When Luke Dennis graduated from Wittenberg in 2000 he knew one thing for sure.
"Music moves me in ways nothing else can," he said.
Armed with a love of music and desire to share his passion with others, he has embarked on a journey that now has him serving as executive director of the Muse Machine, a nationally recognized arts education organization that serves 70,000 students annually in 13 counties in southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky.
"We arrange for local, professional artists to present hundreds of performances within the schools, as well as make it possible for students to travel to downtown Dayton to see professional performances," Dennis said. "These include performances in every discipline and style, from theatre to opera to ballet to symphonic music."
Based in Dayton, The Muse Machine has produced 22 annual musicals and 10 summer concerts since its inception in 1982, while engaging students through arts-integrated classroom instruction, interactive workshops and professional development for teachers. That puts Dennis in position to spread the joy of music to more young people than he ever could have previously imagined.
"Working for the Muse Machine means I am dedicated to the performing arts," Dennis said. "It's the perfect job for me."
Even as a young child, Dennis knew he wanted to be involved in the performing arts. Constantly with songs stuck in his head, Dennis spent much of his time at Wittenberg in the music and theatre buildings with his classmates and mentors performing and perfecting his passion.
Dennis originally wanted to be a professor, and he said that Wittenberg theatre and dance professors Corwin Georges and Steve Reynolds were his inspiration. Dennis even enrolled in the prestigious Tufts University graduate program, but three years later he realized his talents would be better suited in a non-profit arts group. He credits his Wittenberg experience with helping to guide him on his path.
"Every experience I had at Wittenberg led me to the Muse Machine," Dennis said. "Wittenberg allowed me to immerse myself in two majors, theatre and music, and to have hands-on opportunities in every area of both majors."
Some of Dennis's fondest college memories are of time spent with his music adviser, now-retired Professor of Music Ken Scheffel. He now realizes that instead of ‘work,' Dennis was laying the foundations for his position at the Muse Machine.
He met his wife, Sally, a 1998 Wittenberg grad, when the two were in a play at the university. They have a daughter, Lucy, and are expecting another in August 2009.
His Wittenberg experience helped Dennis to set lofty goals as executive director of the Muse Machine. With arts programs frequently being cut from schools, his mission is more important than ever.
"I want the Muse Machine to be a presence in every school in Southwest Ohio," Dennis said. "I want (it) to be a national model for innovative arts education. Every school should be a Muse school. If you're reading this and have a child in a school that is not a Muse school, or if you teach at a school that is not, please contact me."
In many ways, Dennis is building on goals he set as a college freshman. His message of the joy of music and the need to promote the performing arts was nurtured and developed during his time spent with friends and mentors at Wittenberg.
"Wittenberg changed my life. All students should have such a thought-provoking, life-changing four years," Dennis said. "It gave me a chance to grow and mature and explore my own interests and the world around me."
Written by: Ronni Appenbrink '09
Photo By: Erin Pence