Love of the Arts: Augustana Alumnus Reflects on College Experiences, Lessons to Help Guide Next Generation of Music Educators

Written by Augustana Student Noah Wicks '21

One of Dr. Greg Handel’s most cherished memories at Augustana University is simple. 

The 1991 alumnus was onstage in the university’s former Kresge Recital Hall, when he suddenly realized how much he enjoyed being there. 

“I distinctly remember sitting on that stage during a brass choir concert thinking this is part of why I chose Augustana — this experience, these musicians and the integrity of this ensemble,” Handel said. “I’m afforded these opportunities and I get to be sitting on stage in this beautiful hall and these are experiences that not every college student in music gets to have.” 

As provost and vice president of academic affairs at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, Handel is helping equip another generation of music educators — giving students opportunities like his own. 

“I think what I’m most proud of is showing them what dedication to being a music educator and being a professional is,” he said. “Just the influence you have on other people’s lives; having the opportunity to engage in dialogue with future music educators on a daily basis, and to really examine the issues facing the profession, as well as the things that remain constant gives me continued hope for our global future.” 

Handel goes about his work with professional demeanor and high expectations and standards, but his energetic, friendly and accepting personality shines through.  

Handel’s passion for music started at a young age. His mother was a church organist at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Freeman, South Dakota, which he jokingly calls “The Musical Capital of the World.” 

“It just had more than its fair share of really excellent musicians and not just people who use music as an avocation, but as a vocation and had music degrees,” he said. 

At the age of five, he started taking piano lessons at Yankton College, and after the college closed in 1984, he started taking lessons at Augustana with Professor of Music Dr. Mary Helen Schmidt. When he was in fifth grade, Handel also started taking private trumpet lessons with Augustana’s Dr. Harry “Doc” Krueger. 

Even when he started taking piano lessons, Handel’s parents made it clear to him that he would be expected to practice every day, whether he wanted to or not, and that he would be dedicated to his choices. Looking back, he sees that as a big influence on who he has become.  

“That philosophy, being raised as I was, made me who I am,” he said. 

Handel gained familiarity with Augustana through his music lessons and when it was time for him to choose a college, he knew it was the right place.  

“There was something about Augie and the people and the integrity and quality of the programs that I knew I wanted to be part of,” he said. “So I knew really early on that I wanted to go to Augie.” 

Handel says that Krueger and Drs. Leland Lillehaug and Bruce Ammann were three of his biggest influences while he was studying at the college, but he was influenced by many other professors like Drs. Murray Haar and Sandra Looney. He appreciated Augustana’s emphasis on the liberal arts and expansive core curriculum because it helped give him a balanced and well-rounded education. 

“Just being in classes, especially that Augustana core, just challenged me and pushed me in ways I didn't even know were possible. I say once your mind is stretched, it never goes back. It only keeps expanding.” 

Handel has been trying to incorporate some of the lessons he’s learned into his teaching. This year has been especially difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic has placed limits on in-person musical events and instruction. The pivot to online teaching forced him to be more creative in his approach to music and the classroom. 

“We'll weather the storm,” Handel said. “I think everything is going to look a lot different when we're really back at it and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I predict that once we are able to be back in each other's presence and going to concerts again, we'll have a renewed energy and appreciation for live music. However, it has also shined an additional light on the importance of the music industry in keeping musicians connected and providing virtual performances for people. Augustana’s new recording studio and degree in multimedia entrepreneurship is an impressive commitment and responsiveness to the rapidly changing world.” 

Questions: Contact Joel Gackle, senior director of alumni engagement.

Media Inquiries: Contact Jill Wilson, public relations and communications strategist.