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Field of potential music ensemble directors narrows

The search for new personnel to succeed Concordia’s departing ensemble directors has borne fruit of late. The music department has announced choir director Michael Smith’s successor and has narrowed the candidates for band director Scott Jones’s down position to three finalists.

The two departures come during a particularly unique period of transition for the music department, as just last year, orchestra director Bruce Houglum retired after 16 years at the college.

Over the course of two years, the music department will have lost three prominent conductors, to say nothing of the departures of piano instructor Peter Nygaard and associate voice professor June Rauschnabel.

Though a transitional time it may be, those involved in the search maintain a posture of hope and promise for what they expect in the years to come.

“What you see in light of these departures is a strong effort on the part of the college to keep music a close part of Concordia,” said President William Craft.

Jones, also bidding farewell to Concordia after this year, observed, “across the country there’s a big swath of people at retirement age.”

“That moment of transition,” he continued, “is a real gift.”

His colleague, Mr. Smith, who directs Männerchor, Cantabile, and Chapel Choir, is retiring after his seventh year at Concordia. He was about to retire from his job at Brainerd High School when he came to Concordia.

“My wife says I flunked retirement,” he said.

Since assuming his role at Concordia in 2005, he has only been able to see his wife on the occasional breaks and weekends, as she continues to reside in Brainerd, where they have a granddaughter and a newly remodeled place on a small lake in Baxter, just west of Brainerd.

“When I go back to Brainerd, it’s hard to leave,” he said. “I love it here, but there are some things I want to do on my bucket list.”

Among the items on that bucket list, he said, are visiting his kids more and traveling to such places as Ireland, Scotland and the Holy Land.

Upon Smith’s departure, Concordia alumnus Michael Culloton will be taking the reigns.

Culloton is the artistic director and conductor of the Choral Arts Ensemble in Rochester, Minn., a 40-voice choral ensemble founded in 1985 that puts on free weekly concerts.

Craft, a reputed and self-proclaimed music enthusiast, said Culloton is a great hire. He proceeded to refer to Smith’s successor as one of the best up-and-coming choral directors.

Under whose baton Concordia’s bands will play next year is still a mystery, however.

Current director of seven years, Jones, far from retiring and claiming to have 20 years of teaching left in him, is leaving for a position at his alma mater, The Ohio State University.

“It’s a real gift to be able to return to my alma mater,” he said, “as both a way of paying back the institution that gave me legs for my professional development and paying forward to that next generation.”

The search for his successor has been narrowed to three finalists, all of whom have been to campus, interviewed and interacted with students. All that remains is the search committee’s final selection.

While not at liberty to disclose the names of those under consideration, search committee members offered insights into what criteria they are primarily evaluating.

“First and foremost, [we are looking for] a very capable musician who is also an excellent teacher,” said Robert Chabora, music department chair and search committee member.

Foster Beyers, Houglum’s successor as The Concordia Orchestra director, made clear that the criteria do not end there. From his experience in the search committee, he said they’re looking not only for someone who understands what kind of place Concordia is but also what the school values.

Also factoring considerably into the decision is how the students take to the candidates.

“We solicit student feedback at every step in the process,” Beyers said. “You better believe the search committee values that feedback.”

Though it remains unclear exactly when the new band director will be announced, the department maintains an optimistic outlook for its candidates.

“I can’t remember a year when the search has gone so well,” Chabora said. “We have people that could hit the ground running.”

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