In the Spotlight

News & Features
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
U of M School of Music celebrates 100 years
Larger view
Opera student Tricia Van Ee performs from The Marriage of Figaro during a recent class. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
The University of Minnesota's School of Music is marking 100 years of developing many of the region's foremost music teachers, performers and composers. This Sunday afternoon, the school will celebrate with music at the Ted Mann Concert Hall. The event is billed as the grand finale to the School of Music's centennial year.

Minneapolis, Minn. — After a debrief of a recent performance of Richard Strauss' Ariadne Auf Naxos, the lesson for this day's Opera Theater class begins with a solo.

Graduate student Tricia Van Ee is singing the role of the countess in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro.

The class of 25 listens in as professor David Walsh asks Van Ee to think about the motivations and emotions of Mozart's countess.

Larger view
Image Prof. David Walsh

"I think she, for some inexplicable reason, is very much in love with the count," says Van Ee.

"Why do you say inexplicable?" Walsh asks. Van Ee responds, "Aw, he's such a jerk!" as the class laughs. "He's such a jerk, and she knows he's kind of fooling around, and it's humiliating for her. But she loves him. And she's in so much pain," Van Ee says.

This is Walsh's first year teaching in the school.

"I've been overwhelmed by the level of the students here. I think they are even surprised themselves at how good they can be," says Walsh. "I think we have, across the board, a very strong group of young singers. I think that within that, there are a handful of people who are of exceptional talent and I hope to see go on to big things."

Many music school graduates have already gone on to big things. Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus are internationally-acclaimed composers.

Other alums of note have made a name nationally while staying local, including Philip Brunelle of the dynamic Vocal Essence ensemble, and the namesake founder of the Dale Warland Singers.

Larger view
Image Prof. Doug Geers

The faculty has also included its share of big names -- conductor David Zinman, the recently retired Vern Sutton, and retired professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Dominic Argento.

Music School director Jeff Kimpton says the community's historical commitment to culture may be responsible for the unique talents to spring from the school.

"When the School of Music started in 1902, there was a strong feeling that Minneapolis had reached a critical mass of people that it needed its own culture," says Kimpton. "They wanted to have an orchestra to emulate the larger cities to the east. They thought it was time to begin to create homegrown talent instead of trying to look elsewhere. There had been a number of fits and starts of community orchestras, the beginnings of the Minnesota Orchestra."

The Minnesota Orchestra is also marking its 100th birthday. Its relationship with the U's School of Music is an intimate one. For starters, the same man, Emil Oberhoffer, founded both of them.

Larger view
Image New directions in music

Minnesota Orchestra annotator and U of M alum Mary Ann Feldman remembers her student days when the orchestra, then called the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, rehearsed and performed in Northrup Auditorium on the East Bank of the Minneapolis campus.

"Imagine what it was like to go to a large university and have a big beautiful symphony orchestra smack in the middle of your campus, and very accessible. It was a glamour factor," says Feldman. "I can remember going into Northrup my freshman year ... I'd stop by Northrup and I would put my ear to the crack in the door, put my eye -- I saw incredible people rehearsing with this orchestra."

The university's music department didn't become a separate school until 1981.

Mary Steinke, a 1956 music school graduate and booster, says becoming a school raised its profile.

"Once it became a school, you could attract an even higher quality teacher and professor. One thing kind of built on the other," says Steinke. "And of course, the better teachers you have, the better quality student is attracted, because students will follow teachers very definitely."

Larger view
Image "It's awesome"

A quick stroll through the halls of the music school confirms Steinke's assertion.

"I came here because of the bass teacher, and I love the bass program," says student Stephanie Dickenson, who plays the double bass. "They have a really good bass program -- there's lots of students."

"It's awesome," says sophomore saxophone student Phil Egger. "The opportunities here to be able to study with certain professors, like Dr. (Eugene) Rousseau, are just amazing -- you know, world renowned professors -- and it's just great to be able to have things like this here."

The otherwise non-descript Ferguson Hall has been home to the school for nearly two decades. Each year, the school educates about 550 graduates and undergraduates, and another 2,000 students from other majors take classes.

Curriculum includes non-traditional musical forms. In the Introduction to Computer Music Techniques class, professor Doug Geers demonstrates how he composed a piece using violin and everyday sounds that have been modified by computer.

Larger view
Image Stephanie Dickenson

Geers was recently hired to get the school's computer composition program off the ground.

"My role ... is to take the instruments and musical traditions that have been flourishing here for at least 100 years, and to see what we can do with those things when we add new technologies," says Geers. "When we take a virtuoso violinist and have this person play into a computer, have the computer listen to what they do and react to what they do, for instance. To have students use software which allows them to essentially sculpt sounds. To use computer programs that can either create sounds, or actually take in sounds from the real world and turn them into other things."

Ferguson Hall is attached to Ted Mann Concert Hall on the U's West Bank. The building on the other side houses the U's performing arts program, and across from there is the dance building. Soon, a new fine arts building will be on the block, rounding out the U's West Bank Arts Quarter.

Opera professor David Walsh says the new arts quarter will set the tone for the future, because students and teachers will easily be able to collaborate on new work.

"This is going to be, in a way, the salvation of ... the arts segment of the university -- that kind of interactive work between disciplines," says Walsh.

The West Bank arts quarter is also being touted as a major asset by music chool director Jeff Kimpton. He says the interactive work promised by the proximity of artistic displines should be a draw for new students.

Not that the school is having trouble pulling them in. Kimpton says applications have doubled over the last several years. The school is also attracting loyal donors. It recently received a $5 million donation from the estate of the late Harvey Berneking of San Francisco, a 1948 graduate.

Kimpton says that kind of support will help the school head into its second century maintaining the goal it started with -- to create a future for live music in the community, by nurturing local talent and cultivating new generations of music lovers.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects