Two new funds will support St. Olaf organ and church music students

St. Olaf organ and church music students

Joanne Harris Rodland and Catherine Rodland ’87 with Isaac Drewes ’17 (center) and St. Olaf organ music students gather around the Holtkamp organ in Boe Memorial Chapel. Scholarship and program funds honoring Rev. John R. Rodland now support St. Olaf church music and organ performance majors.

Two funds established in honor of the Rev. John Rodland are now providing additional support and opportunities for students studying organ and church music at St. Olaf College.

The John R. Rodland Memorial Scholarship — which for 25 years has enabled talented organists to pursue music education at schools, colleges, and universities across the nation — is now exclusively supporting organ and church music students at St. Olaf. The newly established John R. Rodland Education Enrichment Fund is providing additional support for artists in residence, master classes, guest performances, student and faculty travel, and promotion of organ events at St. Olaf.

The spendable income from the two endowed funds will be doubled each year through the Strategic Initiative Match, a St. Olaf Board of Regents program that provides matching funds for gifts above $50,000 that support the college’s strategic plan.

The first John R. Rodland Memorial Scholarship at St. Olaf was awarded this fall to Isaac Drewes ’17, and the enrichment fund is supporting organ and music department and student activities this year.

“We are delighted for this chance to encourage organ music education at St. Olaf,” says Stewart Holmes, who served as president of the Rodland Board for the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), which initially established the memorial scholarship more than two decades ago. “Over the years the funds have provided over $225,000 of scholarships; the recipients represent a virtual ‘who’s who’ of musicians who are now directing full-time music ministries in some of the nation’s leading churches. We are proud of what this scholarship fund has accomplished, and feel confident that St. Olaf has the will and the passion to see Jack Rodland’s legacy live on.”

Unique opportunities for a unique instrument

Having access to master artists, performance opportunities, and travel are especially critical for organ students. Unlike other instruments, pipe organs are permanently installed and vary greatly from venue to venue, requiring students to travel to learn how to work with variety of organs. Their multiple keyboards and controls also require students to develop healthy technique to perform effectively while preventing injury. In addition to building technical skills, organists must also learn how to encourage and guide congregations in song as church music leaders.

The study and travel opportunities these funds will make possible now at St. Olaf will mirror those Reverend John R. Rodland, for whom the scholarship is named, had himself as a student, teacher, and performer.

“During his years of education, Jack had the chance to study with world-renowned organist Helmut Walcha in Germany as a DAAD-Fulbright scholar,” his wife, Joanne Harris Rodland, says. She met Rodland at Union Theological Seminary where they both earned graduate degrees. “Keeping with his generous spirit, we wanted to make similar opportunities available for St. Olaf students.”

St. Olaf has one of the largest undergraduate organ programs in the nation. The program features dedicated faculty, practice and recital spaces, a music library, and seven practice instruments manufactured by Dobson, Wilhelm, and Schlicker, in addition to the Holtkamp organ installed in Boe Memorial Chapel. These two funds will provide important support for the program.

A generous, gifted church musician

Learning from one another and sharing their talents with students are core values for the Rodlands. Reverend Rodland was an extraordinarily gifted and beloved organist, pastor, and church music leader who deeply enriched the lives of those who knew him. He directed music at West Side Presbyterian Church in Rutherford, New Jersey, for more than 20 years and contributed substantially to building an ecumenical church music community as a member of the AGO.

“Jack was a rare person,” says Joanne, who served in tandem with Rodland in West Side’s music ministry until her retirement in 2014. “He was very personable, very giving, very passionate, and at the same time very academic in his knowledge about church and organ music. He truly embodied the very best qualities that make a good church music leader.”

Rodland was especially knowledgeable in the field of hymnody, and contributed extensively to a major revision of The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990), focusing especially on the section devoted to psalms. For Rodland, giving hymns voice through the congregation was among the most meaningful moments in worship.

Following Rodland’s passing in 1989, the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the AGO established the John R. Rodland Memorial Scholarship in honor of his life, ministry and service. The annual scholarship competition showcased talent across performance, choir direction, and written response and provided three winners some of the largest financial awards in the nation, drawing students from leading institutions such as the Eastman School of Music, the Juilliard School, and St. Olaf College. St. Olaf students fared quite well in the competition, often winning when they participated. Under the Guild’s stewardship the scholarship fund grew, supported by private contributions and a regional ecumenical Community Hymn Festival that also showcased each year’s scholar.

Supporting St. Olaf

St. Olaf has held a special place in the Rodlands’ hearts for many years. “When Jack and I were looking at schools with our daughter Catherine, we strongly encouraged her to consider attend St. Olaf. We truly thought the College uniquely focused on building community and students, heart and mind, in the same way we believed music did, and clearly music was a central part of St. Olaf, as it was for our family.”

Catherine graduated from St. Olaf in 1987 cum laude with departmental distinction in organ performance, and following a graduate degree at Eastman, has taught organ performance and theory at St. Olaf for 15 years while maintaining an active national and international performance career. Her husband is an organist-choirmaster at the Church of St. Louis, King-of-France in St. Paul, their daughter is a young violinist, and their son is currently a piano performance major at St. Olaf. Rodland’s sister Carol too is a very accomplished viola player who teaches at Eastman.

“As faculty, we focus on building strong relationships with our students,” Catherine shares. “I had the great chance to study with Professor John Ferguson at St. Olaf, who encouraged me while I was a student, and I love working with students now. Our organ music program at St. Olaf brings students’ performance to the highest level, helping them be incredibly skilled organists and church music leaders. I am excited for this opportunity to support our organ program; I think my dad would have been too.”

Catherine will perform the first of Louis Vierne’s six-symphony series for the organ in Boe Memorial Chapel October 25 in honor of her father and the coming of the John R. Rodland Memorial Scholarship to St. Olaf. The performance will also feature Rodland scholarship recipient Isaac Drewes.