Community member supports reimagined music program

Augustana's newly-reimagined music program has received a significant gift from a long-time campus supporter.

Sydney Tancowny - 20 December 2021

John Wiebe conducting an Augustana choir.

“I think every musician, at some point, realizes that the value of music-making comes from within the community,” said John Wiebe, director of music at Augustana.

Since its founding in 1910, Augustana Campus (then Camrose Lutheran College) has had strong community ties—an institution established by the community to meet the communities’ educational needs.

However, music has had just as long of a history on campus. The option to complete music as a bachelor of arts major began officially in 1985 (the year the campus was given degree-granting status), but Augustana has offered choir as an option for student involvement from its very first day in 1910. Since the campus’ founding, musical study at Augustana has grown significantly, as have the ways it branches back out into its community—from the bachelor of music degree program to community choirs and music classes to professional development opportunities for music educators both on and off campus.

As we approach 2022, music on campus is transforming again—this time by reimagining the degree program and taking advantage of its strong community ties, thanks in part to the generous support from the estate of Camrose community member Gunvor Mygind.

Gunvor Mygind with student award recipients.
Gunvor Mygind and her student award recipients at the 2019 Community Awards Banquet. 

Raising student voices

This recent and substantial gift, given after Gunvor’s passing in 2020, is only one portion of her estate’s gift and only a fraction of the support she has shown on campus.

Since 2006, Gunvor has furthered the education of dozens of Augustana students, establishing four student awards and supporting projects like the music program’s Steinway piano, the Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre, athletics, lab equipment and more.

In addition to her previous support of music on campus—which included her regular attendance at performances—Gunvor’s recent gift will ensure more students will be able to pursue musical study at Augustana. To recognize her legacy of support, a majority of her gift will be used to create an endowment to provide students in the music program with financial support in perpetuity. The remaining funds will be directed to enhance existing music facilities—thus making an impact on all within the program.

While this support is exciting in its own right, it is doubly so in arriving during a significant change within the program. At the time, the world was only months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and Augustana’s Music Division was hard at work, getting ready to launch their newly-revamped bachelor of music program—one that has been years in the making.

“During such intense work, you wonder if that work is being noticed or how these changes will play out,” said John. “When we received news of this gift, it was a vote of encouragement. Her gift is going to be impacting our music program for years and years to come. ”


New century, new music program

As has been highlighted continually since early 2020, our world is much different than the world of a century ago. Despite this fact, many music programs have yet to reflect these changes. While students may have once graduated and pursued a purely performance-based career, this career trajectory is no longer always the case. Today, even if students go on to perform following their post-secondary study, they are often doing more than just performing. In fact, in some way or form, many end up doing the same thing: teaching.

“There's no such thing as a performer who doesn't teach,” said John. “Even the world’s top performers end up teaching students and master classes. And yet, this teaching aspect of music is often overlooked.”

That’s why, after the campus undertook curriculum reviews, the Music Division decided to take their program in a new and fresh direction—performance-based pedagogy.

Within this new program, students balance learning how to perform and learning how to teach—taking courses in supporting the physical and psychological health of musicians, working with voices of different ages, the anatomy of the singing voice and more.

These recent changes also take advantage of existing community connections, with students being able to work with local groups within Augustana’s Community Service-Learning program and by observing instructors within the Augustana Music Conservatory (with the opportunity to teach themselves).

“We realized we needed to develop students who are going to have viable careers in music,” said Ardelle Ries, Augustana professor of music and director of the campus’ inclusion choir. “We still focus on the performance side of things, because that is very exciting for many students. However, we also wanted to prepare students for a life as a teacher, whether in a choir, a classroom or their own studio.”

With the recent financial gift bolstering the program, John and Ardelle are thinking of ways they can continue to improve it. “This is a program that's growing,” said Ardelle, “and we are poised and ready to expand our current collaborations and relationships, which will only serve to empower a bright future for our music program and students.”

Now into the second year of this reimagined program, students are focusing on more than the learning happening in the classroom. This new approach allows students to think of how they’ll continue to share music within their own communities after graduation.

“Thinking of the bigger picture was the impetus behind this revamped bachelor of music program,” said John. “Performance-based pedagogy is acknowledging who music students are as a whole: a performer and a teacher and more. We want students to succeed in all of these areas, and that—to me—really mirrors Augustana’s concept of a liberal arts education.”

This article originally appeared in the 2021 CIRCLE alumni magazine.