“Music is one of those things I’d feel completely empty if I didn’t have,” says Sophie Haber Wertz ’15, violinist in the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra’s first violin section.
You can’t accuse her of overstatement. Playing since childhood, she received a Gustavus music scholarship and her college music career thus far has included performing across South Africa. As Wertz tells it, Gustavus has provided nothing short of “life-changing” experiences for this education and Spanish major.
That’s correct: The scholarship-winning sophomore from St. Louis Park is not a music major. Neither are the majority of symphony students who performed with her in South Africa. Or those who have traveled throughout previous years in the U.S. and overseas. Or those who recently toured through California, New Mexico, and Arizona.
It illustrates another unique aspect of Gustavus: Non-music majors are welcome in the top ensembles. It’s a structure that allows students to experience the exhilaration of what performing does personally, socially, and culturally.
Providing students with an extraordinary musical experience is the operating principle behind the Gustavus Friends of Music. This is a group of alumni, parents, and other supporters of the College who understand the role music has in expanding lives, particularly those Gusties performing around the world.
The group provides support to the Department of Music and student musicians by raising funds for Jussi Björling music scholarships and touring. Last winter the group took to fundraising for a specific goal: to permanently endow ensemble touring.
To coincide with the College’s 150th year, a 1999 Gustavus alumnus offered a matching grant of up to $10,000, which helped the Friends of Music successfully raise the $25,000 needed to fully fund the Gustavus Touring Endowment Fund.
The tradition of concert touring by the music ensembles at Gustavus Adolphus College was established as early as 1878 for the musical, artistic and educational benefit of the student members. Concert touring provides an opportunity to perform a concert program numerous times, fostering a deeper artistic understanding and expression of the music.
And that’s an activity that Melinda (Moen) Batz ’86 and her husband Paul ’85 are happy to support. In their days as students during the mid-1980s, they both performed in the Gustavus Choir – thanks to scholarships – and two of their children have done the same. She recalls traveling in Washington D.C. as well as the southern states and getting a life-changing – there’s that term again – experience not only with the music and different landscapes, but in the camaraderie and life lessons.
“You’re really with a group of people. You’re on a bus, you’re talking to them, you’re playing cards – you have really intense relationships for that week, and it’s really terrific,” Batz said. The life lessons came in rolling with the good and bad when people would open their homes to the students.
“It’s a great experience for kids and it was for us. It’s all part of building your character and learning to adapt,” Batz said.
Mary Anderson ’52 also recalls the camaraderie she and fellow Gustie band members shared when they toured with conductor Frederic Hilary during her years at Gustavus. The band introduced her to fellow clarinet player Joanne Steele ’52, who became her lifelong friend through the practices and performances.
At that time the band mainly traveled to states surrounding Minnesota. “We weren’t fortunate enough to travel abroad, but we still had a wonderful time and many good experiences. I loved my time at Gustavus.” It’s a big reason why she and her husband Gerry have directed many of their gifts to support Gustavus’s music program, earning them a lifetime membership in the Friends of Music.
Thanks to the generous support of donors like the Batzs and Andersons, more resources are available to expand touring opportunities overseas. In 2011 the choir spent 15 days performing in Italy and in her 2012 J term, Wertz traveled with the orchestra to perform at six South African locations including Cape Town and Johannesburg.
“It sounds cliché to say, but because we couldn’t really communicate with everybody we encountered, music really is the universal language,” Wertz said. “It really gave us a ton of connections. A lot of people we met we’re still in contact with. Music really touches and connects people.”
Help Friends of Music ensure that the connections, experiences, and opportunities continue to grow for Gustie musicians by joining today. Your membership will also help bring us closer to our Campaign Gustavus goal of $150 million.
This story was written by freelance writer Joe Tougas, who will write a series of stories related to Campaign Gustavus this year.