As an undergraduate music student at Northwestern, Thomas Kasdorf (56) benefited from a Theodore Presser Foundation scholarship. Now a retired choral conductor and educator, Kasdorf is grateful to be able to provide that kind of assistance to students pursuing careers in choral conducting today.

Beginning this fall, the recently established Thomas Kasdorf Scholarship in Choral Music will support two Bienen School choral conducting graduate students—one master of music student and one doctor of musical arts student. Through the scholarship, developing conductors can pursue their two years of coursework with Donald Nally, John W. Beattie Chair of Music and the school’s director of choral organizations.

“The opportunity for tomorrow’s choral educators to be able to study with Donald Nally is very special,” says Kasdorf, “and I want to help these young musicians gain as much knowledge and experience with him as I did with the choral conducting faculty when I was a Northwestern student.”

Initially a piano performance major, Kasdorf graduated from Northwestern with a major in choral music education and went on to earn a master’s degree in choral conducting at Indiana University. He was involved with the choral program at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, from its inception in the early 1960s until 1986, when he retired as choir director. Kasdorf also taught at Western Michigan University, directed several community choirs, and from 1967 to 2014 was director of music at Kalamazoo’s First Presbyterian Church.

Nally says he is thrilled and grateful for Kasdorf’s generosity, which will allow the most gifted and promising choral musicians to be able to choose the Bienen School of Music. “We already have the most creative and motivated conductors applying to our elite graduate program, and we wanted to eliminate the difficult choice that accepted candidates often face when considering the cost of a Northwestern education,” says Nally. “With this gift, Tom Kasdorf makes it possible for those students to attend the school of their choice—Bienen—without incurring a great financial burden. In doing so, Kasdorf is helping to shape the future of choral music.”

Kasdorf Scholars are chosen based on a number of factors, including musical talent, creative thinking, entrepreneurial qualities, leadership potential, and future trajectory for success. The Bienen School’s unique choral program provides ample opportunities for these talented scholars to flourish.

“What distinguishes our program is creative thinking—asking questions about how we present concerts, how to program, and various styles of ensemble singing,” says Nally. “For this scholarship, we are looking for students at the master’s and doctoral levels who demonstrate a unique or creative seed as well as a drive to achieve both the technique and the artistic breadth to make a difference.”

Doctoral student Matthew Cramer and master’s student Andrew Major were named the inaugural Thomas Kasdorf Scholars in Choral Music.

Cramer received his master’s degree in conducting from the Yale School of Music, studying under Marguerite Brooks and David Hill. At Yale he served as the assistant conductor for the Camerata and sang in the Yale Schola Cantorum. In 2016 he was selected for the Yale Summer School’s annual conducting course in Norfolk, Connecticut, where he studied with Simon Carrington. Cramer’s passion for choral music and specifically its potential for effecting social change is demonstrated in his leadership role with Solidarity Sing-In, a musical event he organized that encourages support for marginalized US populations. Last year he served as the director for the Yale Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel Choir.

Major holds a bachelor of arts in music and a bachelor of science in cell biology and neuroscience from Montana State University, where he studied conducting with Kirk Aamot. As a freshman he founded the Aoide Chamber Singers, a select choral group that has since become a for-credit ensemble and the university’s premier chamber choir. He has been a conducting fellow at both the Westminster Choir College Choral Institute and, as a student of Donald Nally, Montana’s Big Sky Choral Initiative. Major received the 2016 Montana State University Award for Excellence. 

“I look forward with great interest to following the progress and careers of these fine young conductors,” says Kasdorf.

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