The Hastings College Music Department is experiencing a variety of changes for the 2016-2017 school year, including personnel changes, smaller ensembles and preparations for the performance of Handel’s Messiah.
Dr. Robin Koozer is stepping down as chair of the Music Department with Dr. Byron Jensen taking that position. Koozer said his last day as department chair is Jan. 31, and the transition has already begun.
“The day-to-day operations of the music department will remain pretty consistent, but the big picture may change a little,” Koozer said. “It will take on a different personality for sure and I think there will be some new programming and new opportunities that will be developed among the faculty and students.”
Koozer’s new position will involve working with the Hastings College Foundation on a full-time basis and working primarily on development projects in the fine arts.
Koozer says plans for a new performing arts center are in the mix.
“President Jackson has envisioned the arts at the center of the campus, not just geographically but really as a major contributor to the success of Hastings College and to our overall programming,” Koozer said. “We have a stunning new art building, and it’s logical that the music and theater departments follow suit.”
According to Koozer, Fuhr Hall is nearly 60 years old and needs renovations.
“It was built for the 75th anniversary of Hastings College, and we’re about to celebrate 135 years, so the building has certainly seen its lifespan,” he said.
Currently, the choir, band and jazz ensembles commute to the Masonic Center downtown for rehearsals because there isn’t sufficient space in Fuhr Hall.
“We need facilities here to accommodate those programs, and hopefully we’ll be able to address that,” Koozer said.
Koozer said the Music Department faculty have discussed what they envision for a performance space, and they have reached out to a reputable architect in Omaha.
“We’ve always been student-centered, and this is one more way to make it a special program for students that perform in music,” Koozer said.
Though there is no set time frame for the project, Koozer says “the seed is planted.”
“It will take some time to raise the money and get plans in place, but when that happens, it will be a showcase for Hastings College fine arts and music,” Koozer said.
Along with plans for a new performance space, there will be increased efforts to recruit more music students. This fall brought only three new students majoring in music. Koozer said there have been initiatives to recruit more non-athletes and promoting involvement in band or choir; however, most of those students are non-music majors.
“I think that our scholarship program still needs some tweaking to attract quality music students; students that are not necessarily just here to participate in band or choir ensembles, but to major in music and music education,” Koozer said.
The 2016 Hastings College Honor Band, Orchestra and Choir Festival (HBOC) was canceled due to the snowstorms in early February. The annual festival hosts area high school musicians who auditioned for the ensemble; its cancellation could be a factor affecting the low incoming numbers.
“Historically and traditionally, that’s been a very big recruitment piece and tool for us,” Koozer said.
The Music Department also had two full-time major faculty retire, hitting at the same time as the snowstorm.
“I think that every department takes on the character of its faculty and students. When you’ve had faculty teaching as long as those two did, there certainly was a flavor or culture that was built around them,” Koozer said.
Dillon Beede, a part-time music faculty member, has increased his role at HC to a fine arts recruiter as a result of initiatives to recruit more music students.
The Hastings College Choir also decreased the number of members accepted. Though many students auditioned, only 30 to 40 were accepted due to travel costs for their tour this spring. In the past, the college choir was its largest at around 70 members.
“Several years ago for budgetary reasons, our annual touring was taken out of the budget for financial reasons. We’re slowly reinstating that, but we have to have a manageable number to travel with,” Koozer said.
This year, the men’s and women’s choirs have been combined to form the Choral Union, which will be more efficient in preparation for the performance of the Messiah in December. The Messiah’s mass choir is anticipated to have at least 400 members, including alumni soloists and singers from the community and area high schools.
“If there are any students that want to do that for the first time in their life, they can certainly join. It really is a magnificent way to start the holiday season,” Koozer said.