Henry Dorn named next conductor of the St. Olaf Band
Conductor and composer Henry Dorn has been named the new conductor of the St. Olaf Band, and he will take the reins of the award-winning ensemble at the beginning of the 2023–24 academic year. Dorn will succeed Timothy Mahr ’78, who is set to retire at the end of this academic year after leading the ensemble for 29 years. Along with conducting the St. Olaf Band, Dorn will join the St. Olaf Music Department faculty and teach classes in composition and conducting.
“As both a conductor and composer, I couldn’t have asked for a better combination of roles and opportunities than at St. Olaf College,” says Dorn. “This place has such a storied history with music and the band program especially. I feel like this position has been handed to me on a silver platter, and want to continue to uphold the musical excellence that Timothy Mahr and the band have built.”
A self-proclaimed “recovering trombonist,” Dorn began his musical journey growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he discovered music at an early age. The first instrument he ever touched was his uncle’s trombone, but it wasn’t until sixth grade when he started playing.
“It was not ‘God’s instrument’ in my hands,” jokes Dorn, referencing the epithet frequently used to describe the trombone by Mahr. “I was the total band nerd, though, and my fascination with music increased after getting into a performing arts high school, where I first began arranging Christmas music and was pushed towards music theory.”
Dorn’s musical journey eventually led him to the University of Memphis, where he earned a bachelor of music in composition. He then earned a master of music in composition and wind conducting from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, before continuing his doctoral studies at Michigan State University (MSU). Dorn comes to St. Olaf College most recently from MSU, where he earned a doctor of musical arts (DMA) in conducting, and is finishing his DMA in composition this spring.
Alongside his path in higher education, Dorn is an experienced conductor and sought-after composer. He has collaborated as a former assistant director to the Memphis Area Youth Wind Ensemble, and former director to the Nu Chamber Collective. Dorn has also worked with musicians from the United States Army Field Band, the United States Air Force Band, and has guest conducted the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” He’s proud to have received multiple awards for his unique style, including the Future of Music Faculty Fellowship recipient from the Inaugural Cleveland Institute of Music, and the 2010 American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Foundation’s Morton Gould Young Composer Award.
Henry DornAs both a conductor and composer, I couldn’t have asked for a better combination of roles and opportunities than at St. Olaf College. This place has such a storied history with music and the band program especially. I feel like this position has been handed to me on a silver platter, and want to continue to uphold the musical excellence that Timothy Mahr and the band have built.
“I’m often asked if I’m a conductor who composes, or a composer who conducts. I try to be both,” says Dorn. “That’s why I feel coming to St. Olaf is such a perfect fit. In many ways, I feel like I’m Tim — just a few years younger and with far less hair.”
As a composer, Dorn is certainly following in the footsteps of Mahr. Each of Dorn’s compositions are created with distinct creativity, having been performed by noteworthy ensembles across the country. These performances range from ensembles that include the Minnesota Orchestra, the Grammy Award–winning Harlem Quartet, Aizuri Quartet, the Elysian Trombone Quartet, Argento Ensemble, the Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra, the Dallas Wind Symphony, and more. Upcoming concerts showcasing Dorn’s work include performances of his piece Transitions by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in early January 2024, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in February–March 2024.
In the fall of 2022, Dorn had the opportunity to guest conduct the St. Olaf Band and lead classrooms in instruction, engaging with many of the students he’ll work with next academic year. He credits this experience with affirming everything he already knew about St. Olaf, and growing his excitement for joining the program.
“I love that St. Olaf students have the opportunity to experience music at an incredibly high level regardless of their major or background,” says Dorn. “Conducting the St. Olaf Band was one of the most energizing rehearsals I’ve ever been a part of. I was pushing them, and they were pushing me. There’s no greater joy than the interaction I get with students, and finding those special ‘aha’ moments with them in the classroom or during rehearsal.”
Outside of music, Dorn is a self-described Dr. Pepper aficionado, and is excited to continue his Midwest journey as he moves from Michigan to Minnesota this summer with his wife, Alicia, and daughter, Harper. Dorn looks forward to bicycling throughout the state, experiencing the foodie culture of the Twin Cities, and getting to know the greater St. Olaf community in Northfield and beyond.