Destined to Duet

Music majors spend more hours than they care to count in Brenneman Music Hall. It literally becomes their second home. There are classes, rehearsals, meetings, more rehearsals, performances, friendships, late-night talks … you get the picture. For young alumni couple Howard and Mackenzie (Honaker) Cole, Brenneman is quite a special place. It’s where they met and fell in love.

“The first semester we were both here, we started seeing each other around Brenneman and got to know each other,” said Mackenzie, ’15. “We started doing some flute and guitar duets together and we realized we accompanied each other really well,” added Howard, ’16. “It’s just neat to get to share music like that.”

Not long after they began dating, this duet was being asked to play at events around campus and other venues. Their story of making beautiful music together was just beginning to unfold.

Howard and Mackenzie grew up in small towns about 20 miles apart, but their paths never crossed. He worked for a year after high school and she headed straight to Heidelberg.

The first event they played together was a wedding. Dinner parties followed, and the pair continues to perform together. During their time at Heidelberg, Howard was also a popular act at ’Berg coffee house events in The University Commons. At the last coffee house his junior year, he planned something very special for the end of his 45-minute set. Summoning Mackenzie up to help him figure out the source of the rattling in his guitar, he popped the question. She said yes, and five months later they tied the knot, becoming another ’Berg alumni couple in a long, long list of those who found their life partner on campus.

The couple agrees they wouldn’t change a thing – about their time at Heidelberg or since they graduated. Both gave instrumental lessons through the Community Music School, and really enjoyed sharing music with young students.

During his junior year, Howard answered the call to be a musician at the nearby West Independence Methodist Church. It would be the beginning of a lifelong calling for them.

“A big part of our lives now is being involved with our church,” he said. They’re involved in performing together at Bucyrus First Church of the Nazarene for four services each week, including a contemporary worship service, with the church’s youth group and other programs and services. They also co-teach a young adults Bible study group at their church, which has become a second family.

“The church is really growing and doing some big things,” Mackenzie said. “We’re really excited to be a part of it.”

Howard initially majored in business administration but ended up graduating with a double major in business and music. Mackenzie was a music performance major from day one. They never would have guessed that music ministry would be such a huge focus in their lives today.

“He has really encouraged me to do things with music ministry that I never thought about. It’s been a great opportunity, and I have ended up really loving it,” said Mackenzie.

Working part time for the Central Ohio Symphony has opened up a few performance opportunities for Mackenzie. She also enjoys giving private flute lessons to local children in the community, and is hoping to grow that aspect of her musical life.

Howard is taking his ministry to the next level, beginning studies at the Nazarene Bible College with an eventual goal of becoming ordained.

As they pursue their mutual and shared interests, performing together still ranks at the top of the list. They enjoy working with engaged couples to plan the perfect musical pieces for their wedding. Whether it’s Celtic, which is popular these days, Latin or French, the Coles are ready to adapt.

“We’re always willing to learn whatever they want,” said Mackenzie, noting that the couple sometimes even comes up with arrangements of pieces on their own. Some of the arrangements include Howard on vocals. “He’s a really good singer,” she added.

For other events, they look more toward the folk style, which allows Howard to have fun with the “old love songs from the crooner era.”

He calls upon his knowledge of the music of the ’40s and ’50s for another rewarding role: working with residents of United Church Homes residential facilities through the national Music & Memory Program. The program uses music to bring joy to the lives of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive impairments.

Assigned to facilities in Sandusky, Canal Fulton and Jackson, all in Ohio, Howard works with the residents to set up personal playlists of their favorite music on iPods. If the residents have difficulty identifying their favorite tunes, Howard just sings with them. “I’ll do songs like ‘Home on the Range’ or ‘You Are My Sunshine,’” he said. “It really engages them and brings back good memories and for some, it brings back part of their identity. It’s often the best part of my day.”

When they’re not working or performing together, Howard and Mackenzie spend their time at their home in Bucyrus – minus the picket fence but surrounded by their 1-year-old Dalmatian, Archie, and their cat, Heidi. “We are just trying to find our place here,” she said.

Music united them and along with their faith, it will continue to sustain them throughout their lives.

Published in Fall 17

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