Dave Robbins Steps Down after 33 Years as Chair of the Department of Music
Greg Youtz’s first glimpse of Dave Robbins, was him strolling down a hallway in Eastvold, while his two-year-old daughter toddled along at his side, clutching his finger.
“I remember thinking that Dave is not only this great dad to his kids, but that was an image the rest of us felt - like we were holding on to Dave’s finger too, and he was sort of leading us down this hall,” Youtz commented.
Robbins, who’s been at PLU for 45 years, is stepping down as Department of Music chair, a position he’s held for the last 33 years.
Dave came to PLU in the summer of ’69. He had cast a wide net in his job search but hadn’t found a fit. Then he got a call from Maurice Skones, the then current chair of the Department of Music, with an invitation to interview for a teaching position. He put him
off and asked him to call back if the position wasn’t filled in a month. Exactly a month later (to the hour) he received the second call from Skones. He interviewed and the rest is history.
“I loved the campus, the colleagues were wonderful. At the time I was 23 or 24, so I thought ‘this would be a great first job’. Little did I know it would be my best job and my only job,” Robbins said.
The 80s – A Decade of Growth
Robbins became chair in 1981, and his first project was to take the department from a small program identified solely with the Choir of the West, to a broader program, in terms of recruiting distance and program breadth and depth.
“People came because they heard and loved the choir, and people came because they were Lutheran,” Robbins said. “But we really didn’t do systematic recruitment. We didn’t do scholarship auditions; all of that was new to us in the 80’s.”
The department went from zero scholarship auditions, to where they are now with two and a half days of on-campus auditions every February. They receive 300 or more inquiries, which convert to more than 175 auditions each year.
“Dave is the conductor as well as the composer,” Youtz explains. “He sees what’s coming down the road, he can see from a long ways away what’s going to have to happen, so he's able to help us adjust and shift and move so that we’re ready to meet it when it hits. It’s that sort of global vision from everything from state education policies to stuff on campus. He's got the whole picture in his head.”
The 90s - The House that Dave Built
In 1990 Mary Baker Russell gave the first naming gift to launch the new Music facility, which would be named the Mary Baker Russell Music Center.
Even in the early seventies, the department had clearly outgrown the small space they shared with theatre and communication in Eastvold. Youtz remembers buckets catching drips of rainwater while he lectured. Robbins wrote the very first report justifying a new fine arts music building, which was approved by the regents in 1978.
“The building had been a dream of this department since I got here,” Robbins said. “The joke about my predecessor was that the first-generation music faculty were all told there was a new building two years away. This was in the early seventies [he laughs] and the building was built in ’95.”
Originally, the building was intended to be built in one fell swoop, but with a change of PLU presidents, the project was phased.
“The joke I always tell is, in the academy the word ‘phased’ carries the subtext of ‘not in your lifetime’ so it was with incredible gratitude and surprise that two years later President Anderson said ‘we’re going to do phase II,’” Robbins said.
In 1995 PLU opened up what was appropriately called, for the TV of the period, the west wing. Two years later, in 1997, the north and south wings opened and by 1998 the organ had been completed.
“This is, I would argue, largely the building that Dave built. He was only a member of the committee, but he represented the music department,” Youtz said. “When I first arrived, they already had been working for a couple years and it was just around the corner. Literally, Dave worked on this for probably seventeen years.”
The committee consisted of everybody from the then president and Board of Regents, to the architects and PLU facilities representatives.
“The fact that we have this building, and that we got not only phase one, but phase two - that is largely due to Dave’s tenacity and just reminding all of us, ‘hang in there guys, it’s coming’,” Youtz remembers.
The 2000s – A New Generation
With the new millennium, there came a generational sea change in the music faculty. With two exceptions, the current faculty was hired between 2000-2010.
In the 80’s, Dave inherited a department full of performers. PLU’s music faculty resembled that of a conservatory. Positions for theorists, historians or ethnomusicologist had never existed.
“I think Dave enlarged [the department] and strengthened it,” Youtz recalls. “We remain, somewhat unusually, a faculty of people who are involved in the making of music.”
The curriculum is all made under Robbins’ organization. Every ten years the department goes through an accreditation process for the National Association of Schools of Music. Dave’s done four accreditation reviews: one in the eighties, nineties, two thousand and the current one for this decade. As chair, he completes a voluminous self-study, organizes a visit, and responds to visit concerns.
“I had done three of those in the course of my time as chair. I’d actually helped write the initial one with Maurice Skones,” Robbins said. “I didn’t necessarily plan to hang around for the fourth one, but it was looming. I kind of thought, that’s a good thing to end my tenure on. To make that my final, big, big project.”
The Next Phase
Robbins is stepping down as chair and will take his first official sabbatical.
He is looking forward to taking the time to reacquaint himself with high-end art music, mastering notation software, and converting his compositions to digital format.
“Of course, I have a whole trunk-full of compositions from over the years,” Robbins explains. “I was trained with ink on vellum for writing music, which shows you how technology changes.”
If all of that coalesces, he would consider going back to writing some original compositions.
Dave Robbins Tribute Concert
Join us May 22, as distinguished past and present PLU Music faculty and Alumni present a special concert honoring Dave Robbins' contributions to the Music Department during his many years as Department Chair.
Lagerquist Concert Hall | 8pm | Free, with ticket
Tickets can be obtained through the Campus Concierge in the Anderson University Center, or reserved through 253-535-7411
“I’ve got several projects that I’m anxious to do,” Robbins said. “I jokingly say that I’m going to take the memos I’ve written for the last gazillions years and bind them as Opus 17, 18 and 19, because it’s in those memos that I place my creativity that I used to put into music composition.”
The Department of Music will celebrate Dave Robbins’ tenure with a tribute concert on May 22 at 8pm in Lagerquist Concert Hall. Admission is free and tickets are required.
Images from top to bottom: Dave Robbins in 1971/72 academic year | David Robbins speaks to Mary Baker Russell and George Lagerquist after playing the harpsichord for them on the day of the dedication ceremony for the Mary Baker Russell Music Center.
PLU's New and Improved Costume Shop Buzzes with Preplay Preparations
They call it the crows nest. On the top floor of the Karen Hille Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the PLU costume shop is abuzz, preparing for Macbeth, which opens with a student preview on May 8.
The new space is, for all involved, a marked upgrade from the previous space, which was located in “the bowels of Eastvold,” according to veteran Costume Designer Kathy Anderson.
May 8: Student preview, 7:30 p.m.
May 9-10 and May 16-17: 7:30 p.m.
May 18: 2 p.m.
Tickets: $8 general/$5 senior citizens and alumni/$3 PLU community, students, and 18 and under. Call 253-535-7411.
Now, rectangles of sunlight illuminate sewing machines, mannequins and labeled racks of tailored costumes as students pull needles through, or stand still while Anderson (pictured below, at right) tracks yellow measuring tape around an arm or a waist.
“It’s like we’re reconnected with the world again,” Anderson says. “Having natural light is so much better. Sometimes I’ll take a break and just look out the windows at the view of the trees.”
The costume shop also has noted a rise in efficiency in the new space, in part due to Anderson’s involvement in its design.
“They basically just gave me the ground plan and said, ‘What do you need?,’” she said.
Back when the costume shop was in the basement, residual costumes from past performances were stored on East Campus. Students would have to hoof costumes through the rain back and forth between the two buildings. Now, an elevator connects the costume shop to storage in the basement, where all of the old costumes are kept.
For Macbeth, Anderson is especially excited about the shop’s new dye vat. She has been able to accurately match the soldiers’ costumes to paintings she’d found of Scottish armies from the late 1500s and early 1600s.
“I love costumes,” she says. “I have to get inside the head of every single character in the play.”
The hierarchy of costume design delegates most of the control and vision to Anderson, who then dispenses assignments to her student helpers. “She is the designer; we are her minions,” says Ali Schultz ’14.
There are times, however, when the students are granted creative control.
“Usually Kathy picks the designs and fabrics, but I have undertaken projects where there were no designs or fabrics,” Schultz said.
This really comes down to the scale of the production. For Macbeth, Anderson has optioned dark tones. “There’s lots of blood, lots of killing, but there needs to be some light moments as well,” she says, smiling.
“She’s really come alive in this new space,” Schultz says about Anderson. “It’s been a real gift to see how happy she is in that space. She’s an old soul for the theater department; working with her is a delight, truly.”
From top down: Ali Schultz '14 works on 'Macbeth' pieces in PLU's costume shop. | Anderson tracks yellow measuring tape around an arm or a waist. | Costumes for 'Macbeth' hang ready for rehearsals ... and then the real performances. (Photos: John Struzenberg '15)
Two SOAC faculty members will be saying goodbye to PLU (as if any Lute can truly say goodbye) and hello to retired life. Donna Poppe, assistant professor and music education chair, and John Hallam, associate professor of art and design, will enter phased retirement beginning the 2014-15 academic year. Phased retirement extends three years, and both will continue work with the university in a limited capacity until 2017-18. Read below as they reminisce about PLU and to hear their future plans.
What year did you begin at PLU?
I began in 1990 as chair of the Department of Art; I was chair for 15 years and served as interim Dean for one year before our present dean was hired.
What was PLU like when you arrived and how has it changed?
PLU was pretty much the same as it is today, only in far better financial shape with a more diverse student population and faculty. Ingram hasn’t changed except for a few paint jobs; I’m a survivor of two Ingram floods!
Most memorable moment:
Teaching my first J-Term study away course on 19th century French art in Paris. Both the students and the weather were amazing. It’s remarkable to get the opportunity to do such traveling.
Plans for phased retirement:
Phased retirement plans include appraising the University’s permanent art collection. There are 700 objects in the collection; some have been given to us, other works we’ve purchased. We’ve come up with lists, but no one has the time, and no one has the money to outsource it for appraisal. That needs to be done for insurance purposes and for our own knowledge of what some of this stuff is worth. That’s what I will have time to do. I will be evaluating and appraising our permanent art collection based on auction records, catalogs, online resources, talking to people, and based on what I know of its historical significance.
What year did you begin at PLU?
I began teaching as adjunct faculty in J-Term 1995, then as a full-time sabbatical replacement, and then hired in a tenure track position.
What was PLU like when you arrived and how has it changed?
The exchange of information has moved from paper in our mailbox to email in our inbox! The music department has only three professors remaining from the original fifteen when I started at PLU; and I have been pleased to be on the search committees for most of their successors.
Most memorable moment(s):
Coming from a few decades in the public schools, I was excited to apply the knowledge from that experience to undergraduates at PLU who would soon enter the field of music education. Knowing the background of Washington and Oregon public education was very helpful to me in both student teaching placement and eventual hiring of our graduates, which reached a very high rate. It has been my pleasure to help shift their paradigm from learning to teaching, and to help replace career music teachers on the front lines in the ongoing battle to maintain the Arts in our society.
All Music 101 classes I taught were exhilarating; having non-music readers create original notation often raised eyebrows as they transported their oversized 'scores' across campus to conduct them in class.
The ability to travel and to attend conferences was vital to me during my career at PLU. The Wang Center Grants and Regency Award allowed me to pursue a cross-disciplinary sabbatical research project at an archeological site in Egypt. The musical recordings (not previously documented) I gathered are now a permanent installation in the Children's Museum of Cairo.
Plans for phased retirement:
I’m looking forward to more extended travel, with the ability to go birding at various destinations and the continued support of my PLU student Katie Hunt in Egyptology. She was on the 'dig' with me during my last sabbatical and I talked her into coming to PLU. Taking a more active role in my committee work for Seattle International Film festival, especially with the films supported by KPLU. Plus, a project for the music department.
Both Hallam and Poppe will be recognized at the SOAC Recognition Ceremony on Friday, May 23, all graduating SOAC majors and minors are invited to attend.
Photo from left to right: Mast Media staff members Alison Haywood '14, Sam Horn '15, Storm Gerlock '14, Ashley Gill '15, Leah Traxel '14, Jessica Trondsen '14.
Lutes at the Region 10 Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Mark of Excellence (MOE) Awards did not leave the Portland, Ore. conference empty-handed. They took home 13 SPJ MOEs, including six first place winners. These six entries competed against other regional winners in the same category for consideration of a national. Bjorn Slater scored a national win for his piece, “Accounting for Dummies,” in the division for General Column Writing in the Small School Division.
Five regional first place winners come from PLU’s Mast Media team. Alison Haywood ’14, won in the in-depth reporting category for her comprehensive look at sexual assault cases at PLU. Bjorn Slater ’15, won in the general columns category at the regional and national level for his financial advice columns, “Accounting for Dummies.” Jesse Major ’14, won in the sports photography category for his photo of the men’s cross country team. Sam Horn ’15, won for his sports feature on fellow Lute Bobby Daly. The pieces were featured in various issues of The Mooring Mast. Shannon McClain ’16, won for her Mast Student Television news package on Garfield Book Company.
Heather Perry ’13, JuliAnne Rose ‘13 and Andrea Capere ‘14 also took first place in regionals for television in-depth reporting for their MediaLab documentary, “Beyond Burkas and Bombers.”
Mast Media placed in five finalist categories as well. The newspaper and television station’s shared website, mastmedia.plu.edu, was a finalist for the best affiliated website category. Jessica Trondsen ’14, placed for her Mast Student Television feature on PLU’s Night of Musical Theatre. Alum Brandon Adam ’13, placed in sports television reporting for his profile on Taryn Dee. The staff of Mast Student Television’s weekly news broadcast News @ Nine won for their November 14 episode. Sam Horn ’15, was also a finalist in the sports feature category for his Mooring Mast profile on Frosty Westering.
LuteTimes was a finalist in two categories: best independent online student publication and online in-depth reporting, for its coverage of contingent faculty’s struggle to unionize.
A few of our talented SOAC graduates will be continuing their study at the graduate level. Read below to see where a few of our grads are headed and their dreams for the future.
Brendan Fitzgerald ’14 (Sociology) is headed to Yale University School of Music. He was accepted into the Institute of Sacred Music, a tuition free program. During his time at PLU he was awarded the Mary Baker Russell Music Scholarship Award, the 2013 Student Employee of the year, and recently the Ubuntu Leadership Award. He’s a member the Choir of the West, University Chorale, University Men's Chorus, PLU Opera and PLUtonic.
When asked how PLU prepared him for this next step he said, “PLU's focus on critical thinking, always striving for students to seize every opportunity, and those professors that care about their student's success by networking with them and pushing them to go for opportunities they would have otherwise thought unobtainable.”
Fitzgerald’s dream career would be the perfect combination of singing while pursuing a career in firefighting.
Tessa Heck ’12 (BFA Painting/Drawing) will be working toward an MFA in Visual Studies at Pacific Northwest College of Art. During her year off she studied Post-baccalaureate art and art therapy in Missoula, MT where she also taught elementary art at Zootown Arts Community Center. She is currently living in Bozeman as a practicing artist and helping to start up a local cider house. During her time at PLU she received an Artistic Merit Scholarship, was on the Dean's List, was a Scholar Athlete (Swimming) and won several awards in exhibition work in the University Gallery.
Tessa began selling her work after PLU, she’s held four shows and has sold more than 20 pieces. “I have learned to market my work and to be proud of what I do!”
“Through my education at PLU, I was able to study abroad in London and intern for a contemporary print gallery for art management,” Heck said. “This experience shaped my passion for art and taught me that art is a viable way to make a career. I gained self-confidence being far out of my comfort zone and learned how to be independent. I also decided through this, I would one day attend graduate school for an MFA.”
Heck’s goal is to someday own a small business in the arts. She has also contemplated becoming a professor or art teacher.
“At this point I am unsure of what that will be exactly-but I know my entrepreneurial mindset will find something interesting!” Heck said. “Whatever I end up doing it is important to me to always be a practicing artist.”
Megan Konkel ’14 (Art History) – will be attending Pratt Institute for photography.
She’s been a teacher’s assistant for photography classes the last two semesters, where she helps mix and track the chemistry used for photo development, while managing the classroom. Her work is currently up in the University Gallery as part of the Senior Exhibition: ART IS THIS. She’s also submitted work to the Philippine Relief Fund along with prominent alumni. She’s been doing more abstract and expressionist photography, and says that the program at Pratt is a perfect fit.
“You can dabble in different mediums, film, painting, sculpture, or anything you want," Konkel said. "So, it’s more experimental and allows you more freedom of what you’re working with.”
“I think the PLU experience really tries to help guide you and help you figure out what you’re passionate about and what your interested in, and not just about money or what’s going to make you successful, but something you’re actually going to enjoy doing for 30+ years,” Konkel said. “I know a lot of students here come in thinking they’re going to do one thing and end up changing their mind. The professors and people in the Art Department, both art history and fine art are just wonderful, are really supportive and really try to help you out.”
Konkel's not sure where she's headed after graduate school, but will most likely look for photography jobs or internships.
"I’m hoping this will help me figure it out and give me some good contacts," Konkel said.