Robison to Leave Luther


Aaron Lurth ('08) - Photo Bureau

Associate Professor of Music Jennaya Robison conducts at Christmas at Luther in 2018.

On Jan. 24, Associate Professor of Music Jennaya Robison (‘96) announced she will leave Luther at the end of the 2020 spring semester after seven years in the music department. She has accepted a position as Professor in Choral Music and Director of Choral Studies in the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, starting in September 2020.

Robison spent most of her life in Decorah and sees Luther as her home, but said the decision to leave was necessary to achieve her aspirations as a musician and leader.

“It is very hard to ask for a program which is more satisfying than the one where you have over 500 singers who want to sing in a choir,” Robison said. “However, there are limitations to that. My role in the program and the level of leadership and vision that I can have is limited because that is the job. I was looking for a job where I could fulfill what I wanted to do: to be able to lead a program.”

After completing her Bachelor of Music in 1996, Robison went on to pursue a Master of Music in conducting and voice from the University of New Mexico and a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting from the University of Arizona. From 2002 to 2005, Robison returned to Luther as a guest alumna lecturer, taught voice lessons, and conducted Cantorei.

In fall 2013, Robison joined the Luther faculty. She currently conducts Aurora, Collegiate Chorale, and teaches classes in conducting and vocal pedagogy. Robison also leads a J-term course called “Choral Singing in Namibia and South Africa.”

Professor of Music Daniel Baldwin said that Robison has had a positive impact on the Music Department and Luther students since she was appointed in 2013.

“She is a skillful, inspiring, gifted teacher and an extraordinary musician,” Baldwin said. “It is difficult to imagine a more excellent mentor for our students. Robison approaches her work with diligence, focus, careful preparation, good humor, and seriousness of purpose.”

Instructor in Music Mark Potvin (‘01) says Robison has been a valued leader in the department. She has created change meant to break down gender norms in the choirs, started a campus Gospel Choir, and sought out new music by artists from marginalized populations.

“Her scholarship, artistry, and commitment to student success have had a great impact on the college,” Potvin said. “In particular, her legacy will include helping to shape strides in equity and inclusion over the past many years.”

Robison worked to promote the idea that music can be a tool for social change. She hopes that students at Luther will continue to find inspiration in choral music.

“I think that students recognize that music, and especially choral music with our use of text, has the power to really make people think about the way that we can change things for the better,” Robison said. “I tend to program a little differently with the way that I try to tell a story with the program and music. I hope that [students] look back on that, especially future music educators, to give them just a different way to think about how they can use music in the classroom, too.”

Robison has been a major source of inspiration for many students. Music major Grace Huber (‘20) explained how Robison helped her envision her career as a music educator.

“I was always looking for a female choral director to look up to,” Huber said. “As a future music educator, seeing Dr. Robison at Christmas at Luther really solidified my choice to study music education here.”

Co-President of Collegiate Chorale Emily Stifter (‘20) expressed sadness at Robison’s departure.

“People are definitely sad,” Stifter said. “Like the junior class, they do not get their senior year with her. But in general, everyone completely agrees she deserves it.”

Robison plans to keep following Luther through social media and she hopes her students will keep using the art of singing as an instrument for social change after her departure.

“I know that Luther will not miss a step in this transition and that they are just excited for all that can happen,” Robison said. “For the future music educators, they can come study with me as graduate students.”

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