homepage logo

Conductor and educator got her start at BEA

By Staff | Jun 7, 2020

Elaine Anderson, a 1986 BEA graduate, has taken off in the world of music. Anderson plays her cello during a recent performance of Eric Benjamin’s Libertango Fantasy which he wrote with her in mind.

Learning to play beautiful music starts with dedicated, passionate teachers at every level. Elaine Anderson, a 1986 graduate from Blue Earth Area, can speak to that testament, personally.

Daughter of Reuben and ElRose Anderson, the same Reuben Anderson who was an industrial arts teacher at Blue Earth High School for many years, Elaine is now a tenured, full professor of music at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, and is a very talented cellist.

As a student at BEA, Anderson was extensively involved in the Blue Earth music programs including orchestra, chamber orchestra, string quartet, choir, Madrigal choir, 12 Bucs Plus Change, solo ensemble contests for both vocal and cello contests, a member of the Mankato Youth Symphony, All State Orchestra three years in a row, Trinity Lutheran HiChoir, musical theater productions, pit orchestra productions for the Town & Country Players, and even did an independent study course on music theory.

She says she also enjoyed playing varsity basketball and made the B-squad in tennis and softball.

Anderson touts her previous music educators for their passion and fun they brought to her as a young student.

Not only does Anderson play, she is also a professor of music at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio and is seen conducting during a concert for the opening of the new Brush Performance Hall at the University of Mount Union.

“I had tremendous teachers in music all the way through my years of study,” she says. “Ms. Deann Helfritz for elementary music, my piano teacher Dianne Gerdts, Mike Crary in orchestra and Mike Ellingsen in choir, were all excellent to me. They all provided me with great opportunities and provided many chances for me to try different aspects of music. This continued in college and throughout all my years of study. My mother was a big supporter of anything I did in music. I would say that I have a wide and deep background for a person who went into music as a cellist.”

Some of Anderson’s favorite school time memories include taking vans full of orchestra students to a day-camp at Mankato state in the summer with their director, Mike Crary.

“I especially loved caroling with the Madrigals around Christmas time. The reason I play the cello today is because, in fourth grade, I was selected for a child’s role in the high school’s production of ‘The Music Man.’ The pit orchestra director, Kathy Ziegler, thought I could play the piano, sing in tune, and that I would probably be tall so she convinced me to play the cello.”

After high school, Anderson went to Concordia College in Moorhead to pursue a bachelor of music degree in string music education. From there, she turned her sights on the Manhattan School of Music where she received a master of music degree in cello performance. Then, she received her doctorate of musical arts from the University of Alabama in cello performance and pedagogy (the study of how knowledge and skills are used in an educational context).

“While I was completing my doctorate, I taught K-12 strings in a private school near Atlanta. I also spent a season as principal cellist of the Huntsville, Alabama Symphony. I used to freelance extensively while living in the South and I still play in some orchestras and other gigs here in Ohio.”

She also taught at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina for 15 summers. She is now married to Joel Collins, a visual arts professor at the University of Mount Union as well. Joel has two daughters that are on their own now, but Anderson and Collins have a rescue dog named Leo whom they love.

“Interesting conductors I have performed under include Keith Lockhart, Julius Rudel, Gunther Schuller, Mitch Miller, Robert Shaw, Peter Schickele, and Ignat Solzhenitsyn,” says the cellist. “I have also been fortunate enough to perform in orchestras accompanying musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, Ben Heppner, Kathleen Battle, John Denver, Andy Williams, Michael W. Smith, Della Reese, Marvin Hamlisch, Samuel Ramey, Benita Valente, Mark O’Connor, Tony Bennett, and many others.”

Anderson has been at the University of Mount Union since 1997, and currently teaches cello, chamber music, music theory, an arts advocacy general education class, and she also conducts the chamber orchestra. Besides teaching and conducting on campus and before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she played a Brahms sonata with a pianist named David Abbott who was a guest artist on their campus.

She also serves as principal cellist of both the Tuscarawas Philharmonic and the Alliance Symphony Orchestra. She is a member of the Silver and Strings Trio that plays large celebration gatherings like weddings and parties. She has also been a feature cello soloist with the Alliance Symphony Orchestra, the Tuscarawas Philharmonic, and with the National Symphony of Bolivia.

Anderson says the arts are worthy of study because they enrich the human experience.

“The ability to experience and participate in the arts with other people is especially moving for many of us. Adding a layer of academic understanding to people’s artistic experience has been my lifelong mission” says Anderson. “Much research has been conducted regarding additional benefits of arts education. James Catterall, author of ‘Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art,’ he documents his research on thousands of students for decades. He found arts-rich students to be more empathetic, more likely to excel in college, more likely to volunteer for causes they believe in, and more likely to be active members of their communities as adults.”

The well-versed cellist says these things all appeal to her, especially when she considers a societal and global impact.

“Providing quality arts education is not the only way to eventually have adults that do well and do good, but providing opportunities for the arts in schools can be important for the development of many students. Even if a person sees no value in acting, aren’t interested in movie music or popular songs, even if a song has never made that person happy or touched with their heart or assisted that person to ‘power through’ a workout with more ease, maybe the arts are still important because participation in the arts in school can help students be more organized, give students thicker skin when accepting criticism, and understand a little bit more about working productively with a group from a young age.”