Alumni Relations

Sondra Lou Franks

Photo of Sondra CheesmanSondra Lou (Cheesman) Franks

Bachelor of Music, Piano Performance '79 

Sondra Lou Franks is an organist/accompanist and choir director for St. Mark's United Methodist Church, Tucson, Ariz. Sondra attended IPFW from 1974 to 1979, studying music performance and specifically accompanying, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude.  

Franks began playing at age six and she studied privately for 15 years. Her music experience has opened up doors for her to perform internationally as accompanist for the Fort Wayne Children's Choir (1983–1994), The Hoosier Chorale (1992–1998), and at the British Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England in 1982. Since then she has performed several places in Arizona, especially as an accompanist for University of Arizona events. She became director of the Folk Choir at St. Mark's (which has a membership of 1,150 and two adult choirs) and that has been her most fulfilling job at this time. They have performed locally, as well as in Sierra Vista, Ariz.  

Q. How has your degree been beneficial to you and your career?    

A. It has opened up doors for me to perform internationally as accompanist for the Fort Wayne Children's Choir (1983–1994), The Hoosier Chorale (1992–1998), and at the British Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England in 1982. It also opened the door for me to get my present position before moving to Arizona in 1999. Since then I have performed several places in Arizona, especially as an accompanist for University of Arizona events. I became director of the Folk Choir at St. Mark's (which has a membership of 1150 and 2 adult choirs) and that has been my most fulfilling job at this time. We have performed locally, as well as in Sierra Vista, Ariz.

Q. How did you become interested in your field?    

A. I was fortunate to be born into a musical family and my parents encouraged me to study and then at age nine begin accompanying my father, as well as church services in Dunkirk, Ind. I was organist/accompanist at Auburn First United Methodist Church while I was at the same time earning my degree studying under Dr. Masson Robertson. After graduation, he coached me for a large recital I gave at the church on my 25th anniversary at the church in 1996.

Q. What is the best career advice you were given?    

A. The one thing I remember is Dr. Ator, our theory professor, stopping me in the hall one day and saying, "Repeat after me—NO." As an accompanist I was overwhelmed with requests by vocalists and instrumentalists to accompany them for lessons and recitals. I loved doing it, and found myself overwhelmed with the amount of work I was doing. I have tried to weigh each invitation to use my abilities ever since then, and it has paid off.

Q. Was there anyone during your time at IPFW who acted as a mentor to you? If so, tell us about the relationship.   

A. Dr. Masson Robertson was my most dependable advocate. When I had to take an incomplete the semester of my upper divisional because of a serious thyroid problem, he was there to advise me how to get through it and come back the next semester and pass with "flying colors." Dr. and Mrs. Joseph and Violette Meyers, voice instructors I worked with, were also a great help and inspiration for me. I was just this month visiting with them in Florida.

Q. What course(s) have you found to be most valuable in your professional life?    

A. Probably the two most valuable courses have been music theory and music history. I have used both extensively in my teaching in the last 37 years, and one of my students, Andrew Nesler, is now studying at IPFW and doing quite well.

Q. What would be your advice to someone who is considering IPFW (either as a new or returning student)?   

A.  IPFW is a terrific choice especially for music students because the program is so great, and the undergraduate is given as many opportunities to perform as he/she cares to pursue. Many other schools lean on the graduate students, to the great omission of accomplished undergraduates.

Q. What advice would you give to current IPFW students?    

A. You've made a great choice for your higher education. Take advantage of every opportunity offered to you.

Q. Do you have a favorite and/or funny story about your time at IPFW?    

A.  Personally, I am proud of my daughter, Terri, who still lives in Fort Wayne, and my son, Christopher, who has a Doctorate in Theology from Duke University and is a professor of theology and religion at High Point University in High Point, NC. He and his wife Sandy have 5 beautiful children.

Professionally, my greatest accomplishments are the wonderful students I've had who went on to make beautiful music themselves.

Q. Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
A. Because of my age, it is probably going to be a much quieter lifestyle by then. I have a saying when people ask this 71-year-old musician when I am going to retire: "Old piano teachers don't retire; they just fall off the bench." Hopefully, that will be my destiny too. Meanwhile, I will continue to play, conduct, and teach the 24 students I have in my studio.

Q. How would you like to be remembered?

A.   As someone who recognized her blessing of music and pursued it as far as it would go, while still maintaining my life with my family.