Dale Monson became the director of the Hugh Hodgson School of Music in July 2009, after 10 years at Brigham Young University. Nearing his first six months at UGA, Columns sat down with Monson to talk about the music school, where it is in 2010 and some of the school’s goals for the future.
Columns: What distinguishes this school from the way other [UGA] schools or colleges want to become known for what they do?
Monson: It’s not fame for its own sake we’re after, but those outside Athens need to know what’s happening here for us to rise to the next level. Why would the best music talent be attracted to UGA? Young musicians decide where to go based on reputations—of individuals, of ensembles, of facilities, of endowment support. We have faculty who have both the reputation and the skills to be among the elite pedagogues of their specialty and in the world. That is not as well known as it might be. So we need to open up the doors to help people understand who we are.
Columns: You came from a very prominent program at BYU. What are some of the things that UGA needs to do to get to that level?
Monson: People must become aware of the quality of performance, creativity and scholarship that goes on here. That has to be done by getting those things into the public ear and eye. We’re exploring opportunities for high quality, produced TV events with our student ensembles and performers to present on the national stage. At the same time, we’re making meaningful choices to focus on our core curricular and teaching mission. Our faculty needs to be enabled to do what they do best.
Columns: Are music schools involved in recording?
Monson: Oh, yes. The best schools of music have a robust recording component. Naxos just released this brilliantly done recording of the UGA Wind Ensemble of new works by new composers that has received rave reviews in the press. So getting high quality sound out there, released into the recording world, is an utmost priority. Broadcasting and recording are really very important and UGA is moving now in this direction. It will be wonderful to work with other growing resources on campus, such as the new TV station and the music business program, to create a larger collaborative atmosphere that spans campus and corresponds to some of our common goals.
Columns: How do these measures actually serve to strengthen the school?
Monson: The arts are part of the core mission of every major university. At UGA, you can see the importance attached to these programs in the arts complex that has risen on East campus. The art school, theater, dance and music—the leaders of these programs are all relatively new, like me, and we’re working together to strengthen the individual areas in a way that furthers the whole—to benefit the whole university.
Columns: Why is it important to have two orchestras?
Monson: In a major university like ours, orchestras and other ensembles flourish in a variety of interests, purposes and levels. While all orchestras at the university level provide ensemble training, backgrounds and experience differ among the performers. All ensembles thrill at the opportunity to bring great works of art to life. One of the things we need to do much more of at UGA is interweave ourselves more into the university life—not just here in the school. There are 35,000 students on our campus, and we need to reach out more effectively to give them more opportunities to experience live music. There is a vibrant community here that overlaps with the university, not just the famous rock scene but a community symphony and several theater groups with which we want to develop healthy connections.
Columns: So, you’re not talking about serving only the music students?
Monson: No, that’s exactly the point. Of course we are dedicated to the education of our music students. We want to cultivate the next generation of the nation’s finest performers, educators, scholars and composers. But we also want to offer a musical experience and appreciation into the wider population of the university. That was the vision of Hugh Hodgson, music appreciation for the citizens of Georgia, and I think we wouldn’t be doing ourselves or the university justice if we didn’t give them more opportunity to participate in other ways—in making music. There is a great love of music here, demonstrated by the loyalty of our community support and the dedication of our donors. We owe it to them to build on that generosity to establish new levels of enthusiasm for the love of culture and the arts.