According to the guidebooks, almost a third of Oles participate in some type of musical ensemble. What is most surprising about this fact is not, however, the number of musical students, but rather the vast number of non-majors who participate in music. This variety is not only evident in music organizations but also throughout the arts in general at St. Olaf. The theater and art departments also offer exciting opportunities for non-majors to use their creative talents.
Angie Boone ’14, principal oboist of the St. Olaf Band, is a French and sociology/anthropology major. “It’s great how many music opportunities St. Olaf has for non-music majors,” said Boone, reflecting fondly on her experiences in music at St. Olaf. “You have the same opportunities to get music scholarships or a spot in a top ensemble.”
Indeed, on their 2012 tour, 44 percent of the St. Olaf Band was composed of non-majors. This does not mean, however, that St. Olaf’s ensembles are of a lesser quality. On the contrary, St. Olaf ensembles are routinely recognized for their excellence. St. Olaf Jazz I was named best undergraduate large jazz band in Downbeat Magazine’s 2011 student music awards; just this year, The St. Olaf Orchestra was awarded the American Prize in Orchestral Performance; and across campus and in the greater community, ensembles ranging from Handbell Choir to Gospel Choir to Recorder Club draw large audiences at their performances.
But does this “equal opportunity” approach to music change the experience for the musician? The general consensus seems to be, yes. According to Boone, having ensembles replete with serious and less-serious musicians “allows you to pursue other passions while still having an enriching musical experience.” These other passions add to the musical experience when musicians bring them to rehearsal. The music becomes much more than a technical exercise, enriched as it is by the multitude of experiences informing its expression.
Theater and French major Helen Muller ’14 discusses a similar phenomenon in the theater department. “St. Olaf’s theater program is great because anyone can be involved,” she said.
New courses offered by the theater department reflect this accessibility. These courses include Introduction to Theater and Acting for Non-Majors. Outside of the classroom, clubs such as Deep End APO claim to give non-majors acting, directing, writing and technical opportunities outside of department productions.
In the spring of each year, the theater department also puts on the Quade One Act Festival, which offers non-majors the opportunity to participate in shows without the commitment involved in lengthier performances.
“Auditions and crew positions are open to everyone, and we often have people in shows who have no intention of pursuing theatrical professions later in life,” Muller said. “We love to have students with other talents involved. For example, Dave Niccolai [’14], one of our lighting designers, is a chemistry major.”
The art department also seeks to attract those with other talents, specifically those who choose not to pursue art as a major. Art majors cannot preregister for art classes, so the classes are easier for non-majors to take. Lorna Dielentheis ’14, an art major, said that while this can make registration more complicated for those in the major, “it is great because otherwise non-majors would find it really difficult to get into classes, and maybe they wouldn’t ever try to get in.”
Dielentheis stressed that professors and the art apprentices in residence are extremely open to talking with and helping non-majors. Non-majors can take classes specifically designed for non-majors, such as Foundations of 2-D Media and Ceramics, or they can use their work from outside of class to enter student art shows and exhibits. Each spring, the St. Olaf Art Department sponsors a juried art show. Anyone can enter their work, and a jurist selects the pieces to be displayed in the final show. Students can also sign up to have their artwork displayed around campus, in the Cage gallery or in a select number of academic buildings around campus.
Ultimately, St. Olaf offers a unique atmosphere for multi-talented students looking for creative ways to spend their time without having to commit to a major in the arts. The music, theater and art departments all offer students outlets for creating and expressing themselves.
“It’s a great way to meet people,” Muller said. “Don’t be afraid to sign up for things!”