“I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.” That’s how Dr. Allan Dennis, who earned his undergraduate degree in music education over 40 years ago, describes his excitement upon re-engaging with the campus and School of Music.
Mason Hall has been expanded several times since Dr. Dennis, a native of Newark, N.Y., graduated in 1970 and then taught conducting classes before receiving his master’s in music in 1972, also from Fredonia.
“I was impressed with the addition of Rosch Recital Hall and the rehearsal halls,” he said. “I must admit that the old rehearsal rooms seemed much smaller than I remember them.”
The last 40 years have been a dynamic time for Dennis. The man who once thought of becoming a country-western singer and bass player went on to study at the Tanglewood Institute and Eastman School of Music, and was later awarded a doctorate, with distinction, from Indiana University. He has been music director of the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra, about one hour south of Chicago, for 25 years.
Dennis also takes great pride in the Midwest Young Artists (MYA) program, a comprehensive pre-college music school he founded in 1993 that serves nearly 1,000 student-musicians in the Chicago area. From its beginning as a single, 40-member orchestra, MYA has grown to comprise nine orchestras, 65 chamber music ensembles, a wind symphony, theory/composition programs, jazz and choral programs – each with various ensembles – plus a rhythm and movement program for very young children. MYA hosts a multi-faceted summer music festival and its student groups tour extensively.
Dennis had little contact with his alma mater until 2009, when he was extended an invitation to attend an Alumni Association gathering in Chicago. The next year, he was invited to return to campus to participate in the School of Music’s first Alumni Leadership Conference. That generated new ideas for achieving greater national recognition for the school, drawing upon the expertise of successful alumni, emeritus faculty and current staff and university administrators. More than 60 people engaged in brainstorming sessions and created a blueprint to help SUNY Fredonia shape the future course of the School of Music.
Of course, Dennis, a champion of music education and advocate of music’s importance in our everyday lives, was thrilled to attend.
“It gave me an opportunity to reconnect with some old friends and meet some new ones. It also brought me somewhat up to speed on what is happening at SUNY Fredonia,” Dennis said. “It also caused me to focus on some of the college’s needs, including raising awareness of what is happening on a local, state, national and international level.”
The conference isn’t Dennis’ only contribution to his alma mater, despite the nearly 500 miles that separate him and the campus. He helped to initiate the Ensemble Touring Fund, a new tool designed to place School of Music performing groups in more schools and venues and create greater outreach into additional states so it can become more well known.
He’s also joined the School of Music Advisory Board, a 10-member group that provides guidance, assistance and support. He will use this platform to advocate for a greater realization of the value, beauty and importance of music in society through activities, and an environment that increases access to the arts. Bringing music to everybody, especially children, is one of several challenges for the board to address. “I think that part of the problem is that we have not kept music as an important part of our society, and I hope we can work to provide opportunities for our creative graduating students to tie music back to society,” he added.
Dennis delivered the keynote address at the School of Music’s annual Convocation program in May. In it, he offered a candid overview of today’s job market for music education and performance majors, and urged students to step out of their comfort zones and set goals that stretch their thinking.
“Don’t worry about setting your goals too high, because it is in working and making the effort to reach goals that you will find who you really are,” he advised. “SUNY Fredonia gave me some of the technical tools to be a success, but more importantly, it gave me the confidence and desire to work and be the best conductor, teacher, coach and musician I could be.”
Dennis would like to see collaborations between the School of Music and all community music schools, including MYA, to help present more music to more people. That could be realized through internships and ensemble visits to interact, perform and raise the visibility of SUNY Fredonia.