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ISSUE 119 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/12/2006

Polley bids group adieu

By Clare Kennedy
Arts Editor

Friday, May 12, 2006

Monday night the St. Olaf Philharmonia bid farewell to conductor Jo Ann Polley, leader of the organization since 1994, with a lavish concert in Skoglund Center.

The concert comes on the heels of two visits to towns north of the Twin Cities. Philharmonia played a high school auditorium in Morris on Saturday before heading over to Family of Christ Church in Ham Lake on Sunday.

The mini-tours are among many of Polley's innovations as leader of Philharmonia. Since she took the helm 12 years ago, the group, which began in 1975 as the St. Olaf Chamber Orchestra, has doubled in size.

At the time, the group was in disarray after Polley's predecessor quit suddenly for personal reasons. Since then, the group’s musical caliber, cohesiveness and popularity have increased.

“I challenged them to play better, I tried to inspire them, and they have responded very well,” Polley said.

Polley’s history with the St. Olaf music department began her freshman year in 1969. Initially, she came to St. Olaf to become a pharmacist. However, by the end of her first year her interest in music blossomed into a passion.

After graduating from St. Olaf with a B.A. in Instrumental Music Education, Polley went on to earn an M.M. in Clarinet Performance from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in Clarinet Performance, Music Theory, and Music Literature from Michigan State University. After years of teaching in public schools and state universities, Polley was invited back to St. Olaf as an instructor, fulfilling a premonition she had long before as an undergraduate student.

“Junior year I was standing in the hall of Boe Chapel and something told me I would come back here someday. Of course I never dreamed I would be a full professor, I thought maybe I would be an admissions counselor or something,” Polley said.

Sadly, her time here is quickly coming to a close. Polley's primary reason for retirement is her health, which she says has become overtaxed by her hectic schedule of teaching and conducting.

Though J. Robert Hanson, a trumpet instructor, will take the group for a year, the future of the group remains uncertain.

“I plan to keep performing, but mostly I plan to take better care of myself and catch up on exercise I haven't had time for,” Polley said. “It’s not that I don’t love teaching, I just don’t want to die with my boots on, so to speak.”

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