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2012 Winter Issue 5 (February 10, 2012)

Striking different chords

February 10, 2012
By Mike Sobaski

Less than two miles away, St. Olaf College is one of the most well-known music programs in the nation, and an occasional source of tension for Carleton’s own music department.

“If you ask someone what they know about St. Olaf, it’s probably the music program,” said Dan Dressen, associate dean for fine arts at St. Olaf.

Out of approximately 800 students per class, about 60 are music majors. Plainly, many studentswant to be involved in music.
“One of our main goals is to make opportunities available for non-majors,” Dressen said, and with eight full choirs, two bands, two orchestras and a host of other musical ensembles, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Almost 800 non-majors participate in the St. Olaf music program.

This level of participation is not unlike Carleton, where even though the music program only graduates six to ten majors per year, many students still choose to participate in some form. 

“There are about five hundred to seven hundred students a term taking music lessons, courses or participating in ensembles,” said Justin London, a professor of music at Carleton College. “There are a lot of students at Carleton making music, and we are here to help musicmaking and studying happen.”

The difference between the two schools’ music programs lies beyond participation.

“The Carleton music program is more integrated with the liberal arts,” London said. “Music has always been just another department in a liberal arts college rather than something set up to do a special program.”

According to Dressen, it can be difficult to balance the intense requirement of being a part of music at St. Olaf with other academic areas.

“Sometimes things start piling up and it can be a hassle,” said Jordan Joseph Pesik, a freshman member of the St. Olaf percussion ensemble and a student-led band.

The differences are only highlighted by how close the two schools are.

“Carleton’s music program gets a lot of flak just because it is not very strong relative to Olaf,” said music major Alek Sharma ’12.
The largest problem facing the Carleton music department is the lack of space and the condition of the facilities.
To put it bluntly, “our Concert Hall is falling down,” said London, who is also on the Building and Grounds Strategic Planning Committee.

The Concert Hall is not wheelchair accessible, and there is a lack of storage and rehearsal space. In general, London said, Carleton has “a serious facilities challenge.”

This lack of space and funds often leads to tension within the department.

“It ends up not being a very cohesive community because not many people want to hang out in the music facilities,” Sharma said. “I wish there was more of a community.”

Some concern was raised when the music department did not receive any space in the new Weitz Center for Creativity.
“I feel like there is some bitterness there,” Sharma said.

Theater, visual art, cinema and dance all got space in the new building.

“Some of the bitterness I feel in the department is a result of the huge discrepancy between how much attention the music program gets at St. Olaf as opposed to here, where science and math are emphasized,” Sharma said.

The St. Olaf music program is best known for the Christmas Festival, which is normally broadcast nationally on PBS and was also simulcast this year in select movie theaters across the nation.

When asked about the future of the music program, London said, “For me, I see lots of cool, interdisciplinary stuff happening – music and neuroscience, music and psychology – stuff like that.

Even though Carleton and St. Olaf share the same town, there has not been much collaboration between music programs in the past. Dressen points to the difference between Carleton’s trimester system and St. Olaf’s semester system as the major obstacle to working together.

While the two programs may not work together, students are welcome to and encouraged to go to performances at both schools.
“We have quite a good attendance of townies,” Dressen said, “but we would relish having Carleton students come to these events.”

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