An Impressive Journey

posted by Daniel Muck on July 12, 2023

At the invitation of Prof. Danny Galyen, I spent ten days in April 2023 at the University of Northern Iowa as a lecturer and guest conductor. I flew to Iowa via Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, so I took advantage of this opportunity to attend a day of rehearsals of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Because I have been conducting the Jugendsinfonieorchester Wien (the youth orchestra of the Vienna music schools) for the past five years, it was very interesting for me to speak with the conductors there about literature and rehearsal work.

My journey then continued to Cedar Falls, a small city that is home to the University of Northern Iowa, known as UNI. Only an hour way is the village of Spillville, where Antonín Dvořák spent the summer of 1893 working on his “American” string quartet.

In addition to giving lectures on literature and arranging and leading demonstration rehearsals for bachelor’s and master’s students, I was asked to give a lecture about my own compositions and direct the UNI Wind Ensemble, the top wind band of the three at UNI, at a concert. The programme included not only international classics of the wind-music repertoire but also my “Concerto for Piano”, which was given its first US performance with wind ensemble that evening. The piano soloist was UNI professor Sean Botkin.

Daniel Muck with Prof. Danny Galyen (left) and Prof. Sean Botkin

Campus life at the university is just as informal and pleasant as it is at the mdw; however, most of the students at UNI live in dormitories right on campus. And students from all the university’s departments—from the sciences, languages, and law to the arts—all live there together. Not surprisingly, this vibrant mixture results in a very diverse campus life. Moreover, UNI is one of the country’s leading institutions in the area of music education, and I returned to Vienna with many new and exciting ideas from this area as well!

In addition, there are events held nearly every day in the university’s own concert hall, where I had the opportunity to hear a Bach cantata (on Good Friday) and the UNI Symphony Orchestra.

Otherwise, Cedar Falls is a relatively quiet city (with “only” 40,000 inhabitants—small by American standards) but one that offers everything from recreational areas along the Cedar River to fine restaurants of all kinds.

My family is still active in agriculture in Austria, so it was an amusing coincidence to discover that my grandfather’s tractor was built only a few miles away from Cedar Falls in the town of Waterloo, which still today has a large John Deere Museum.

All in all, my trip was an impressive and unique opportunity to become familiar with the wind-ensemble traditions of the American Midwest. The next time I visit, I plan to go in the autumn, when not only the three UNI wind ensembles but also the 250-person UNI Marching Band rehearse and perform for the football games of its team, the Panthers, at the UNI stadium!

There is no question in my mind that I will be back—after all, following my appearance as a guest conductor, I was accorded the great honour of being named an “Honorary Member of the UNI Wind Ensemble”.

Daniel Muck and Danny Galyen, University of Northern Iowa
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