage their students to have the arts as much a part of their education the way people in the arts would have science as part of theirs.”

She continued: “You can know about a person in terms of their body systems and what their pathologies are, but you will not heal them unless they know they are cared about as people. The way they get that is through connections and understanding that they matter – family matters, culture matters, history matters. That often gets missed. HFC is a place that has a commitment to students in the STEM fields. I would be interested in seeing more cross-communication and interdisciplinary interaction to know that the School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics understands they need us as much as we need them.”

RELATED CONTENT: Amy Saari conducts Sing Out Detroit in its rendition of “Stand By Me”