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Meet the 2021 Richard D. Colburn Award for Teaching Excellence Recipients

A Q&A with Nina and Daniel Wallenberg
2021 Recipients of the Music Institute of Chicago’s

Richard D. Colburn Award for Teaching Excellence


Nina and Daniel Wallenberg were honored at the 90th Anniversary Virtual Gala celebration on Monday, May 10

A member of the Suzuki cello faculty and Musikgarten® early childhood music and movement program for more than 30 years, Nina has been a member of the Northbrook Symphony and was formerly principal cellist of Orquestra Sinfonica del Valle in Cali, Colombia, and the Utah Valley Symphony. She previously taught at the Rubin Academy – Community Division in Jerusalem and at Brigham Young University.

Daniel, a native of Bogotá, Colombia, has been conductor of the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale since 1987. He also conducts the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation adult and children's choirs and worked with Chicago Children’s Choir’s Neighborhood Choir programs in Rogers Park and Humboldt Park. He has extensive experience conducting collegiate, community, professional, and children’s choral groups throughout the world and has many choral arrangements to his name.

MIC posed a few questions to these longtime faculty members.

Danny, what attracted you to conducting choral ensembles?
Choral music includes a large variety of disciplines: musicianship, pedagogy, creativity, vocal training, different languages and cultures, history, literature, performance practice, and human emotions, just to mention a few. Choral singing has been known to provide well-being to people on many levels. I have always felt fortunate to be able to facilitate that rewarding experience.

Nina, what first attracted you to the cello?
I grew up in New York City and attended the public arts high school, Music and Art. I had previously studied piano and guitar, but in 8th grade, I needed to choose an orchestral instrument. I knew I wanted to play a string instrument, and I loved the sound of the cello.

Nina what do you enjoy about working with the youngest music learners in Musikgarten?
Teaching the babies and toddlers has been a highlight of my teaching career at MIC. It's all about the process, and there is pure joy in young children's music-making and movement. It's lovely to see the bond between the young students and their parents as they share the musical activities.

Danny, how have you responded to the restrictions caused by the pandemic? How have you managed to keep up with your choral work despite those restrictions?
I knew the pandemic was not going to stop us from making music. During the first week of the shutdown, we were supposed to perform our concert of women composers at Nichols Concert Hall. When that concert fell through, we started exploring ways to rehearse on Zoom, without thinking that concerts were a possibility. Eventually we adopted a system that gave the singers the illusion of singing with the group. We hired four master singers, who recorded each part for us, then singers recorded themselves based on those master recordings. My son, Noam (a sound engineer at Rax Trax in Chicago), mixed the voices and basically created a choir. We realized that if we played those recordings and showed the choir singing on Zoom, we would create the illusion that everybody was performing there and then.

Tell us about the performances you’ve presented during the pandemic.
The Summer Chorale last year performed a virtual concert, which was well received, so we decided to keep that format and perform more ambitious repertoire. In fall 2020, we performed Mozart's Grand Mass in C minor, and in the winter, we did a virtual performance of a concert entitled “How Can I Keep from Singing.” The silver lining of this unusual situation is that people from all over the world have been able to join and sing with us. We are in the process of preparing Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, using the version for baritone and soprano soloists, choir, two pianos (both played by our pianist Gregory Shifrin), four percussionists, and children's choir. We will perform this virtual concert on June 6 at 3 p.m.

Nina, how have you adapted as a teacher during the pandemic?
Teaching has been a big challenge during the pandemic, and it's been a steep learning curve with the technology. I've been amazed at how well the students have been able to progress despite the limitations of virtual learning. I just had my third virtual studio recital, and the silver lining has been that family and friends from all over the world have been able to attend. The Suzuki group lessons have been especially challenging, and I have had to come up with new activities, some of which I will be using in the future.

What is happening in terms of your performing and teaching this summer?
This summer I will be teaching my students on Zoom and in person in my backyard when weather permits. I am also beginning to welcome back my vaccinated students to my home studio for the first time since the pandemic.

Danny, what’s coming up for the Chorale?
We are exploring the possibility of rehearsing outdoors this summer. Hopefully we will be able to return to our performance space at Nichols Concert Hall soon.

Nina, anything you’d like to add?
I'm so grateful that I have been able to sustain my teaching during the pandemic and keep the connection with my students.

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