“Pinch Me” Moments
An interview with Andrew Kendall

Andrew Kendall

Dr. Andrew Kendall is a 2015 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College and recently returned to GAC to teach and conduct in the music education and choral program. We had a chance to visit in late 2023 about his experience of returning to his home program and the insights he’s gained.

EC: How did you end up at Gustavus as a student, and when did you attend?

AK: I was all set to attend Concordia or St. Olaf, but then I came and visited Gustavus. I really liked Dr. Aune, the Gustavus Choir conductor, and I thought this environment would be best for me. There was something about it that seemed different and I wanted to be part of that. I haven’t regretted it: Gustavus was the right choice and fit. I started in the fall of 2011 and graduated in May of 2015.

EC: What did you do between graduating from Gustavus and starting to teach there?

AK: Right after graduating I taught in Holdingford, Minnesota for three years. It’s a small town just north of St. Cloud. Then I did my Master’s degree at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge from 2018 to 2020. I graduated at the height of the pandemic and the graduation ceremony was a livestream of our names rolling across the Tiger Stadium scoreboard. After that I did my DMA at the University of Iowa. In some ways I’ve followed in the footsteps of everybody that I’ve studied conducting with or had as a conductor. Three of my mentors studied at the University of Iowa, including Dr. Aune. I came to Gustavus last spring to conduct the Gustavus Choir while Brandon Dean was on sabbatical. I completed and defended my dissertation in May, and was officially hired to teach and conduct at Gustavus beginning this academic year.

Andrew, wife Lizz, and daughter Chloe at Andrew’s DMA commencement, December 2023.

EC: Did you ever envision yourself returning to Gustavus to teach?

AK: I tell this story often. A year and a half after graduating my wife and I came back to Gustavus for Christmas in Christ Chapel. Somehow, we scored really good seats. After the concert Dr. Aune approached me and said, “Have you thought about how long you’re going to teach in Holdingford? Or have you thought about maybe going to grad school?” At that point I honestly hadn’t considered grad school. I went home, and I thought about it. I thought, “It would be really cool to be up there some day and do this at the college level.” So, I started the grad school journey with the ultimate goal of one day conducting at Christmas in Christ Chapel. And this year I got to do that.

EC: What has surprised you about the experience of returning to your alma mater? 

AK: Gustavus is both the same and very different than it was 10 years ago. The office that I’m sitting in belonged to my mentor. It looks a little different now, but sometimes it’s still surreal when I walk in. While Gustavus looks as it did 10 years ago, it has evolved in a lot of good ways. It has become more progressive. The “typical” Gustavus student has changed in that they come from a more diverse background. I’ve noticed that students are more discerning and they think more about the world around them than I did when I was in college. They’re analytical. They consider what they’re learning and how they can influence the world. It’s really cool to experience them from the side of a professor.

EC: Can you describe any expected or unexpected challenges you faced upon returning to your home program? 

AK: It was very interesting when I first started last spring as Brandon’s sabbatical replacement. I basically walked in on February fifth and was handed the keys to the program and told, “Here, don’t crash!” Now, when my students now ask, “Oh, are we going to do that the same way we did last semester?” I just laugh. Last semester I was just getting through the day. I didn’t know what was going to happen. If I didn’t know the answer to something I relied on my decade-old institutional memory and made something up. It was certainly a challenge navigating my first semester here.

EC: What’s a strength of returning to your alma mater? 

AK: It’s not lost on the students that we have something significant in common: we’ve have all been students here. Starting halfway through the year as a sabbatical replacement, I needed a way in with the students. My experience as an alum was the way in, and it was a significant life experience that we all had in common. It really helped to jump start a lot of those relationships. Being able to use that connection is an experience unique to someone returning to their Alma Mater.

EC: Do you have any advice for teachers who find themselves returning to teach in their home programs? 

AK: Go with the flow and trust your colleagues. Whether they’re folks that you knew when you when you were there as a student, or they’re folks that have arrived since then, take in what they have to say. Consider their advice because they have been there and seen what works, which may be different from when you were a student.

My other piece of advice has to do with teaching. It’s all about relationships and, specifically, relationships with students. That’s what keeps me coming back every day. It’s about the people who are here now.

EC: Any closing thoughts or things you want to share? 

AK: From the moment that Brandon called me in March of 2022 to do his Sabbatical, the stars aligned. I hadn’t planned to be done with my coursework at that point. I was lucky that I had enough coursework done and could leave a semester early. I thought, “I can’t not do this.” Last semester while I conducted a full home concert program with the Gustavus Choir, ending with Praise to the Lord and me on the podium, I just thought, “What on earth is happening to me?!” It was a “pinch me” moment.

I’m getting to fulfill a lot of the dreams I’ve had about making music at Gustavus.  Hopefully the buildings won’t come crashing down, though, because I’d like to keep living the dream for a while. It has absolutely been a special and surreal experience. It was solidified in December when I stood up there on the podium at Christmas in Christ Chapel. For a Gustavus Alum, it doesn’t get better than that.

Elisabeth Cherland

Dr. Elisabeth Cherland is a fourth-generation choral conductor as well as professor, singer, song leader, violinist, and Lutheran church musician. As Director of Choral Activities at Minnesota State University, Mankato, she teaches courses in choral methods, conducting, private voice, and conducts the Concert Choir and Chamber Singers. She lives with her partner Kent and their two children in St. Peter. She loves storytelling and story-hearing, doughnuts, bubble tea, running (when the temperature is perfect and the course is flat), and sunshine when it’s available.