The Augsburg Podcast

The Augsburg Podcast

Reinaldo Moya: Composing the Future

May 23, 2018

Reinaldo Moya: I know how powerful it is for our students to be able to see someone that looks like them and talks like them, doing things that they might not think that they can do.

Paul Pribbenow: I'm Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg University. Augsburg educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. It's my great privilege to present the Augsburg Podcast, one way you can meet some of the faculty and staff I'm honored to work with every day.

Reinaldo Moya: My name is Reinaldo Moya, I am assistant professor of composition and theory here at Augsburg University. If I had not picked up the violin at the age of four, I would not be sitting here as a college professor, the first person in my family to have a college degree and the first person in my extended family to have any kind of, um, advanced degree. So I grew up in Venezuela as part of a wonderful project of music education there that sought to create social change through music, what was then the Venezuelan's Children's Orchestra, that was started in the year 1995. So I was a founding member of that orchestra, and that orchestra continued to grow and become, became a kind of, um, emblem for the whole system of music education. And as part of that orchestra I traveled to a bunch of different countries. I went to Europe, I went to Mexico, Chile, we played at the Kennedy Center, we played at the United Nations.

I did all of that before I was 14 years old. In that orchestra, when you sat at the stand with someone, you didn't know if, where they were from, you didn't know if they were rich or poor. You just, you're making the music, you're playing, and you're putting your effort towards the, the beauty and force of, of the whole. So you're there to contribute your part to the, a bigger thing that yourself. And that was a message that has always just stayed with me throughout my time as a person, and continues to inform everything I do here.

In terms of my formal college education, I have my undergraduate degree from West Virginia University, and then I have my masters and my doctorate degree from the Julliard School at New York.

Nobody told us, at age 14, that we should not be playing the repertoire that we were playing. Was it amazing? I don't know, but we did it, and just the, that challenge of climbing that mountain, of doing it because you don't know any better, nobody tells you that you're not supposed to be able to do it. That is something that has always stuck with me, right, that, this idea that in order for our students to realize their potential, you have to let them soar. And one of the things I have noticed here, with some of our students, is that unfortunately sometimes they've been told by different people around their lives that they can't do something. And one of the most rewarding things of my time here has been to help them quiet those voices and just subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, tell them that yes, you can do this.

When I started my work here at Augsburg, I started to sense that there was a little bit of, of, of feeling that the students, through the bumps and turns of life, had internalized, in some ways, that they were less than. Even if they would never come out and say that, but it was clear that from their performance, from their, the things that they said and from their attitude in class, that it was clear that somewhere along the line had, someone had stopped them and told them "Hey, you're not good enough for this."

And, and I wanted to fight against that. Because what I see in our students is I see a tremendous amount of untapped potential. I see students who, who want to engage with music at a deep level, but haven't had access to the same kinds of experiences that I might have had. But they have that desire to engage at that level, they will have that desire to, to reach for things beyond what they can do. And I wanted to, in whatever way I could, in my own limited way in my classroom and my interactions with them, I wanted to, to empower them, to just give them the tools to be able to realize their potential, and to, to tell them "You can do this," even as I hand them back an assignment that they maybe get a grade that they don't like.

And it's only my second year, so I haven't had the, the luxury of, of watching a student develop over four years and then go out into the world and find their way. But even in just the year and a half I've been here, and just to see the development of certain students who come just living music in their way, and like just wanting to soak it in and to, to do so much with it, but maybe they haven't had those formative experiences, and they're coming at it from a perspective that, where they feel like their lack of technical ability and awareness is really holding them back. As we begin to feed them with, with some of those, mm, tools, then they start to, to take off and do all kinds of really wonderful and beautiful things.

And it's, I look forward to seeing those students continue to develop and, and seeing where they go, because I think that to find out that you can do something, that's not just a transformation in, on musical level, that's a human transformation. And that's what I experienced, and, and if I can go even a quarter of the way, a, a tenth of the way of the kind of transformative work that I went through, if I can give that to my students, I think, you know, I will be a happy person and I will sleep well at night.

I have been impressed by Augsburg's commitment to diversity, which is not, um, a surface commitment, it's, it's a real deep commitment, and I think that it's been present from the very beginning of the institution. And the more I learn about the history of Augsburg, that, the more I learn that it has continued to be an integral part of, of the Cedar Riverside community, which has traditionally been a, an immigrant community. So that was a, a powerful thing for me to, to witness coming from a place like St. Olaf, where as wonderful a, a school as it is, and as kind as those people were to me, I wasn't, I didn't feel like I was making the same kind of difference that I'm making here.

And so to be able to, to work with those students who remind me of who I was, and I think that's the other, the personal part of, of this whole thing, that I see myself in them. And I, and I actually talked to them a little bit about that the other day in class, and I said "It might seem to you that I just kind of woke up one day and I ended up a college professor, but I'm just here to tell you that that wasn't my story." But I think sometimes they feel like their struggles are theirs alone, and that, that we can't understand what they're going through. I said "Well, I can, 'cause I, I lived through a lot of that." And for better or for worse, I know that when I step in the classroom I'm not representing only myself. I'm also representing, um, other Latinx people who, and, and other people of color, and I was brought in to not just teach composition and teach theory and not just to teach composers who would go out and win orchestra commissions, but to rather infuse the music curriculum with creativity.

And then once I got here to Augsburg, I think one of the things that I've, I've really enjoyed is my work with David Myers. So he told me, I think on the very first meeting we had, I think we were having dinner, he said like "We don't want to create just another music department. The world has enough of those, we want to do something different here." That stayed with me. You know, he was just like "I trust you. We hired you because we wanted your expertise." While our students might not end up playing in the Minnesota Orchestra, that's not their goal and that should not be the goal of every music school. The goal of what we do here is to create students who can use music as a tool for social change, to help people. So I see that happening with our music therapy students, I see it happening with our music education students, and our, um, BA music students are also very deep into, into that thinking. It's not up to me to tell them what kind of music they should bring. It's been a liberating thing for me, like that, too.

So I have students who, I have a student coming up in a few minutes here, who likes to write music for his math rock band, and then I have someone who's writing a musical and I have someone who wants to do film music and I have someone who wants to do more traditional orchestra-type ensembles. And that's all fine. And that wouldn't be fine in some other places.

Paul Pribbenow: That was Reinaldo Moya, assistant professor of composition in the music department at Augsburg University. Thanks for listening to the Augsburg Podcast. I'm President Paul Pribbenow. For more information, please visit