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University’s music program helps each student find a voice

By Rita Buettner

When Anthony Villa,  DMA, ’76, came to Loyola in January of 1984, the University offered one or two music classes and the Concert Choir. The professor of fine arts taught his first classes in a room in Beatty Hall that was about 10 feet wide and crammed full of desks.

“Every time I went to draw a staff on the board, I had to draw all five lines,” Villa said. “I went and bought a staff drawer out of my own money.”

Carol “Sue” Abromaitis, Ph.D., professor of English, was then chair of English and fine arts, and she had asked Villa—who was teaching part-time at Notre Dame of Maryland University—to teach part-time at Loyola. “She was very supportive. She was really the guardian angel of the music program,” Villa said.

As Villa stayed at Loyola, his position grew. He became the first full-time, tenure-track music faculty member in the fall of 1986 and, in 1988, chair of the fine arts department, which includes music, theatre, art history, photography, and studio arts. Villa was also director of the music program for 27 years.
“It’s great to come to work and talk to so many different people who are artists—not only musicians but art historians, directors, painters, photographers—and have different perspectives on things,” Villa said.

Not a Major Change

In 1997 the music department added a second tenure-track position and hired Ronald Pearl, associate professor of fine arts and current director of the music program, full-time. With the start of this academic year, the music program welcomed its third tenure-track faculty member, music historian Remi Chiu, Ph.D., assistant professor of fine arts.

With these positions in place, the music program can begin the process to offer a music major rather than a music concentration within the fine arts major.

“It’s always exciting when new people are added. They have new perspectives and new ideas,” said Pearl, who—with Villa—praises the University’s support of the music program over the years, including the leadership of Janet Headley, Ph.D., as chair of fine arts. “It does take a village to make a department exist and thrive.”

Today, the department’s space features nine soundproof practice rooms—all with 24-hour access—computer areas, classrooms, two recording studios, and an intimate recital room.

If the program makes the change to offer a dedicated music major, the shift won’t change the academic and professional preparation students can receive through the program. Still, as with Loyola’s change in designation from college to university, the transition will make it clearer to prospective music students the strengths of the program—including the many musical performance groups students can participate in through the music program and Campus Ministry. This year the program also welcomed a new choral director, Daniel McDavitt, DMA.

The Power of Music

As Loyola’s music program has grown, the faculty members have seen decades of graduates go on to pursue music degrees in graduate school, music teaching certification, or other careers in music.

When a prospective student meets with Villa or Pearl, the professors are careful to discuss whether Loyola’s music program is the right fit. Students who want to pursue careers as orchestra musicians may want to study elsewhere, Villa said. But the program is perfect for a student looking for a broader education.

“If you’re looking for music history, music theory, or music education, this is a great program for you, because an undergraduate liberal arts education is exactly what a young musician needs,” he said. “You need to know the world you live in and know how you fit into it. Then when you go to graduate school, you can concentrate.”

A liberal arts education can offer the perfect foundation for a musician, especially with Loyola’s core curriculum, Villa said.

“If you’re an artist, when you sit down to play the piano or pick up the brush, you really do have to have something to say. Maybe you can get that by spending eight hours a day doing nothing but practicing music, but there’s a lot to be said for taking philosophy and mathematics and theology and history.

“Music is a powerful thing, and it can wield its power without you, but if you know who you are and what you want to say, then the power of music can speak for you.”

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