Messages from Friends of Music

Neal Hagberg ’81

NealI'm Neal Hagberg from the Gustavus class of 1981. Without the encouragement of faculty, fellow students, and alumni, I would not have had a career as a singer/songwriter since graduating from college. Though I was pre-med through school, my music career can be traced directly back to Gustavus, from Sheila McNellis '81 loaning her guitar to me while I studied in Japan for a year; Joel Frederickson '81, who has had an amazing career in music since graduating from GAC, teaching me my first Michael Johnson song; Kim Beyer '83 putting together a J-term concert with me in Bjorling Concert Hall; James McGuire (faculty) giving me my first official guitar lesson as a first year student; Leandra Peak '83 singing in a production of Godspell and causing me to ask her out, leading to a marriage and music career through twenty-two years of performing around the U.S. as Neal & Leandra; Ann Brady (English Professor), who taught me how to discern what good writing is; Al Behrends (Fine Arts Director), Chris Johnson (Center For Vocational Reflection) and Brian Johnson (Chaplain) supporting a controversial solo project I created which explores all the hot button issues of this age and which resulted in a McKnight Composition Fellowship. All of the support I received - and receive - from Gustavus, has been instrumental in my growth as a writer and singer. Music permeates the campus in a myriad of ways, and because of the emphasis on it in all aspects of Gusties' lives, my life is richer. That is why I am a Friend Of Music at Gustavus.

Steve Heitzeg ’82

Steve Heitzeg Headshot

I will say a few words about the importance of Gustavus having a vibrant music and arts community. The name Gustavus Adolphus College has always been synonymous with music excellence, and my hope is that this tradition will be continued in the future.

It was my musical experiences at Gustavus that really helped define my philosophy of music. I’m a 1982 graduate and now a professional composer of concert, film and ballet music. As a Gustavus music major, I performed in several of the music ensembles and the professionalism with which our performances were approached was impressive. The fact that music was held in high regard by the music faculty was critical to our study and performance of music. From Dr. John McKay’s electrifying piano recitals and inspiring music history lectures to Dr. Mark Lammers’ exceptional music versatility to Dr. David Fienen’s jaw-dropping organ preludes and postludes at daily Chapel, these professors infused in us a sense of self-discipline in our music-making and a deep respect for the music itself. And, I must say, this was an experience not just for music majors, but for students across all major fields. Many of the students in the music ensembles were not music majors. It was Dr. Lammers’ commitment to new music and his programming of all styles of music that greatly influenced me. Here it was: music as a bridge to all cultural understanding. If you affirmed the music of a particular culture or country, you affirmed and honored the people; peace through music. I received my first commission from Dr. Lammers to compose a brass fanfare for the Nobel Conference in 1984.

It is critical that Gustavus makes music performance and study available to all students, enriching students with a deeper awareness of themselves and the world.
The act of performing on stage together, collaborating to make something greater than ourselves, is a transformative experience for the human spirit and is invaluable to liberal arts cultures as well as an open society. It is through performing and listening to music that one comes to better understand and empathize with others and the earth. Music is a language, not confined to humans alone, that unlocks the beauty, the immortal and the universal in all of us. Music and the arts give us hope, comfort us in times of doubt and sadness and challenge us to go beyond ourselves and make an art that is for the betterment of the world. I am grateful to Gustavus for my musical experiences and opportunities.