Q&A With Dr. Christopher Unger, Director of Bands

Dr. Christopher Unger, director of  bands

Dr. Christopher Unger was named assistant professor of music and director of bands for Augustana in May.

In his new role, Unger will serve as only the fifth director of the acclaimed Augustana Band, which made its debut on campus in 1931.

An award-winning conductor, Unger most recently served as the interim director of bands at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Prior to his appointment at UBC, Unger served as the assistant conductor of both the Eastman Wind Orchestra and the Eastman Wind Ensemble at the legendary Eastman School of Music, a conservatory at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.

At Eastman, he was honored with the Frederick Fennell Fellowship for Advanced Conducting Study, the Evan Whallon Conducting Award, and the prestigious Walter Hagen Conducting Prize.

Unger holds degrees from the University of Western Ontario and the University of British Columbia. He earned his doctor of musical arts (DMA) in conducting from the Eastman School of Music in 2013.

His work at Eastman provided him the opportunity to act as a producer on the Eastman Wind Ensemble’s 2013 release on Avie Records titled “Stravinsky-Octet/L’Histoire du Soldat.” In addition to conducting the wind ensembles, Unger worked with the Brass Guild, the Trumpet Ensemble and the Graduate Chamber Orchestra.

Prior to his graduate studies, Unger served as the instrumental music teacher at G.P. Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay, British Columbia. Under his baton, the instrumental ensembles at Vanier participated in regional and national festivals and received national recognition for their performances at Musicfest Canada. In his final year at Vanier, Unger was nominated for the CARAS/MUSICAN teacher of the year award.

Recently, he won the American Prize in Conducting in the Wind Ensemble Division (2013). Throughout his career he has worked with master wind conductors such as Donald Hunsberger, Frank Battisti, Charles Peltz, Michael Haithcock, Allan McMurray, Craig Kirchhoff, Michael Votta, Gary Hill and Rodney Winther. He maintains professional affiliations with the College Band Directors National Association, the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, and the Conductors Guild.

Before classes began this fall, we caught up with Dr. Unger to learn more about what brought him to Augustana and his plans for the future.

Q. What attracted you to Augustana?
I was attracted to the position at Augustana because, as director of bands, I would have the opportunity to work with the renowned Augustana Band. The band program at Augustana has a rich history and has been an artistic outlet for many generations of students. I am excited to be a part of the next chapter of this ensemble’s exciting history.

Q. Tell us what excites you most about your new role.
This is hard to respond to because I am excited about so many aspects of my new role. However, I would have to say it would be working with talented students and distinguished faculty. Both the students and the faculty have been extremely helpful in my transition to this position and I am anxious to get to work on a number of new musical projects and initiatives while honoring the rich history and traditions that this ensemble has cultivated over the years.

Q. What can student performers and audience members expect from you as a conductor?
Student performers can expect that, as a conductor, I will be a passionate advocate for the music. They can expect that I will push for the highest artistic standards in a respectful manner, always keeping in mind that it is important to have a few laughs along the way. The audience can expect an invigorating selection of repertoire that will both entertain and challenge them as listeners.

Q. Looking ahead, do you have any major goals planned for the band program this year?
Upon receiving the position at Augustana, I began to brainstorm goals for the upcoming concert season. I will focus on three main goals for the 2015-16 concert season:

  • Design and implement an Apprentice Conductor Program with the Augustana Band: The Augustana Band will be seeking up to three apprentice conductors/coaches for the 2015-16 concert season. These positions have been designed for students that have the desire to conduct ensembles in the future. Students participating in this program will receive private conducting lessons, a conductor’s studio class, and will conduct the Augustana Band in concert.
  • Integrate Technology and Pedagogy: An example would be a digital composer in residence. The Augustana Band will explore the connection between the composer and the work by working directly with composers in interactive Skype sessions. We will create multi-camera video recordings of spectacular performances throughout the year to share with Band members and the public. The Band will perform works that are composed for band and electronics.
  • Students will participate in landmark performances: In conjunction with the Siouxland Trombone Festival, internationally renowned trombone artist Douglas Yeo will perform a solo with the Augustana Band in concert at the Washington Pavilion.