From construction to conducting, Ben Kroeker is building the future
A lunchbreak calling led 2020 DFOM graduate Ben Kroeker to shift his career
NOTE: We in the Desautels Faculty of Music are incredibly proud of our students. While COVID-19 is sidelining in-person commencement ceremonies around the globe, we want to find alternate ways to celebrate our graduates and give them the recognition due to them. Until we can gather together to properly applaud the years of study and practice that have led to this milestone, please join us in congratulating our 2020 Desautels Faculty of Music graduates.
Today we celebrate Ben Kroeker!
Ben Kroeker has always been musical.
“I started taking piano lessons from my oldest brother when I was 4 years old, but I’ve been singing my entire life,” he says of his early foray into music.
When it came to planning for a career, though, Kroeker, who hails from Blumenort, Manitoba, was pulled in two different directions.
“After high school I struggled to balance my passions of music and the outdoors; I loved music but was unsure if I wanted to pursue a career in it,” he says.
Ultimately, Kroeker decided to pursue construction. However, fate intervened.
“About a year after graduating, while working as a construction worker, I sat down for a lunch break across the soccer field of my high school and felt a sudden and clear desire to become a high school music educator,” he says.
“I felt it as a calling, but maybe it was just my body longing to be out of the heat of a sweaty construction job,” he says of the moment.
“Nonetheless it’s worked out pretty well,” he adds.
We’ll say! Kroeker has now graduated from both the Desautels Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Education.*
*NOTE: Ben Kroeker graduated from the B.Mus./B.Ed Integrated program in June 2020, but we missed writing about him at that time! Our apologies to Ben!
In the faculty
When it came to choosing ensembles to perform with, Kroeker branched out, performing with the University Singers, the Cantata Singers, the University of Manitoba Concert Choir, and Opera Theatre, diversifying his education, and learning a great deal about the pedagogy used in each group.
“I’ve walked life as a team player, blessed to be surrounded by amazing teammates,” says Kroeker.
Faculty members who have had him as a student feel the same way.
“He is honestly one of our best choristers ever,” says Elroy Friesen, an associate professor in the Desautels Faculty of Music who directed Kroeker in the University Singers, Concert Choir (which Friesen co-directs with Catherine Robbins), and the Cantata Singers.
He might be a team player, but Kroeker also has the voice for the spotlight.
“He has the instrument to be a soloist,” says Tracy Dahl, a voice instructor who worked with Kroeker in masterclasses.
Kroeker has put his solo repertoire to good use in the DFOM, earning himself the distinction of runner-up in both the 2017 and 2018 Zita Bernstein Competition, the DFOM’s annual German Lieder competition.
“During his time at the Faculty, Ben distinguished himself as a singer and future music educator,” says Mel Braun, professor of music in the DFOM and Kroeker’s major practical study instructor, who also worked with him in Opera Theatre.
“Gifted with one of the most beautiful baritone voices in the province, as well as phenomenal musical skills, Ben will lead the way as a music educator in the years to come,” says Braun.
The praise doesn’t stop there, but Kroeker is humbly thankful for the guidance he has received along the way.
“Many faculty members have been valuable in my growth as a performer, educator, and as an individual, especially the vocal and choral faculty,” he says.
“Tracy Dahl taught me how to trill correctly in a masterclass, Monica Huisman sat by me and encouraged me through my first solo performance of Handel’s Messiah, Elroy Friesen and Catherine Robbins deepened my love of choral music and conducting, and Mel Braun gave me the confidence to sing to the best of my ability and share that gift with others in my classroom and studio. It doesn’t get much better than that!” Kroeker says of the faculty members who have helped to lift him up.
“Whether singing as a soloist with Canzona or leading his students in choral exploration, Ben’s talents and empathy will serve him well as he builds a dual future as professional singer and choral educator,” says Braun.
“One of the delights on Ben’s time at the Faculty was his ongoing collaboration with his pianist mother Heather, who studied with collaborative pianist Laura Loewen as part of her work with Ben,” he says of Kroeker’s genetically inherited gift.
“What a pleasure to have had Ben with us!” Braun adds.
“I am so excited to see Ben’s career unfold,” says Catherine Robbins, an assistant professor of music who co-directed Kroeker in Concert Choir.
“He came to the faculty with incredible natural musical gifts and his pedagogical and conducting skills blossomed in his time here. He has shone in his ensembles and choral pedagogy classes and I’m confident that he will make a mark in the choral world,” she says.
“From the moment Ben stepped into the University Singers in his first year, he was a leader,” says Friesen of Kroeker’s innate gifts.
“He is soft-spoken but articulate. He has brilliant musicianship skills and a desire to contribute to making the ensemble, the rehearsal, and the performance the best it can be,” adds Friesen.
“I was so impressed with the maturity and keenness that Ben exhibited at every turn. I could always rely on him 110%,” says Friesen.
“I want to share my congratulations on Ben’s graduation,” says Dahl.
“I enjoyed all the occasions when I had the opportunity to work with him,” she adds.
“I had the opportunity to watch him working with students in his placement for conducting and he is going to excel in his chosen profession. He is passionate about what he does, and I hope he will continue to pursue his solo work as well as share his passion for singing and conducting with choirs,” Dahl says.
In addition to his faculty mentors, Kroeker would like to offer the following acknowledgements:
“I know that this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family, the community I grew up in, the faculty who have guided and mentored me over these past years, and the steadfast support of my wife. To all of you, thank you!” he says.
Fortunately for all of us, and the future of music education in Manitoba, Kroeker is sharing his gift of music with others. Despite the uncertainty that COVID-19 has caused, a Manitoba school had the good sense and good luck to hire him!
“I have been hired by Northlands Parkway Collegiate in Winkler to teach High School choir, vocal jazz, and drama this year,” he says.
“Starting a job after many years of schooling is slightly terrifying, but I am very excited to begin my career as a music educator, confident in the skills I have attained in the Desautels Faculty of Music,” he says.
While he is undoubtedly offering a wealth of good advice to his new high school students this year, Kroeker also has some words of wisdom for students who are beginning their careers in the DFOM:
“Learn to speak your text before you sing it – I know it sucks, but it really helps!” he says.
“Also, take an occasional step back from the craziness of music school and appreciate the music being made around you – it’s something very special and unique to this time in life,” he says.
He might also have some matchmaking advice for students in the DFOM.
“I didn’t just get an amazing experience and a degree from the faculty of music, I also met a beautiful pianist who later became my wife!” he says of Allison Kroeker, the partner who has travelled the path with him.
How rare and wonderful that two talented and kind music educators found each other!
The eternally patient and gentle Allison Kroeker teaches both piano and the early childhood group classes in the Desautels Faculty of Music’s Department of Prep Studies, introducing young students to their first experiences with music.
Wherever the road takes him, we know that Ben Kroeker will be successful. His kindness, drive, talent, and love of teaching are an inspiration to all of us who have started our lives on one path, only to change course, and find true happiness and fulfillment in a new place.