UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
Conrad DeJong was born in Hull, Iowa in 1934. He received his Bachelor of Music degree from North Texas State University in 1954, where he studied music composition with Violet Archer. After two years in the Army, he attended Indiana University in Bloomington, where he received his Master of Music degree in 1959, studying music composition with Bernard Heiden. He also studied composition with Ton de Leeuw at the Amsterdam Conservatory of Music in the Netherlands. He was appointed to the music faculty at UW-RF in 1959 and taught here until his retirement in 1990.
As a faculty member, Conrad taught brass, brass ensemble, brass techniques, composition, 20th century music, and new music ensemble. His brass ensembles performed frequently. Sometimes he joined them in playing, sometimes he directed. He was especially proud of his students' work in music composition and their performances with the UW-RF New Music Ensemble. Some of his students went on to successful composing careers for films and television in Los Angeles, for theater and advertising in Florida, and elsewhere. Conrad's first office on campus was a large and spacious one on the first floor of South Hall along the corridor going back to the band room. It was large enough that he could rehearse with the entire New Music Ensemble in the room. The windows were very large and could be opened. So on spring and fall days, if you were walking to the library, you could hear the sounds of the ensemble rehearsing. Some students would come and sit on the lawn outside South Hall and read and study with live music behind them.
Conrad served on many department, college, and university committees. One of the most important was as Chairman of the Concerts and Lectures Series. Under his leadership and guidance, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, Andy Warhol, the Prince of Pop Art from New York, and the Canadian Brass, among others, came to River Falls and performed.
Conrad has published more than 30 compositions, and, since 1970, has received annual awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). In 1980 he was a featured composer at New Music America. His music has been performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., at Town Hall in New York City, and on the NBC Today Show. Internationally, his works have been performed in Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Australia, and Japan. The Dorian Wind Quintet on its Summit Records has recorded one of his numerous commissions, “Variations on the Spanish LaFolia,” He is also a Commissioned Composer for the University's program.
A member of many professional organizations, Conrad has served on the Board of Directors of the American Composers Forum and on the grant selection panel of the Minnesota Arts Board and Arts Midwest/Meet the Composer. Recently, he served five years on the Board of Directors of Santa Fe New Music.
Mr. DeJong's music is eclectic in style and medium. It ranges from the piano solo, "Little Suite," written for his young daughters in 1972, to works involving large numbers of instruments and voices with electronic modification. Occasionally, his music will include dance, lighting projection, improvisation, and audience participation, as "The Silence of the Sky in My Eyes"
While on the faculty at UW-RF in 1966, Conrad established the UW-RF Commissioned Composer Program that has continued annually. Conrad was a very early and fervent believer in and supporter of contemporary music. He secured funding from the Student Senate and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a practice which is still in place. Through his knowledge and contacts and hard work, such composers as Vincent Persichetti, Donald Erb, Ross Lee Finney, William Albright, Henry Brant (Pulitzer Prize), John Cage, Barbara Kolb (1st woman composer/winner of Prix de Rome), Frederic Rzewski, Fisher Tull, Morton Feldman, John Zorn (currently very big in NY), and Libby Larson wrote works for River Falls and came to campus to talk with students and work with them on their performances.
The program continues to this day and has brought UW-RF an international reputation in the performance of new music. Each time someone wishes to perform one of these works, they must write to UW-RF for permission and acknowledge River Falls' contribution. While these famous composers were in River Falls, Conrad always organized dinners and/or cocktails at his home for each one, so that students could mingle and talk with the composers in a less formal atmosphere. When composer John Cage was in River Falls, Conrad took him mushroom hunting along the Kinnickinnic River. These concerts, preparations, and discussions were important learning experiences for students.
Conrad's New Music Ensemble, and also members of the Music Faculty, performed many avant-garde works over the years, and UW-RF made national news on several occasions. One of the works called for the physical destruction of a piano. And so an old piano was found, painted according to the score's instructions, taken out to the amphitheater, and in full view of television cameras from the Twin Cities. RF students and faculty took sledgehammers to cut the strings and burned the piano. It made the national evening news. At another concert, Mr. DeJong, who was a brass player and always well dressed, walked out on to a stage with a grand piano. He sat down on the bench, adjusted it, then reached inside the piano and took out a pair of earmuffs and put them on. He then poised his fingers over the keys and held them there for 4 minutes and 30 seconds of silence. All the audience could hear were the pipes in North Hall clanking, people talking in the hallways outside, a little shuffling of feet, the muffled sound of traffic on Cascade Avenue outside, etc. After the "performance", Mr. DeJong took the earmuffs off, put them back inside the piano, bowed to the audience, and exited.
On another evening, Mr. DeJong and Mr. Samarotto (clarinet instructor) wheeled a large kettle drum out to the front of the North Hall stage for a piece by Donald Erb, entitled Souvenirs. The stage was fairly high and so the audience could not see the top of the drum. When it had been put carefully in place, and brakes applied, the two men stood quietly beside the drum. They then reached down and took handfuls of brightly colored Ping-Pong balls out of the drum and threw them at members of the audience. Not to be outdone, the audience caught the balls and threw them back, and a grand Battle of the Ping Pong Balls ensued. Again the media in the Twin Cities were fascinated: what was going on in that school in Wisconsin that was not taking place in the Twin Cities? And of course all the campus talked of the concert for days.
Whenever Conrad took his New Music Ensemble to perform at the Walker Art Center or other sites in the Cities, he would always take the students to interesting ethnic restaurants afterwards. The Sri Lankan Cafe in Uptown and the Ethiopian Restaurant in the Cedar-Riverside area were new and rich experiences for the students.
Conrad also seemed particularly sensitive and adept at recognizing new composers and new small performing groups, such as the Kronos Quartet, before they became widely known and popular. They were invited to perform on the River Falls campus before almost anyone else was aware of them.
In 1990, Conrad retired from the university, and he and his wife Susan moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they are closely involved with the varied and rich music scene. They both continue to perform, Susan on the flute, and Conrad continues to compose. They are both avid and skilled tennis players and have consistently won tournaments in their age category year after year. They have taken the opportunity of retirement to travel extensively around the world. Susan is also an expert art dealer in Navajo blankets.
Conrad has two daughters and six grandchildren from his marriage with Carolyn Britton.