In the spirit of Christmas in Christ Chapel, which happens in the weekend following Thanksgiving Break, Variety brings the spotlight to the choral conducting program—an academic area of focus under the Music/Music Education Major umbrella.
“Within the music major, people can designate different areas of study, for example, a vocal performance major, a bassoon performance major, or a composition major. Each of them is a unique area of focus, but it all falls under the broad music major,” Gustavus Choir Conductor Brandon Dean said.
“One of the biggest things I have learned from my program is that in music, passion outweighs technique every time.”
-Junior Jocelyn Jaimez
Broad as it is, the Music program at Gustavus accommodates customizable tracks of study to suit their students’ varied interests, talents and career goals.
The choral conducting program, also referred to as the vocal music education, is geared towards majors who plan to pursue further graduate studies in conducting or to practice teaching and conducting in the K-12 school system.
“Most of our choral conducting students are Music Education majors. They are getting a double major in Music and Education, with the goal of eventually teaching or conducting mostly in school systems and some other professional or semi-professional format, too. By the time they graduate, they will be certified to teach k-12 public schools and conduct choirs in a public school setting,” Dean said.
The focus on conducting mainly consists of a two-semester sequence of conducting classes.
“We have a two-semester sequence for conducting. Basic conducting happens in the fall and then the advanced class in the spring. In the advanced class, students get to choose either the instrumental track or the choral track,” Dean said.
Lucia Singers and Choir of Christ Chapel Conductor Elisabeth Cherland and Brandon Dean teach, supervise and advise students who focus on choral conducting.
Besides the two-semester conducting sequence, the two professors also offer independent studies or special topic classes, often customized to the students’ needs.
“My favorite part about the program is the willingness of our professors to go the extra mile to make sure we leave Gustavus with the information and skills relevant to what we hope to do in our careers. For example, I have a strong interest in show choir and directing a group after I graduate so I am taking an independent study with my advisor, Dr. Dean, this semester. We spend our time talking about things such as the logistics of running a program, set-design, rehearsal techniques and costuming. I have also had the opportunity to go out and observe rehearsals at Minnesota show choir schools to learn from some of the best in the business. This is just one way that my education at Gustavus has been individualized in our music education program,” Senior Zach Diedrich said.
The program involves students in a wide range of extracurricular activities that allow them to practice what they learn, enhance their musical skills and expand their repertoires.
These activities range from on-and-off-campus vocal ensembles to leadership positions.
“Being a Vocal Music Education major means that I spend a lot of my time… you guessed it, singing. Being a four-year member of the Gustavus Choir and a 3.5-year member of GSharp A Cappella has shaped my experience at Gustavus into such a positive one. Although participating in music ensembles is required for the major, being in these groups has brought me much more than just a .25 credit each semester. I have met my closest friends in these groups, and have been blessed with the amazing travel and performance opportunities that being in the Gustavus Choir has provided,” Diedrich said.
“The Vocal Music Education major has shaped my experience at Gustavus by totally immersing me in the musical experience Gustavus has to offer. In my three years thus far, I have been fortunate to participate in Vocal Jazz Ensemble, The Gustavus Choir, Gustavus Women’s A Cappella and even Recorder Ensemble. My Gustavus experienced is shaped daily and hourly by my major and related musical involvements, it simply would not be the same without,” Junior Vocal Music Education major Jocelyn Jaimez said.
According to Dr. Dean, conducting students can get involved in the leadership part of the ensembles by working as Vocal Music Assistants, known as the VMAs.
The VMAs assist the conductors in managing music and other logistics of rehearsals and performances.
Sometimes, the VMAs work as assistant conductors as well.
“My favorite part about the program is the willingness of our professors to go the extra mile to make sure we leave Gustavus with the information and skills relevant to what we hope to do in our careers.”
-Senior Zach Diedrich
Currently, the program has over twenty majors from all classes.
“Our kids are very successful when it comes to job placement. Four or five years ago, we revamped our whole Music Education Program curriculum and since then all our graduates have been placed. Our 2019 graduate Michael McKenzie was recently awarded second place in The American Prize in Conducting–Chorus (Community Division) for his work as founder and conductor of the Gustavus Adolphus College Social Justice Choir. We have kids who are in graduate schools right now. Some of them pursue Masters’ degrees and often teach at the same time,” Dr. Dean said.
Alumnus Michael McKenzie founded and conducted the Gustavus Social Justice Choir as a student-run organization during his time at Gustavus.
The ensemble has lived on, following his graduation, and will official become a faculty-led ensemble in the Fall semester of 2020.
This change means that students will be able to take it as a class, with Dr. Cherland as their conductor.
The choral conducting students are not only able to shape their own academic journeys, but also to learn lessons that they will keep for life.
“The one most important thing I have learned in this program was from my choir director for three years—Dr. Gregory Aune. He would always tell us that, when he conducted, he wore his heart on his sleeve. I hope to do that for my students someday, in order to give them the best musical experience possible,” Diedrich said.
“One of the biggest things I have learned from my program is that in music, passion outweighs technique every time. You can be the most technically proficient musician in the world, but without passion, love and a dedication to and for the music, the art form is not complete. The musicians at Gustavus are some of the most dedicated and passionate people I have ever met and I am so fortunate to be making music alongside them,” Jaimez said.