Lifelong Learning and Connection: Alumni Collaborate at MMEA Posted on March 13th, 2024 by

The 2024 MMEA Midwinter Clinic featured the collaboration of two Gustavus Alumni from the class of 2007, Justin Schramm and Katherine Johns Bergman. Justin is now the band director at Prior Lake High School and Katherine is a successful freelance composer with her pieces being performed across the country. At this year’s MMEA Midwinter Clinic, Justin led the Prior Lake High School Percussion ensemble in the world premiere of a new commission composed by Katherine entitled “Snowbound Silence”.

The collaboration between Justin and Katherine stretches back to 2019 when the Prior Lake Percussion Ensemble first performed at MMEA. Reflecting on this, Katherine says “For that concert they wanted me to arrange a piece that I’d already written for percussion trio for a larger ensemble. That piece was called Superior and they did a fabulous job playing it. When they went back to apply to play at MMEA again this year, Justin decided that they wanted another piece along the same lines and they commissioned me again to write something for them.”

Both pieces that Katherine has commissioned for Justin’s ensembles are deeply connected to Minnesota’s natural landscape and the students’ connections with the music were a large reason why Justin wanted to continue collaborating with Katherine. “The students could visualize the music and the scene it was setting. Being able to have that kind of connection to the music where they can humanize it and internalize it is really amazing,” says Justin.

Despite graduating back in 2007 and having their own busy and independent careers, Justin and Katherine have remained close friends since their time together in the Gustavus Wind Orchestra. “Back in our Gustavus days, we had a group of really good friends from GWO and we still all go on vacations together. Music and Gustavus created a really strong bond for us back then and even though we all live all over, we still find ways to connect,” says Justin. Hearing Justin and Katherine talk about their shared vacations and Worlde-score-sharing group chats, it’s clear that the friendships they created during their time at Gustavus are still central to their lives today.

Beyond the friendships they created as Gusties, Justin and Katherine both spoke incredibly highly of how Gustavus equipped them to succeed in their professional careers. “More than anything, the idea of lifelong learning is what sets Gustavus students apart,” says Katherine. “As a freelance musician, you’re building your business, and the skills needed as an arts entrepreneur are constantly changing. Having the ability to adapt to those changes and having the desire to learn new information is what makes a career like this successful, and Gustavus gave me those skills.” Emphasizing Katherine’s sentiment, Justin says, “I think the experiences and the love for music that Gustavus brought to my life really has enriched my teaching and what I try to bring in the classroom.”

Justin also reflected on the impact of the Liberal Arts structure of Gustavus and the freedom that students here have to pursue multiple interests and passions. He says, “Gustavus is a really powerful place where you have individuals like Katherine and I that majored in Music, but a lot of our friends that were performing with us were not Music Majors but they were still able to do that. And I think about how a lot of my students aren’t necessarily going on to be Music Majors but it’s one of my jobs to help nurture that love for music and show that it doesn’t have to end in High School. I get to find ways to show them that they can keep playing and engaging and Gustavus does a great job of bringing that to life on a daily basis.” Justin is able to take the Liberal Arts spirit of Gustavus and use it to inspire his own students.

Katherine and Justin also spoke fondly of their memories together in GWO, particularly their tour to Eastern Europe. As the oldest touring ensemble West of the Mississippi River, tours have always been a central part of the GWO experience and the memories from the tour where they met definitely haven’t faded for Katherine or Justin. Reflecting on tour, Katherine says, “The Eastern European tour was when I first met Justin. I had been studying abroad the first semester and came back to J-Term and we were getting ready to go on tour, which was also when Justin had just transferred to Gustavus. It was extremely memorable.” One of Justin’s most memorable moments was their final concert with GWO during the spring of their senior year. “Katherine and I were both selected as the Concerto/Aria competition winners our senior year. On our last concert at Gustavus, we both got to solo in Christ Chapel which was really incredible,” says Justin.

When the opportunity arose again for Justin to have his students perform at MMEA this year, he jumped at the chance to have Katherine, his fellow Gustie and longtime friend, commission a piece for them. While their Gustavus years are behind them, both Katherine and Justin are continuing on the path of lifelong learning that Gustavus helped set them on.


Comments are closed.