Recently, donors gave a gift of $4.2 million to the St. Olaf music department. The Strategic Initiative Match program matched the gift, giving the music department a total of $8.4 million. Unfortunately, this gift will not cover the annoying yearly dues for students involved in ensembles nor will it go towards a desperately wanted new performance space. This gift will not go towards new robes or new equipment. Instead, five years from now, this gift will cover the cost of international touring for the St. Olaf Choir, Band and Orchestra.
While I truly do believe it is fantastic that students will no longer struggle to pull funds together for the mandatory international tours, I also think it’s unfortunate that little money will be going towards other ensembles. Contrary to popular belief, the St. Olaf Choir, Band and Orchestra are not the only ensembles on campus. In fact, I can say for certain that there are a total of five official choirs on campus. Four of these choral ensembles, Viking, Manitou, Chapel and Cantorei, will not benefit from any of the $8.4 million the music department will receive. They are already excluded from having a touring tradition and, although they are auditioned groups full of people who take pride in their work and dedicate plenty of time and energy to their music, they are rarely acknowledged to the extent the St. Olaf ensembles are.
“I think that the bigger issue is the dynamic between the St. Olaf ensembles and the other ensembles.” – Anna Moen ’19
This is not meant to be an attack on the St. Olaf ensembles. I understand these are groups of extremely dedicated and talented students. I know they put in work for these groups to an extent that I would never commit myself.
But I do believe that when a department is given money, especially so much money, it should benefit members of all ensembles within that department. While tour costs are crazy, I think it would be great if some of this gift could go to something as small as covering dues for everyone.
Beyond money being an issue, however, I think that the bigger issue is the dynamic between the St. Olaf ensembles and the other ensembles. The donation itself is not so much an issue as the general sentiment that the St. Olaf ensembles will always be better taken care of and better recognized by the school and by donors than the other ensembles on campus.
I was part of a choir, too, but because of the emphasis placed on the St. Olaf ensembles (and, furthermore, because St. Olaf, as an institution, consistently likes to give the most attention to its “bests”), it felt like I was an unnecessary, extra member of the music community. I don’t have a solution to this issue at the moment, but if I am ever a millionaire, I’ll donate to the other ensembles so that no one need pay for anything to enjoy being a part of a music community.
Anna Moen ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Prior Lake, Minn. She majors in English and History.