Students in the Crash House Collective, a project that allows local high school students to insert their own voices into Shakespeare’s plays, worked with playwright and EMU alumna Pam Mandigo to present an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in fall 2012. (Photo by Michael Sheeler)

Students explore musical interests within community

A music student at Eastern Mennonite University might:

  • Sing a classical aria in a voice lesson on Monday mornings;
  • Rehearse works by Mozart and Bono in Chamber Singers on Wednesday afternoons;
  • Perform in the spring musical (Into the Woods this year) on Thursday night; and
  • Play music at Celebration, a contemporary worship service on Sunday evenings.

All are parts of the challenging environment offered by EMU’s music department, which combines academic rigor, individual attention and flexibility to pursue individual interests in a supportive community.

Many college music programs in the U.S. are marked by sharp competition. While friendly competition and challenge are parts of a music education at EMU, department chair Joan Griffing said individual attention and support from accomplished faculty and fellow students add to the depth of the experience.“When prospective students visit us, they see cooperation and camaraderie,” said assistant professor of music James Richardson.

“We get to know students on an individual basis and help them along the path to reach their goals,” she said. “Our students accomplish much more than they ever thought they could when they walked in here on day one.”

A student-produced video focusing on the distinctive values of EMU’s music department was posted online in March. It can be viewed at:

In it, senior Brandy Clark, a music education major from Woodstock, calls the department’s “really supportive atmosphere” unique. “There’s a lot of working with our fellow students,” she said.

Lauren Gibson, a church music major who graduated in 2013, said EMU felt like home when she first came for a visit.

“Before coming to EMU, I felt confident calling myself a vocalist but never a musician,” she said. “But now I feel with the utmost confidence that I can call myself a musician and not just a vocalist.”

The video opens with a student string quintet performing Franz Schubert’s “Kyrie” from his Mass in G Major.

“In a small program like ours, music majors have more opportunities to perform and to build their resumes,” Richardson said. He calls EMU a place “where you are nurtured and encouraged and where you establish yourself.”

The students in the string quintet are involved in various EMU music activities. Some are pursuing musical interests along with another major through a new interdisciplinary studies concentration. Students can add another subject to study, taking courses chosen with the help of advisers from both departments.

Community programs

Students can also take part in three programs, each more than 20 years old, that have helped put EMU and its music department on the map: the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival, the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir and the Shenandoah Valley Preparatory Music Program.

The Bach Festival, led by Ken J. Nafziger, brings dozens of professional performers to campus each year. The next festival, June 8-15, will include an encore performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Canadian soloist Daniel Lichti.

The Children’s Choir includes 140 children in auditioned performing choirs and non-auditioned early elementary classes.

The Preparatory Music Program instructs more than 400 children in several areas, including individual instruction, a youth symphony, a strings ensemble and strings programs in Harrisonburg City Schools.