Denney Premkumar: Building Community through Music

by Nathan Foster

“It's not about working hard on music to make yourself feel good; rather, it’s to encourage and impact the lives of those listening to and watching you. I try to incorporate that in everything I do so that I can truly serve others and, hopefully, inspire them to serve as well.”

Denney Premkumar ’22 has 33 brothers who use their musical talent to bless others at Azusa Pacific University. Though they may not be related by blood, the members of Men’s Chorale, led by Premkumar as president, have found ways to bring the APU community together in the midst of the pandemic while classes and performances were held virtually and upon APU’s return to campus. From holding Star Wars watch parties to making pancakes for students on Cougar Walk, the group embraces Premkumar’s vision of unity through connection and service.

“Being a part of Men’s Chorale is such a rewarding experience,” Premkumar said. “It’s about relationships with my brothers in the ensemble. This includes learning about each other’s uniqueness and loving them for who they are and where they are in life.” Premkumar learned these lessons from current Men’s Chorale director John E. Simons, DMA, as well as past directors Harold Clousing and Galen Clark. “I use my leadership position to encourage the guys to follow the examples of Christ, of what it means to be a man, how to love like Christ, stand up for the right thing even in hard situations, to inspire good, and to encourage compassion and community, not through words, but through our actions.”

Premkumar moved from Singapore to the United States when he was five years old. His father was in ministry and a job opportunity helped the family find their current home in California. Premkumar said he grew up attending Hispanic churches where he felt God’s presence in the worship.

This connection to God continued to grow as Premkumar fell more in love with music. He sang publicly for the first time at age four, a Christmas ballad in front of his church. Although he continued singing throughout his youth, his first choral experience wasn’t until his freshman year at Pasadena City College (PCC). Premkumar transferred to APU on the recommendation of multiple mentors where he decided to pursue a degree in music education with an emphasis in choral music.

“Music is definitely something that keeps me going. There have been really tough moments in my life where I’ve felt far from God, but something about music always made me feel connected to Him. If I feel stressed or discouraged, I can turn a song on and it will remind me God is still present and everything will be okay,” he said.

Along with the impact of Men’s Chorale, Premkumar said he has acquired more knowledge and wisdom than he could have imagined from APU’s School of Music faculty. “My professors, including Dr. Stephen Martin, Professor Michelle Jensen, Dr. John Sutton, Dr. Alexander Koops, Dr. John Burdett, and Professor Christopher Russell are well accomplished and have done amazing things, yet they’re always so kind, humble, and genuinely concerned about me and all the other students,” he said. “Furthermore, they’re willing to share about the obstacles they’ve had to overcome in life and that encourages, inspires, and gives me hope and motivation to keep going.”

As a servant leader, Premkumar seeks to spread this motivation through events that involve the entire APU community, not just members of his ensemble. With movie nights, free food, and even a Valentine’s Day giveaway, the group extends their impact on campus. “We’re bringing ministry through community and music,” Premkumar said.

After graduating in December, he aspires to become a music educator. “I want to teach choir, but I’m open to what God has in store,” he said. “Whatever I do, I want to show God’s love through it, through my actions. That’s what I tell my guys in Men’s Chorale—anybody can preach, but it’s your actions that speak louder than anything else—and I try to exemplify that, even if it’s just making sure people on campus feel like they can be a part of what we’re doing, that they’re not alone.”

Nathan is the public relations manager in the Office of Strategic Communication and Engagement.