Meet Dr. Edward Jurkowski, new Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Music
The first alumnus to serve as dean of the Desautels Faculty of Music shares stories about his time as a student and his hopes for the future
On January 1, 2019, Dr. Edward Jurkowski officially took the podium as Dean of the University of Manitoba’s Desautels Faculty of Music. As the first alumnus to oversee the Faculty, he is thrilled to return to his hometown and alma mater to help elevate the Faculty that shaped his own career. We asked him about his time as a student at the University of Manitoba, and his hopes for the future of the Desautels Faculty of Music.
Where in Winnipeg did you grow up, and what is your most salient memory of the area?
I was raised in Transcona. It is a part of the city that still has this tight-knit community spirit that I find lovely; it’s one that gave a strong sense of belonging.
When did you first know you wanted to study music?
I knew, beginning in my teenage years, that I wanted to be a part of the music around me. I was not brought up with classical music; rather, as so many other children of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants in Winnipeg, my first musical instrument was the accordion. The instrument was an important part of my upbringing, and along with traditional folk music, my studies and various performance experiences introduced me to the popular music from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s—music that I still love to this day.
When I was around fifteen, my family inherited an upright piano, and I immediately begin to practice the instrument. I vividly remember spending hours practicing exercises and pieces for just my left hand, to bring my technical level up to my right hand. However, along with the piano came a number of piano scores and at the same time I discovered the world of Classical music. The first pieces I learned were some waltzes and preludes by Chopin and have never looked back.
What degree did you ultimately earn?
My first degree at the University of Manitoba was in zoology. After graduation, I worked for a couple of years in an area of radiology called Nuclear Medicine. All the while, though, I continued to study music—private piano lessons, analytical studies on a wide range of music, and pouring over various history studies and composer biographies. I also began collecting recordings—a passion that I have continued to this day. By the way, I remain a science geek, and still read a lot about various topics. A couple of years later I decided to return to university, and completed my Bachelor’s degree in composition, with secondary studies in piano. (I also completed a minor in French.)
Following my degree in music, I was accepted at the Eastman School of Music, where I completed both my Master’s and Ph.D. in Music Theory. I returned to Canada in 1996 and have been at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta until last December. At the U of L, I undertook a variety of administrative positions, from chair of the Music Department, through to the Associate Dean and, for the last five years, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts.
Did you have any mentors at U of M?
I had a great experience at the University of Manitoba, and felt every professor had so much to offer. I would say, though, that two stand out above them all: Charles Horton and Michael Matthews. They are both remarkable pedagogues in their own way. Upon reflection over time, I have come to realize that their greatest strengths were to generate a genuine love and passion, but also how to think critically about so many aspects of music, whether it is simple two-part keyboard piece to a complex large-scale orchestral work. Their approaches to teaching have greatly influenced not just how I think and listen to music, but profoundly influenced how I approach my own teaching.
What are some of your favourite moments from your undergraduate years?
I have fond memories of my composition seminar and advanced analysis classes, where my colleagues and I actively engaged in deep analytical and philosophical conversations about the pieces we were writing—but more importantly, about the new pieces and composers to whom we were constantly introduced. It was a very stimulating experience.
What was your first thought when you found out you had been selected as the new Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Music?
I was very excited to be returning to my alma mater—not just to return home, but to work with colleagues who I have greatly admired and have held in great esteem for many years. I believe this faculty has one of the strongest programs in Canada and it is a thrill to be working with this talented and dedicated group of faculty and staff for the coming years.
When you returned to the University of Manitoba as Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Music, was there anything that really surprised you about the way things had changed or stayed the same?
Things have changed dramatically since my undergraduate days. As you know, two years ago the Faculty transitioned from the old music building to its current home in the Taché complex. Even though the buildings are less than a block away from each other, the difference could not be more profound: along with this move to our beautiful new facilities, we now have a full-time resident faculty of 32 outstanding and internationally recognized performers, composers, scholars, and researchers who are dedicated to our diverse body of 300 students, whether that teaching occurs in private lessons, masterclasses, large or small ensembles, or in the classroom.
At the same time, it is a cornerstone of our program that our faculty and staff provide the individual care and attention for each individual student and are committed to sustaining a safe and nurturing environment for all. It is something I certainly experienced as a student and am proud to witness it daily with our students.
What are some of your goals for the next few years?
I am a big believer in community and want to look for ways to deepen the faculty’s relationships with the local community and beyond. I am also a big proponent of interdisciplinarity, and want to pursue such opportunities for our music students—whether with collaborative work with visual or theatre artists, or curricular opportunities with such disciplines as sociology, business, science, or health.