Then University of Evansville alumna Kaitlin Emmert was completing her practicum as a music therapy major, she worked with a mother and her baby in the neonatal intensive-care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital.
“She was doing skin to skin contact with her baby,” says Emmert, who is a music therapist at the Cleveland Clinic. “We were singing a couple of her favorite lullabies and I was helping her sing them in the right tempo and tone. She wasn’t a very good singer, and I kept reassuring her that it didn’t matter. She made an obvious connection with her child, which is hard to do when they are in the NICU.
“That was a memorable moment for me. I knew right then, I was supposed to be a music therapist.”
The May 2014 graduate is one example of the thousands of music students who have studied in the University of Evansville’s five undergraduate degree programs with more than 100 majors offered.
“The opportunities offered are so varied and meaningful,” says Emmert, who is originally from Ferdinand, Indiana, and returned to Southern Indiana to work for six months before moving to Cleveland. “I felt very much a part of the Evansville community. I really became connected with St. Mary’s and the EVSC. Some people go to college and stay isolated in their college life, but at UE, it wasn’t just college life, but a connection to Evansville as a whole.”
Emmert’s take on the department of music at UE is the vision Chair Dr. Thomas Josenhans and his faculty hope to achieve through all of their students — a deep-rooted connection to the community, and a community that is connected to the university, located on Lincoln Avenue.
This strong relationship forms while students complete internships at area institutions. Music therapy undergraduates intern in various units at St. Mary’s, at the Evansville Psychiatric Children’s Center, and at Easter Seals. Music management students have opportunities with the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, the Arts Council of Southwest Indiana, WNIN, and the Guitar Center. Music education pupils work with the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. and Warrick County schools.
“They are putting things in practice that they have learned in the classroom and they do this for six semesters,” says Dr. Mary Ellen Wylie, a music therapy professor at UE. “We are appreciated by the places we go to. We are valued in the agencies.”
After cuts to the 2016 city budget, which reduced funding for several local arts organizations such as the Evansville Philharmonic, Evansville Symphonic Band, and the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana, Donald Jones, UE Vice President for Marketing & Communications, says it’s important to keep students active in community outreach so they will be more likely to call Evansville home long after graduating.
The music department has a host of successful student examples to pull from including David Smith, the EVSC superintendent, Tad Dickel, president of Mater Dei High School, and Jennifer Nowaki-Pruden, a music therapist at Integrated Music Therapy.
“The concern in our city now is the brain drain — how do we keep young professionals here?” says Jones. “We have to think in bigger and longer terms. We need people in the community to fight for us. The city is about to take off, and UE gets that.”
UE hopes to bring the public to campus through its concert series; more than 90 concerts a year are hosted on campus with the majority free and open to everyone. The public has opportunities to experience the department’s music off campus through Holiday Pops, a free annual holiday concert at The Victory Theatre, Aces Brass, a pep band that performs at basketball games at the Ford Center, and community festivals and ceremonies.
Students also engage with the city’s youth through summer camps, workshops, and clinics.
“Music is part of the quality of life for a community, and music is part of the quality and the experience of life for our students when they come here,” says Josenhans. “Music has a lot to offer those students who are trying to be successful professionals; they get to experience working with professionals in the Evansville area and get to interact with those people. We are trying to expose our students to people who are successful.”
In order to help further the connection to the community, Josenhans says the university is in need of a performance hall. The current recital hall, Wheeler Concert Hall, is designed for soloists or small groups, like quintets.
“As we look at the different cultural districts, UE doesn’t really have a place to bring large numbers to campus,” says Josenhans. “That’s what we would really like to have.
Creating a sense of community not just with the city but the area where there is a place to come to see great art, that’s the vision.”
For more information about the University of Evansville Music Department, call 812-488-2754 or visit music.evansville.edu.