At the beginning of the academic year, Centre College welcomed Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Johann Van Niekerk to the music department to fill the position left open by H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Music Emeritus Dr. Barbara Hall after she retired last year. Dr. Hall spent 35 years teaching music and leading the choral ensembles at Centre.
Born and raised in a small South African town similar in size to Danville, Dr. Van Niekerk began his pursuit of music very young with violin lessons at the age of five and piano and theory lessons at the age of six.
“In high school I had very dynamic teachers who were conductors, and I wanted to be like them,” he said. “I wanted to have the same influence over students as they did over me, in opening up the world to me through singing with different cultures, touring the world, and exploring different points of view through music.”
This led him to study piano and vocal music at Pretoria University in South Africa. When his mentor retired, he moved his musical education to the United States and completed his graduate work at Temple University and earned his decorate degree at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Last year, Associate Professor of Music Nathan Link, leader of the Kentucky Ensemble, commissioned junior Emilie O’Connor to put together a board of students to interact with the candidates for Dr. Hall’s position.
“We were supposed to give input on who we liked,” O’Connor said. “It was cool way to show that Centre cares about what we think.”
The council consisted of 12 students who were pulled from the choral department—primarily from the choral group Centre Singers.
“We went to three events with each of the candidates…a lunch in Cowan, a practice class, and a rehearsal while we were working on Mozart’s Requiem in the spring,” O’Connor said. “Van Niekerk was the one we liked the best. He just had this thing about him that we thought fit well with Centre’s community. He was really friendly, very open and just very excited to be there, and gave off impression that Centre was where he wanted to be.”
Dr. Van Niekerk led the Centre Singers in their first rehearsal, which essentially served as a “callback” after initial auditions. The allotted rehearsal time allowed him to determine how the group worked together as well as the range of the students’ individual voices.
“We’re really excited we have someone new. We loved Dr. Hall but…it’s nice to shake things up a bit and see what someone new has to offer,” O’Connor said. “At the same time, it’s a little nerve wracking because at Centre, you know your professors and they know you, and to have that professor gone and a new one in their place is a little unnerving at times. But we are all very excited.”
Dr. Van Niekerk said he is looking forward to pulling both the other music professors as well as those in other disciplines in for future collaborative work.
“I want to find unusual performing spaces and music that speak to different topics and collaboration with different styles and groups, so that the music enriches the students but also have students enrich the program,” he said.
When asked for his goals for the department upon his arrival, Dr. Van Niekirk emphasized the importance of making connections to the world at large through music—which, he pointed out, is something that’s “really appreciated” at a liberal arts college.
“Something really great about Centre is the emphasis on experiences,” he said. “We are not just approaching music intellectually but living, eating, sleeping, touring, as well as learning the language, learning the culture, learning their stories—seeing which ways there stories are the same and different from ours.”
NOTES FOR CHANDLER:
Putting full titles, using more quotes (she needs to quote 3 people!!!), structure