Arnie Co

Arnie Co

Photo by James Tensuan, '15 Photojournalism

Dean's Scholar

Major: Music Education
College of Humanities and the Arts

Why did you choose your major?

When I was in high school, I was really active in my band program and enjoyed so many aspects of making music and being in a cooperative environment. I also had a lot of excellent teachers in and outside the band room that really stressed how important it was to work hard and pursue the things that we care most about in our lives. Deciding to major in music at that point wasn’t a hard decision for me. I particularly remember one day in high school that I ditched my non-musical classes to take an entire day working on arranging music, transcribing recordings, and writing out exercises. I spent something like 7 hours at Starbucks working on these projects, and when I went home I couldn’t sleep because I found myself dreaming about the work I had been doing and other things I wanted to work on. I remember feeling so exhausted but incredibly inspired and satisfied with myself, and really excited because I knew that this would pretty much be an average day as a music major in college. Now that I’m in college, I try to remember that feeling as much as possible as I go through daily life juggling really demanding classes and work hours. It reminds me that I made the right decision and that it’s a huge privilege to be doing so much of what I love every single day. 

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

Receiving this award means a great deal to me. One of my piano teachers once told me that 99% of your time as a musician is feeling like the worst piece of garbage, but that 1% payoff makes what we do worth it. For performers that 1% is being on stage with people you love, playing for an attentive crowd. For educators, it’s seeing that “aha” moment on a student’s face when they make a connection. For composers, it’s witnessing the music you’ve slaved over for weeks coming to life. I’m really proud to receive this award and it really affirms to me that I’ve been working hard and sticking to it. 

Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life?  In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.

My parents have really influenced so much of who I am today. They worked incredibly hard to make sure that my brother and I came out alright, and made sure we knew the importance of family, persistence, and having a sense of humor. Additionally, I have so much respect and admiration for them knowing how little they had when they immigrated here from the Philippines and how hard they had to hustle to get our family where we are today. 

I really look up to the jazz faculty here at SJSU – talk about some really heavy hitters. They have really created a culture in our program of solid musicianship and just being a good person. In particular, Dr. Aaron Lington has been someone who has pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone when it comes to composing and arranging, and constantly gives me opportunities to push myself and prove that I can get the job done. 

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.

When I first came to SJSU, I had heard a lot about the bass instructor John Shifflett, who passed away last year. He was always described as a solid guy, a beautiful musician, an amazingly insightful human. Additionally, he was playing at almost every jazz club that I checked out, so I really wanted to get my foot in the door with him. When I finally got to work with him through the jazz combo class, I had the opportunity to pick his brain about so many things, from musicianship, to his thought process, to his time studying botany. He was incredibly easy to talk to, and had a really unique sense of humor. Most importantly, he would often have long talks with us about the importance of personhood in musicianship: being a good person, enjoying each other, putting our egos aside. One day, John was talking to me in the hallway, and he stopped and smiled and proclaimed “Arn, one day you’re gonna be a leader.” I remember not really thinking much of it at the time, but after that talk, he prefaced a lot of our conversations with “I hope you remember this because you’ll be a leader one day,” and would proceed to lay it down with some really deep proverbial advice. Those talks with John still ring through my head today – whether or not I am a leader, John is still on my shoulder reminding me to think critically about my musicality, and to be a solid person on and off the bandstand. I really miss John, and I hope one day I can inspire people the way that he did. 

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

This is the thing that I feel that I struggle with the most: understand who you are and work with yourself to get to where you need to be. I think it took me until college to understand that I have anxiety, especially when it came to school. In understanding this, I started to try as much as possible to set myself up for success, rather than constantly compare my pace and ability to others. Grades and competitiveness are important and all, but at the end of the day what’s most important is getting the job done and getting it done right, which is a different process for everyone. Understanding my anxiety also led me to ask for help, which is also crucial to success. It’s so easy to get carried away with my studies that I often forget that I won’t be able to reach my goals alone. This is something that is so important to being a musician. 

What makes you a Spartan?

What makes me a Spartan is my drive to work hard and have fun with it. 


Nominated by Aaron Lington
Professor, Music and Dance

"Arnie is one of the most hard working students I have had the pleasure of mentoring in the past 14 years. He is active as a scholar, composer, educator, and pianist. He is a model for other students who look up to him. He contributes original music and arrangements to various concerts in the jazz area and is extremely self-motivated. Mr. Co is precisely the kind of student who will succeed; he takes what is presented to him by his professors and is curious about it, synthesizes it, and takes it to the next level."