A steel drum concert at
the Chester Fritz … An organ recital at the
First Presbyterian Church … A performance by
the Pride of the North Marching Band at a football
game … that best-known and biggest crescendo
of the season, the annual Madrigal Dinner.
That’s how it was at the University of North
Dakota during the fall semester – a steady stream
from the Music Department by ensembles and large groups,
individual students involved in the Greater Grand
Forks Symphony and the Master Chorale.
The beat continues in January when the annual Honor
Band and Choir Festival expands to include orchestra
music. More than 300 high school students selected
through auditions around the region will be on the
UND campus January 16 to 18.
The tempo and tone of music flowing from the Edmond
Hughes Fine Arts Center reaches across the campus
and throughout the region. At the center of the vibrant
Music Department — like a conductor —
is Gary Towne, its chair.
He is pleased with the increase in music majors to
124 this year, compared to 116 last year and around
100 in previous years. Beyond that, the Music Department
serves 1,500 students every year who take non-major
courses or participate in musical groups. Their education
is enhanced by music. Towne likes to think those who
major in music are never really aware of making the
“Music is within them,” he explained.
“It never leaves, and they can’t escape
because it has a grip on their souls.”
Towne, in his fifth year as department chair, says
he has built on the work of his predecessors. In a
restructuring, the Music Department was moved to the
College of Arts and Sciences with Martha Potvin as
dean. And Towne says, “We’re quite happy
However, he says the department is experiencing growing
pains and looks longingly down the road to a time
when an addition can be built on the Hughes Fine Arts
Center. The department needs a concert facility larger
than the Josephine Campbell Recital Hall for its group
performances that are not large enough for the Chester
Fritz Auditorium. At the present time, these are held
in various community churches. There is a need for
another rehearsal room, and the music library is bursting
at the seams.
Although space is limited in the Hughes Fine Arts
Center, Towne sees benefits in providing office space
for and collaborating with community groups such as
the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra and the
Grand Forks Master Chorale.
He has helped foster the reincarnation of a marching
band, Pride of the North, under the direction of Robert
Brooks. More than ever before, the UND Music Department
is making itself heard far and wide.
The University bands, all under the direction of
James Popejoy, are making a statement. And Towne ticks
off other departmental highlights:
James Popejoy’s contributions
to the series, “Teaching Music through Performance
in Band,” have placed him in the national eye.
Eric Lawson, professor of violin,
has in his first year developed a chamber orchestra
of 17 strings.
Music Therapy, taught by Therese Costes,
is filled to capacity with 20 students in its three-year
Dorothy Keyser, assistant professor
who teaches music appreciation, has begun a fascinating
collection of musical instruments from all over the
Royce Blackburn, assistant professor
of voice performance, directed a production of a Mozart
opera last year and plans to direct Gilbert and Sullivan’s
“Mikado” this spring.
Anne Christopherson, assistant professor
of voice performance, made her Paris debut during
the summer with UND graduate Mary Dibbern.
Sergio Gallo, assistant professor
and director of piano studies, presented concerts
during the past year in Taiwan, Portugal, Germany
Mike Wittgraf, associate professor
of composition, music theory, and bassoon, won a commission
from the National Symphony and had compositions played
at 10 different concerts during the past year. He
was commissioned in 2003 to compose “Child’s
Play,” a work that combines 50 children’s
tunes. It was presented in November for the North
Dakota Music Teachers Association in Bismarck.
Towne considers the blossoming of small ensembles
a measure of musicianship in the department. The Gabe
Granitz Quartet, for example, grew out of the jazz
band. It includes Granitz on alto sax and piano, Jared
Johnson on tenor sax and piano, Mark Lentz on base
guitar, and Adam Cowger on drums.
Towne himself has been singing as tenor in a quartet
doing Renaissance music. Other members are Bruce Fischer,
Royce Blackburn, and Tom Rogers.
As a musician, Towne is a jack-of-all-trades, playing
piano and organ. His research has centered around
music and musical patronage during the Renaissance
in Bergamo, Italy. He has lectured before professional
audiences in Europe, North America and the British
Isles. He is publishing the complete works of Gaspar
de Albertis, a Renaissance composer.
Towne came to UND in 1988 after teaching for three
years at Middlebury College in Vermont. And though
he has been chair of the department for the past five
years, he still is doing some teaching. He finds excitement
in trying to build the department and revels in the
success of his colleagues. The son of a country doctor,
Towne grew up in Underhill, Vt., and graduated from
Yale. He earned his Ph.D. in 1985 at the University
of California-Santa Barbara.
Towne feels as comfortable in Grand Forks as he does
on the campus. He finds cultural opportunities remarkable
for a population this size. “I’ve never
been in a place,” he said, “where people
have a greater interest in and appreciation of music.”