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Year In Review

Here you will find our 2018-2019 Annual Report, reflecting on yet another “Year of Giving.” This year, we have chosen to walk down memory lane and recount all of the significant events of the 2018-2019 academic and fiscal year and beyond. As you peruse these memories, know that all of them were made possible by the generous and enthusiastic spirit of the VanderCook family.

Bachelor of Music Education Commencement

May 10, 2019

When Charles “Chip” Staley stepped up to the podium to accept his Doctorate of Music Education Honoris Causa, he offered the audience—filled with graduates, students and their families—three affirmations. Teaching music inspires us all, enriches our lives, and connects us to who we are.

At VanderCook College of Music, alongside the pursuit of music education exists the pursuit of actualization in oneself and in others. Our students have been inspired by music educators, and will go on to inspire future musicians and music educators.

Chip Staley is intimately acquainted with VanderCook’s mission. Besides being a regular instructor of its graduate courses, Staley is the president and founder of ARTSpeaks. ARTSpeaks is primarily concerned with raising awareness of the integral role that the arts play in comprehensive education programs. His belief in what music can do for the human spirit aligns with VanderCook’s beliefs, making his awarding of the honorary doctorate both suitable and well-deserved.

The 2019 Bachelor of Music Education Commencement ceremony celebrated the graduation and accomplishments of 17 exceptional future music educators. Every year, the ceremony is a reminder of the dedication that exists in the VanderCook student body to succeed and to pass on the gift of music education to future students.

Masters of Music Education Commencement

July 27, 2019

“All children deserve some amount of music education, to introduce them to something they will carry inside themselves forever,” Honorary Doctorate recipient Richard W. Colburn said during his speech at VanderCook’s Master of Music Education Commencement Ceremony on July 27, 2019.

Colburn himself is living proof. His early years in Chicago’s North Shore were spent during an era when public schools routinely offered music education at all levels, allowing him to study cello for several years. This early exposure to music grew into a lifelong passion for music and a strong belief in music education for everyone.

Today, Colburn regularly supports organizations that provide music education to the highest standards of excellence by serving as a Board Member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago and as overseer of the Negaunee Foundation. He owes his passion for contributing to arts organizations to his early exposure to music education and what it did for him.

The Master of Music Education commencement ceremony celebrates the efforts of music teachers who seek to further improve their abilities so that they can best serve their students. These music teachers recognize their potential impact on the future and take the responsibility on with pride.

New Faces

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Director of Bands: Alexander Kaminsky

Alexander Kaminsky does not miss a beat. Prior to joining VanderCook as its new Director of Bands, he enjoyed an illustrious career in high school band directing, most recently at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Bands under his baton have performed at the Midwest Clinic and countless other conferences and conventions, resulting in many accolades for both the bands and the director.

He didn’t slow down once he got to VanderCook. Since joining the College in Fall of 2019, he has been engulfed in a whirlwind of outreach and recruitment activities. Over 30 different high schools have sought him out for clinics, competitions and workshops. At the end of every event, he provides prospective students a way to connect with VanderCook, and with his total engagements for the upcoming year topping out at almost 80 events, Kaminsky has become one of the most sought after conductors/clinicians in the country.

Like all of us, Kaminsky has high hopes for VanderCook’s future. “It is my firm belief that personally connecting with and building relationships with secondary music education teachers and students locally, statewide and nationally, is key to not only raising awareness about VanderCook College of Music, but to developing a pipeline of students from a broad range of schools as students and their teachers learn about the excellent and unique preparation that future music educators can embark upon by enrolling at VanderCook,” Kaminsky wrote in his vision statement addressed to VanderCook’s Board of Trustees. “My vision is to have a waiting list of outstanding potential music educators desiring to enroll as students at VanderCook College of Music.”

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Director of String Education: Dr. John-Rine Zabanal

In the Strings department of VanderCook is another new face, also hailing from Florida. Dr. John-Rine Zabanal has joined the college as its new Director of String Music Education, bringing with him a combination of research and teaching experience.

Dr. Zabanal’s work with the VanderCook’s Philharmonic Orchestra is marked by the uniqueness of the ensemble, in that it is composed of both string majors and students who have never performed in an orchestra before. For some, this may present a formidable challenge, but Dr. Zabanal took all of it in stride by “getting to know the culture of the group” while also introducing them to the specifics of performing in an orchestra. “When leading an ensemble, I try to invite its members to join me and make music, rather than telling them to do so,” Dr. Zabanal said.

Besides teaching, Dr. Zabanal has been busy visiting schools to recruit prospective students, speaking at conferences on various topics, and adding yet another article publication to his name in the American String Teacher and the Florida Music Director. He’s also been getting to know his students on a human level, as many of them come to him to ask for his perspectives on teaching, music making, and life in general, solidifying him as part of the VanderCook family.

New Staff

Starting in 2018, VanderCook’s staff has also seen some new faces in various departments.

Shunita Rhodes, Controller

Alejandro Mendez, Accountant


Malu Navarrete, Outreach Assistant

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Sarah Peng, President's Assistant

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Samuel Graham Jr., Financial Aid Assistant


Alexis Coates, Receptionist


Melodi Grant, Receptionist

Concert Performances

Music Moves Minds: A Yang + Olivia Benefit Concert for VanderCook College of Music

September 29, 2019

Yang + Olivia is a world-class musical duo that combines the sounds of the violin and the piano to produce a great harmony. Yang Liu, violin, and Dr. I-Hsuan Tsai, piano, are a married couple, and both serve as faculty members at VanderCook. They work one-on-one with VanderCook students, offering their talents in an instructional environment as well in a performance context. They have performed together across the United States and internationally, with the intention of showing audiences everywhere the thematic presence of love and romance in music.

On September 29, 2019, Yang + Olivia took the stage in Hermann Hall to perform once again, but this time for a cause: to benefit VanderCook College of Music’s capital campaign. Named “Music Moves Minds” as a nod to music’s incredible capacity to invigorate the spirit and revitalize the mind, the event was a spectacular success, with just over $100,000 raised for the capital campaign. Music Moves Minds was a collective effort between the VanderCook Board of Trustees, its faculty, staff and students, as well as members throughout the local community, and was a true act of love—for music.

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Prism Concert

September 15, 2019

VanderCook College’s annual Prism Concert holds three purposes: to breathe life into a new fall concert season, to recognize our students’ mentors, and to honor those individuals who have given so generously to the Great Teacher’s Scholarship Fund. Financial aid is an essential for a large majority of VanderCook students, and each year this need is met by the many donors who contribute to its scholarship funds. The Prism Concert gives VanderCook students a chance to acknowledge the people who help make their dream possible.

At the Prism Concert, VanderCook’s various legacy and name scholarships are awarded to students who have shown both merit and need. These scholarships are maintained solely through donor contributions and allow our students to overcome their financial burdens. Anyone can contribute to these scholarships, and anyone can establish a scholarship in their own name. To learn more about the scholarships awarded at the Prism Concert, click here.

Left: current junior and viola major Patricia Urbaniak accepting her financial aid award from former teacher and mentor, Chris Kuzmanoff.

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George Quinlan Sr. and Yamaha Concert Series

2018-2019 Yamaha Performing Artists: Mads Tolling, Rex Richardson, Mimi Stillman

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The George Quinlan, Sr. and Yamaha Concert Series was created to recognize the significant impact both Quinlan & Fabish and Yamaha have made on VanderCook. One ongoing way that both contribute are concerts featuring Yamaha Performing Artists, who come to the school to both perform and teach the students at VanderCook.

During the 2018-2019 school year, we had three outstanding Yamaha Performing Artist come to perform in concert with VanderCook students: violinist Mads Tolling, trumpeter Rex Richardson, and most recently, flutist Mimi Stillman.

All three of them have spent their lives studying and performing music. The opportunity to study music at a young age became the catalyst in their lives for their career paths and lifelong passions. They have performed with world-famous ensembles across the globe, taught countless students in classes and clinics, and even won Grammys for their work.

The Yamaha/George Quinlan Sr. Concert Series is more than a concert series. Every time a Yamaha Performing Artist visits VanderCook, they work directly with students in their seminar course, master classes, and occasionally private lessons.

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As virtuosos of their art, they leave an indelible mark on the VanderCook students they work with and the audience they perform for.

To learn more about the 2018-2019 Yamaha Performing Artists:


Outreach Day of Percussion

Outreach activities are integral to building the VanderCook community and allowing it to reach far beyond its base in Chicago. During events like Day of Percussion, Day of Guitar, and Middle Level Honor Fest, hundreds of students of all grade levels travel to VanderCook’s campus for a unique music education experience.

These events spread the word about VanderCook and foster recruiting opportunities for our Admissions Office. Students get to explore and make use of our educational and performance spaces, work with our exceptional musical faculty, and meet current VanderCook students. Our hope is that budding music educators will walk through VanderCook’s doors and realize their dream is to teach music—and that VanderCook can help them to achieve that dream.

To learn more about VanderCook’s outreach program and events, click here!

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Dean Stacey Dolan directing band at the 2019 ILMEA District 1 EGM Festival

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Students learning guitar techniques at the 2019 Day of Guitar

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Students performing in Symphonic Band at the Middle Level Honor Fest

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Junior Andres Cervantes teaching violin at Toot ‘N’ Doodle

One City

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Every Saturday, VanderCook’s One City program is in full swing, literally!

When children have access to quality music instruction, the positive impact can be life-changing. The One City program gives 5th through 8th graders from local schools and neighborhoods this access in the form of outstanding jazz music education taught by VanderCook faculty and students.

Students are also provided high quality musical instruments in the jazz family, including saxophone, trumpet, trombone, percussion (drums), bass and piano. The program runs for 10-15 weeks each fall and spring. Any student who completes the program through 8th grade will keep and own the instrument to play in high school and beyond.

Led by VanderCook professors Dr. Leah Schuman and Tony Kidonakis, the One City program runs year-round, and students have the opportunity to perform several times a year at fall, spring and winter concerts. They also have the opportunity to perform alongside VanderCook students and well-known ensembles, such as the Chicago Blues All Stars, who played at the 2019 Sounds of Bronzeville One City fundraiser.

To learn more about VanderCook’s outreach program and events, click here!

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Student Accomplishments

Every year, the Lincoln Academy of Illinois awards college seniors who have demonstrated outstanding civic duty and community engagement the Abraham Lincoln Civic Engagement Award, bestowed by the Governor of Illinois. These seniors become Student Laureates, recognized for their leadership and pursuit for the betterment of humanity.

In both 2018 and 2019, VanderCook seniors were awarded the Student Laureate Award. Both of these students have not only proven to be impressive leaders, but creative and compassionate music educators. These Student Laureates are representative of the student body they come from and of the values VanderCook strives to nurture in its candidates.

Student Laureate 2018

VanderCook BMEd ‘18 graduate Alivia Jakubowski with Dean Stacey Dolan

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VanderCook BMEd senior Rachel Nesti with Dr. Robert Sinclair

A New School Year

Dr. Robert Sinclair, Graduate Dean and Director of Choral Studies, conducting a class full of new students at the start of the Fall 2019 semester.

Although VanderCook offers courses year-round, the fall semester is special in that it represents a fresh start. VanderCook quite literally turns a new leaf, with its recent graduates from the summer in the first stages of their professional career, while new students join the ranks, eager to begin their path to becoming an excellent music educator. Fall 2019 was no exception, with the VanderCook family growing with the addition of 30 new students, two new integral faculty members, and several new staff members.

With each new term, our buildings become filled with life yet again. The choir rehearses in Room 130, percussionists drum up something new in the Percussion Studio, and seminars and recitals are held in Q120. Practice rooms are occupied with students mastering a broad range of instruments and vocal techniques.

2020 has shown us that VanderCook is a resilient institution, even when a pandemic ushers us into our homes and separates us. However, it has also shown us how important it is that we can gather in our classrooms and our performance spaces in order to share knowledge and the wonder of music. In order to do this, we must maintain our operating costs and our scholarship funds so that we can focus on providing the best possible education to our students. In order to keep turning a new leaf and maintain the competitiveness of our programs, we continue to rely on the support of our community.

During the 2018-2019 fiscal year, you have shown VanderCook incredible generosity. We thank you with the deepest gratitude, and hope that you continue to contribute to our cause.

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3140 South Federal Street
Chicago, IL 60616-3731
(312) 225-6288

The mission of VanderCook College of Music is to enrich the lives of present and future generations by developing uniquely skilled music teachers who exhibit strong character, professionalism, and a commitment to excellence.

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