This year at Sauder Concert Hall, audience members can expect to see a new face take the stage with the symphonic orchestra: Director Richard Brunson.Brunson is a teacher, conductor, hornist and Tolkien enthusiast who was hired earlier this year at Goshen College to fill the roles of symphony orchestra director and associate professor of music.
Brunson has a doctoral degree in instrumental conducting from the University of Nevada (Las Vegas), and has taught and conducted for many different ensembles — most recently at the University of Wisconsin (Marshfield), where he has served as conductor for the band, orchestra and choir for the past twelve years.
“Teaching at a religious school has always appealed to me,” Brunson said. “Brigham Young University, where I was an undergraduate, is a private religious school, and I really liked that openness of religion in an academic setting … [The] opportunity presented itself to come here, and it seemed like a much better fit.”
He then added, “And when I saw the music facilities here — they are phenomenal. An opportunity to work and teach and perform in these facilities is one you really can’t pass up.”
“My first impression of [Brunson] was when he came to do his visit and evaluation with us last semester,” said Aysia Adkins, a sophomore music major and violin player in GC’s symphony orchestra (GCSO). “I found him pretty chill and he seemed very funny and easygoing, which I like in a director. Then this semester I feel like he has continued that [and] he didn’t let down those expectations. He seems very experienced and he also just wants to get to know us as well.”
On his goals for this semester, Brunson said, “We’re in a building mode. Covid has really devastated music programs, all over the country and probably all over the world. … We’re down in numbers.
“My hope is in the next two or three years to see more involvement in the music program here — not just in the orchestra but in general. … We’ve had other ensembles that we don’t have anymore because of lowering interest and lowering enrollment. I’d like to see that build back up.”
There are currently 22 enrolled members in GCSO, and he said that ideally there would be about 50.
“With the number of people compared to last semester, I feel like this semester is definitely lacking,” Adkins said. “Last semester it felt a little more full and … I feel like we were at a good place last semester, but this one is kind of worrying me.
“We have no oboe, no bassoon, and one flute, one clarinet, and so Dr. Brunson mentioned hiring people for our fall performance. … I don’t know if that’s actually going to happen. It depends on if we get enough people in the meantime.”
“With the music tradition in the Mennonite church and especially in this area of the country we really should see a lot more involvement,” Brunson said. “I played on a Conn French horn for 20 years made here in Elkhart. There’s a huge music tradition in this part of the country and this part of the state, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t see more participation here at Goshen.”
“I hope that, in general, we can keep a consistent flow of rehearsals,” Adkins said, “and keep that same feeling of wanting to show up rather than it being tense. I feel like with Dr. Brunson that’s possible because he seems like he’s committed to doing his job and he seems like he wants to get to know us and have fun with us as well as put on a good show.”
“My specialty is mid-20th century English music,” Brunson said, “and so one of the things the orchestra is going to perform with their fall concert is a piece by the composer I did my dissertation on, which is Ralph Vaughan Williams.”
In addition to classical music, Brunson noted, “Film scores are very popular concert-wise, and I’ve been listening to film scores for a long time, you know, I love John Williams. … That and video game soundtracks are getting very orchestral, very complicated music and there’s a lot of it that’s really good music. As I get to know the orchestra here better and what they’re capable of, and hopefully as we continue to grow, we can start programming things like that.”
Brunson will make his Sauder Concert Hall debut at the Homecoming Music Gala on Oct. 7.