KWU Music Department gets a Complete Overhaul
Written by Elijah Resano on August 25, 2023
By Elijah Resano / Staff Writer
This school year, Kansas Wesleyan University’s music department has implemented a plethora of new additions in terms of faculty and leadership, and even new spaces for students to grow in their learning.
New Rooms for Tunes
Major renovations were started earlier this year for the school’s music department, particularly the relocation and addition of new learning areas and offices below KWU’s Pioneer Hall.
The renovations boast a complete tear out and remodel of the main music spaces on the first floor of Pioneer Hall. According to John Swagerty, director of plant operations, included in the remodel was the addition of more practice rooms, an improved music library, two percussion studios (attached), a piano lab and soundproof practice rooms. Chrissy Swagerty, music and fine arts events coordinator, is looking forward to utilizing the new environment.
“Moving it downstairs,” Chrissy Swagerty said, after being asked what’s in store for the department. “The ultimate goal, keeping our fingers crossed, is that we can move a lot of our stuff to our new rooms downstairs, new offices, and that students can enjoy that new space, it’s going to be beautiful. So, looking forward, if we’re talking about the music this year, it’s going to be amazing.”
Many students, teachers and faculty anticipate the arrival of the new rooms. Chloe Lovell—a sixth-year Junction City student—is particularly eager for the soundproof practice rooms. Being a soprano vocalist, she mentions how it will aid students in not getting them distracted by others practicing.
“The new rooms are a wonderful addition to the music department to allow students the opportunity to explore new ways to create music,” Lovell said. “Overall, the new rooms support all the needs of the students involved with the music department.”
Renovations are aiming to be completed before the next semester is out, although a hard date has not been set.
Insights from new leadership
New rooms aren’t the only thing students can expect from the overhaul. The department has received a new interim chair, Dr. Bill Backlin. Students will find that they will be guided under a new form of leadership, much different than the last. Backlin hails from Mason City, Iowa, and was a former provost and academic dean at KWU. He found himself thrusted into the position last spring after the leaving of former chair, Dr. James McAllister.
“It happened rather quickly, and so we wanted to have time to conduct a full nationwide search for the position, and I had helped out the music department with the state of Kansas accreditation for the music program,” Backlin said, in explaining how he became interim music chair.
Backlin is confident in delivering numerous changes to the department. At the top of his list is finding the right people for teaching. Presently, he is proud of the workplace environment that he has helped create. He calls his current faculty “extraordinary” citing the vast experience, prowess and skill of the professors that he works with, both adjunct and full-time.
“We have a really solid core, and we get along. We could laugh with each other,” Backlin added. “Nothing against anyone before me, but I would attend the last set of meetings the department had last February to get a feeling for the department, even though I knew most of the people already, I noticed there was just a disconnect and they didn’t know how to relate as tightly as we are now. That was one of my big things—to ensure that we have open communication, transparency and to build trust.”
One such move towards transparency was regarding the budget. Previously, departments were fiscally responsible but were not privy to their budgets, but after being given access, it can now be individually managed and monitored, a similar situation Backlin resolved in his past position as instructional dean at Eastern Iowa Community College.
Backlin also wishes to create changes within the curriculum for both music performance and music education degrees. Moving forward, he included that one of the other factors the department is looking into is the relevance of classes to today and the shape of how classes are structured. He mentioned how the university could reproduce other institutions’ approach by organizing degrees into applied music subjects and their ways of employing students with variable credits.
“Some of the classes that we offer…is this really 21st century needed? It would be like teaching horse maintenance as the main mode of transportation today,” Backlin said. “Are we asking things that we shouldn’t be asking anymore of our students? We have lessons for everything and anything for every single level. It’s gotten too complicated so we’re trying to simplify that for the degree, for the students, and also for the faculty.”
Through thorough throughput of planning and tactical decision making, KWU Coyotes have much to anticipate under Backlin’s leadership, as he encourages students to be at the center.
“Very very pro-student,” Backlin said, describing the department. “That’s the thing about our faculty, they’re very pro-student, and you’ll find that we’ll bend over backwards to help, and I’m not just trying to put out a marketing piece here, it’s the reality of what we’re dealing with.”
An Addition to the Team
Apart from receiving a renewed leadership, The KWU music department also welcomes brilliant new professors, one of which is the new Director of Vocal Music David Corman. Corman grew up in Minneapolis, Kan., but calls Salina and Kansas Wesleyan home.
“My parents would’ve met here at Wesleyan in 1946, and then my grandparents were here in 1905,” Corman said. “I have a long history in Wesleyan so, it’s definitely like coming home.”
Corman has extensively traveled the country and the world, attaining degrees from Juilliard in New York, having lived in Switzerland and then working at the University of Texas. Corman had no initial plans in pursuing a new career. That is, until an opening at KWU for a new vocal director caught his attention. He concluded that his passion for learning and teaching drew him to come home.
“My family’s homesteads are literally like 15 miles west of here. They were all farmers… that’s in me,” Corman said. “Teaching is farming humans. It is truly working the ground, watering the ground, taking care of the seed, and seeing it grow— it’s being a part of that struggle. And then there’s destiny. It feels good to be back here, I must say. It’s really interesting to me to come towards the end of my career, here.”
Because of Corman’s expertise in opera, he shared an instance of his past work that highlights how he functions as an educator. He created a “Romeo and Juliet” and “Three Little Pigs” crossover using Mozart’s music for school children during his time as music minister at First Methodist Odessa. It was through projects like this that Corman showed how he helped integrate college students with community outreach, something he wishes to do similarly in KWU.
“I’m a curious person. I also like a challenge,” Corman said. “My life runs in cycles, in years, in five or ten years. I say OK I’ve done this. Cool! I’ll do Kansas Wesleyan next.”