The uncommon musician pepping up his peers

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting Concordia's 2018 graduates.


Take even a cursory look at Ken Simon’s social media feed and you’ll see his “turn up” pose. Ever since the Concordia University Ann Arbor music major debuted it four years ago in front of hundreds of his CUAA peers, it’s become a campus trend.

The gesture originated during the fifth-year senior’s junior year. He had volunteered to participate in the Mr. CUAA competition, a riff on the Miss America beauty pageant. Like a typical beauty pageant, Concordia’s competition included an introduction, evening wear, talent, and question portion in order to determine the most spirited Concordian.

It was during the introduction portion of the competition that the congenial Ken made his way to the center of the Field House and whipped out his trademark pose: arm straight up in the air, palm facing the sky.

And the crowd went wild.

Now Ken, who is a percussionist in the CUAA Pep Band, regularly busts out the move on the sidelines of athletics events, he litters social media feeds with it, and nearly every interaction he has with friends in passing is accompanied by a hand cocked upwards.

“I started the ‘turn up’ pose as a way to get people pumped up and excited at (Cardinal athletic) games,” Ken says. “It just kind of caught on from there.”

You could call the “turn up” pose a manifestation of Ken’s zeal for Concordia—and life in general. No matter where he’s at on campus or what he’s doing, Ken wears his passions on his sleeve, and the attitude is contagious.

On Sunday, May 20, Ken will graduate and carry his uncommon enthusiasm into the world. After graduation, he’ll pursue a master’s degree in church music at the University of Michigan, where he’ll devote himself to one of his other great passions: music.

Ken’s love of music began when he was young. His mother, a gifted clarinetist, first began to instill an appreciation of it through a Kinder-music program she enrolled Ken in. Ken went on to join the prestigious Boychoir of Ann Arbor, and eventually enroll in Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, where his musical talents continued to flourish. Since 2010, he’s been a regular musical contributor at his church as well.

At Concordia, he added to his music portfolio by joining Concordia’s Wind Ensemble, Cardinal Regiment, Drumline, Worship Arts team, Pep Band, and the Concordia Choir. CUAA also gave him the opportunity to tour Europe and perform at Carnegie Hall and the Chicago Symphony Center.

From the beginning, Ken knew he would pursue a career in the music field, but it wasn’t until his fourth year at CUAA that he determined he wanted to go into church music.

“I started thinking more and more about my desire to serve God and others through this gift of music,” Ken says. “Music is one of the best ways I know of to give glory to God, and as my faith continued to grow at Concordia, I continued to feel more and more called to share that gift with others.”

“I started thinking more and more about my desire to serve God and others through this gift of music,” Ken says. “Music is one of the best ways I know of to give glory to God, and as my faith continued to grow at Concordia, I continued to feel more and more called to share that gift with others.”   

Ken says he marvels at the power music has to move people. He’s witnessed numerous times when music combined with worship has resulted in awe-inspiring moments.

One time in particular happened last year during Concordia’s annual Tool Time retreat, which invites high school students onto campus to engage with student speakers, live worship music, hilarious skits, and fun games. The goal of the event, which is run by CUAA students, is to deepen attendees’ relationships with Christ and each other.

“I can remember playing in the chapel with all these high school kids in the audience,” Ken says. “I just remember feeling so engaged with everyone and feeling God’s presence with us. It was this ‘wow’ moment and it was like, ‘OK, this is exactly what I want and need more of in my life.”

And if his “turn up” reputation is any indication, Ken will continue to delight those around him with his God-given musical talents and spirited disposition.

Follow along with CUAA’s commencement celebration using #CUAAgrad18 on Twitter and Facebook.

— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

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