A Heartfelt Reflection with Dr. Garcia-Novelli
By William Dowell ’22
There comes a time where we must say goodbye and move on to the next adventure. For Dr. García-Novelli, his new adventure will take him all the way to the University of Kansas, where he will serve as the Director of Choral Studies. Before he jumps into this new position, we reflect on his 13 years at Carthage, noting the successes, the challenges, and the numerous moments of magic he experienced with the Music Department.
How has the moving process been going?
Like any move it has been complex. It involves finishing any remaining business here, picking up things from the office, and then establishing a new office and new connections at another place. It is a transition process that takes time and will run its course. It is certainly emotionally taxing and professionally exciting at the same time. Bittersweet for sure.
You have been at Carthage for a while. How have you seen Carthage’s music department grow over the time you have been here?
Over my 13 years here, I have seen the department grow in many ways in terms of both quantity and quality. In short, we have more students, and we are doing better things. In addition, we have developed new curricular offerings, like the Music Theatre Vocal Pedagogy Graduate Program. Breaking news: there are new and exciting curriculum changes starting next fall, and I can talk about them briefly later. Finally we also have students in the Masters of Education doing self-design degrees in music. It has been truly enriching.
How have you grown as a musician and as an educator during your time at Carthage?
The short answer is that I’ve grown enormously. I have learned not only how this institution works, but also how to be a more effective educator. I’ve learned how to design and craft new activities that enhance the artistic growth of the choir, the program, and the institution at large. There are many situations that attest to that. For example, Dr. Dennee, Dr. Shapovalov, and myself worked in the development of the Lakeside Choral Festival. That has been an incredible experience. When I came in 2008, the festival had been functioning for many years, but it was very small. We had fewer than 10 choirs with a total of 300-400 students coming in over two days. Fast forward to November of 2019 (last festival before the pandemic), we had 61 choirs and 2,100 students coming in five days. We also had opportunities to perform in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and several excellent venues in Milwaukee. This has been great not only for the choirs but also for the instrumental ensembles. There’s also been several performances at various conventions and conferences we were invited to: WMEA, WCDA, and so on. Carthage Choir did five of those performances which was pretty amazing. A true highlight was Carthage Choir’s solo debut concert at Carnegie Hall. That was thrilling! We also had some incredible tours, both inside and outside the country. In my time here I did four tours to Europe. The first one was to Central Europe, the second was to Ireland and Scotland, third was to Spain, and the fourth was to Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. With those tours, we grew both as an ensemble but also academically. Carthage Choir Tours became a Carthage symposium class, so it was not simply a concert tour (as valuable and exciting as they are) but also an excellent academic offering.
Looking back with your experience, is there something you would have done differently when you first started?
Let me start at the end. In July of 2019, Carthage Choir went to Europe to participate at the Spittal International Choral Competition in Spittal, Austria. The experience was beyond phenomenal, not only because we won both categories in the competition, which was a thrilling experience, but because of the preparation for it and how hard we worked to achieve the maximum potential of the group. Looking back, I would have worked to achieve that maximum potential sooner. It was a very positive thing for everybody involved.
You have mentioned a lot of incredible grand experiences, but what has been a smaller moment that has stood out to you?
Well, it is hard to pinpoint just one. There were many moments of little magic that happened all the time, both intentionally crafted and by chance. There are so many that I can’t just pick one. That is what defines the success of a group, those many little moments that happen on a day-to-day basis.
Did you have a favorite class (besides Carthage Choir) to teach?
The choral conducting class is probably my favorite, but I’ve enjoyed all of the classes I’ve taught here. For instance, teaching Aural Skills has been a wonderful activity and academic pursuit.
What are you looking forward to with your next step in your career?
One of the things about the new position is that I will be heading both a master’s and doctoral program in choral conducting. It will be a big challenge to be in charge of a program that is focused on the education of people who will become leaders in choral conducting. It is a big responsibility and I am looking forward to facing that challenge and hopefully succeeding. The other thing is that I am going to a big university, which has its pros and its cons. One of the pros is that the pool of students will be much larger and hopefully there will be a large amount of students interested in singing. That would lead to some great adventures in the future.
Do you have any advice for the people at Carthage as you move on to a new adventure?
One of the most wonderful things at Carthage that I have not mentioned is the Christmas Festival. I think it is a true treasure and we all love to work and prepare for it. It is like a well-oiled machine and I love doing it, so my advice would be to keep cultivating it for years to come.
As I mentioned before, there are a couple of new academic offerings that are starting this fall that I’m really excited about. One is the Bachelor of Music (B.M.) degree in Piano Performance in Collaborative Piano. At Carthage we have a Bachelor of Arts degree in music, but now we will have a Bachelor of Music which is a professional degree with a more demanding music curriculum. We will also have a B.M. in Music Education which will be focused on more in depth music classes. It will be exciting for those students and it will better prepare them for a professional career. Pending approval, which I personally think will happen, there will be a new emphasis in music composition. So far it has been a self-design emphasis, but this would make it an official emphasis in the college catalogue. I’m very excited for that and I think that these programs will propel the department in its future endeavors.
Do you have any parting words?
It has been 13 years of my life. Other than the place in which I grew up, this has been the place in which I have lived the longest. It has been the place where I have worked the longest. This beautiful place, full of beautiful people, will be a part of who I am for the rest of my life. I will certainly miss a lot of things if not all of them. Let’s compare this to when you are a parent and your child graduates from high school and goes to college. It is the same feeling. There is nothing wrong—it is not like the kid is leaving for the wrong reasons—it is just part of the growing process. I feel the same kind of feeling that there is nothing wrong and that I will always be a part of the Carthage family. It is just me going on to a new adventure. I will miss my wonderful and talented colleagues, and I will miss my amazing Carthage Choir. I will truly miss you all!