By Nancy Cawley Zugschwert
When her high school band director asked her to play bassoon, Cheryl Kelley, Ph.D., said, “Oh, sure. [Pause] What is it?” The quick, and perhaps uninformed, answer proved to be quite significant in directing the course of her life.
“I tried it and loved it right away,” said Kelley, who is coordinator of music education at NWC and plays contrabassoon with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. “By the time I was in twelfth grade I realized I didn’t want to stop playing.”
She majored in music education and then pursued a master of music degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earned her Ph.D. in music education from the University of Minnesota. While at UN-Lincoln she met her husband Mark, also a bassoonist, in the orchestra. He is co-principal bassoonist with the Minnesota Orchestra and faculty instructor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
Staying on her toes
Kelley teaches music theory, methods courses, chamber winds and bassoon, and supervises student teachers. She has been at NWC since 1986 and is a “teacher at heart” who loves to play her instrument. Performing professionally keeps her on her toes. “You have to develop the discipline of practice. It’s a huge challenge to stay in shape,” Kelly stated. “Frankly, there’s a lot of pressure playing in those groups. You go into your first rehearsal ready to perform—not learn the music.”
The bassoon and contrabassoon are double-reed instruments, which require additional effort because the delicate reeds need to be trimmed precisely and are easily affected by weather.
Credibility and caring
The dual role of teacher and performer makes for a demanding schedule but “being a performer gives me credibility with my students and it also helps me bring fresh ideas to teaching,” Kelly said. Her commitment to her craft also models to students that one need not choose between performing and teaching.
Jeremy Kolwinska, D.M.A., chairs the Department of Music and values that the music faculty includes teachers who perform and performers who teach. “We have a number of faculty who are active performers in the Twin Cities, the region and around the country,” Kolwinska pointed out.
Kelley’s primary goal is to help her students become great teachers. She believes Northwestern prepares music education graduates very effectively. “At a recent music educators convention, the supervisor of a large district’s arts program told me that our students are the best prepared,” Kelley said, grateful that Northwestern’s efforts are recognized in this way. “We spend a great deal of time one-on-one with our students so they are well equipped.”
But she is quick to assert that that preparation works because “the students have such great hearts. They really are in music education for the right reasons—they want to give, as opposed to conducting to receive accolades.”
Kelley sees music reflecting a vital part of her faith journey: “When I’m performing in a symphony with all this beautiful sound around me, I experience more fully the glory and omnipotence of the Lord. [I experience] some of God’s character. It’s all an expression of life.”