Studio Visit: Kristina Boerger
Studio visit is a Q&A with an artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with Kristina Boerger, the interim director of choral activities at the University of Illinois.
Q: It's so nice to see your smile and feel your positive energy again. Why are you back?
A: I'm back to serve the program that educated me and positioned me for my wonderful music career in New York City. I'm coming back to do the same for the next generation of musicians, at least for the next nine months.
Q: Are you a visiting professor or what?
A: I'm the interim director of choral activities (at the University of Illinois). I will enter the full search for the position when it's announced, and I will hope to win the job.
Q: Are you filling in for Fred Stoltzfus?
A: Yes, he retired.
Q: What choral groups will you conduct here?
A: I'm conducting the UI Chorale and the Oratorio Society, and I'm teaching the doctoral conducting techniques class.
Q: When did you leave?
A: I finished my doctorate in 2000 and went straight to New York. I freelanced as a conductor, as a singer and also as an academic instructor at Barnard College, the Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University.
Q: How long were you there?
A: Nine years, and then I went to Milwaukee. I decided it was time for a full-time teaching life. Teaching has always been my highest calling. So I moved back to the city of my birth and lived three blocks away from my natal home and taught at Carroll University in Waukesha.
Q: Didn't you leave a tenured position there to return here?
A: I did because I realized I wasn't growing enough in that job as a musician and as a teacher. I was willing to take a risk that I could keep moving forward.
Q: Do you play the piano?
A: I came here in 1983 and finished my first two-and-a-half years as a piano performance major. I recognized I didn't have the temperament to make it as a pianist because I wasn't willing to spend the requisite number of hours alone in the piano room.
So by default I flipped over into choral music education. I had been singing in a number of choirs for the sheer enjoyment, so I figured it was one way of finishing my degree.
When I worked as a choral director I realized how much I loved it. That's when I decided to go back to graduate school and pursue it all the way.
Q: Where was your first job?
A: Washington Junior High School in Kenosha. I had finished my bachelor's degree. But I didn't think I could make a living as a musician; my plan was to go to law school and become a civil rights attorney.
During my first year of teaching I took the LSAT and applied to law schools. In March of that year I imagined my life without music at the center. I experienced a violent nausea and imagined myself falling into a violent pit. I called the law schools and told them I wasn't coming. I came back here and spent the next year preparing for graduate school auditions. I did my master's degree in '91-92 and taught at Bloomington High School, and then at Lake Forest College for two years and Millikin University of that second year. I was also conducting Amasong (here in Urbana-Champaign). After two years of that I realized I was ready to go back to school again for a DMA.
Q: Have you started any other choruses besides Amasong?
A: No. I've done ad hoc projects. With some colleagues here I'm singing in a couple of quartets and octets to see what we can get going. And I continue to perform with musicians in New York. One of the groups I sing with does early and late music — 16th and 20th and 21st century music.
Q: What achievement are you most proud of?
A: Being hired to direct a project for Chanticleer, a San Francisco-based chamber ensemble of 12 men's voices. I consider them the gold standard of vocal chamber music. That's the most challenging assignment I've ever had, and it was deeply satisfying to me to find that I more than met their demands.
Editor's note: Boerger needs tenors for the Oratorio Society's Nov. 21 performance with Sinfonia da Camera of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem. Interested tenors may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or show up at the Oratorio Society rehearsals at 7:45 p.m. Tuesdays in the Choral Rehearsal Room at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.