Two new faces in the music department faculty have high hopes for the bands of USD.
Director of bands John LaCognata and director of athletic bands Todd Cranson both have their sights set on growing the bands’ skills and retaining music and non-music majors for the several ensembles offered by the band program.
Junior band member Eric Sanchez said Cranson and LaCognata are dedicated to the program.
“Both directors are very talented, hardworking individuals. They see high potential with the band program and they expect us to raise our standard every day,” Sanchez said. “I see a very good future for the USD band program.”
The two new faculty members met long before joining the music department at USD — LaCognata was the assistant band director for two years at Louisiana State University, where Cranson received his undergraduate degree.
“It’s always constructive and positive, and (LaCognata) is fantastic to work with,” Cranson said. “He has been one of the greatest colleagues I’ve ever had.”
A musical background
LaCognata plans to travel outside of the university to work with other band programs in the region, both to help those programs and to recruit future USD students.
“We want to direct those people that have had a background in music, that love making music and that want to continue making music at the collegiate level,” LaCognata said. “A lot of my purpose as the director of bands in a flagship institution is to get out and serve the needs of all those band directors and all those students, regardless of if it’s a big program or small program.”
LaCognata grew up in Chicago, IL, where his father also worked as a band director. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, then continued his education by attending Auburn University for a master’s degree and completing a Ph.D. at the University of Florida.
“I grew up around music, and specifically bands,” LaCognata said. “I quickly found that I had a passion for making music and was blessed with some talent as a trumpet player. Those things led me into this profession.”
In addition to overseeing all aspects of the band program, LaCognata conducts the symphonic band, teaches applied trumpet and both undergraduate and graduate conducting. He’s been teaching music courses for more than 30 years.
“The opportunity to work with talented music students and then to share the process of music making and performing with them — that’s why I’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” LaCognata said.
“It’s great fun.”
Cranson also plays multiple roles in the music department – teaching classes and lessons and directing The Sound of USD. He plans to preserve USD tradition.
“Since I got here, I’ve been trying to tease out traditions and make them matter,” Cranson said. “Really pushing tradition and excellence, I think, is going to help people want to stay, and help with that retention. The better you are, the more fun it is.”
Cranson has reincorporated the USD alma mater song and the fight song, “Get Along Coyotes” into the marching band’s show, which haven’t been featured in years past.
Cranson grew up in New Orleans, LA. He studied at LSU for his undergraduate degree and attended the University of Arkansas for his master’s degree. Cranson then spent a year studying at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. He completed his doctorate degree at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign while also teaching there.
Along with working at the collegiate level, he directed students at a high school level for five years – totaling 20 years of experience overall.
“I’m happy to be here and to be teaching,” Cranson said. “I love teaching and I love being involved in an academic institution. This place is going to grow.”