Anoka Ramsey hits high note with music building grand opening

The grand opening of Anoka-Ramsey Community College’s newly renovated music building was celebrated in both words and music Monday.

The Anoka-Ramsey Community College student guitar ensemble directed by Sam Bergstrom, music faculty member, performed at the grand opening of the newly-renovated music building at the college Monday.
The Anoka-Ramsey Community College student guitar ensemble directed by Sam Bergstrom, music faculty member, performed at the grand opening of the newly-renovated music building at the college Monday.

Words were provided by guest speaker Osmo Vanska, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, and officials from the college and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), while music was performed by two college student groups – guitar ensemble and chamber singers – and music faculty members, the latter premiering a choral work by Melissa Bergstrom, college music department chairperson.

The renovation was the culmination of a two-phase construction project at the college funded by state bonding approved by the Minnesota Legislature.

The renovated building was at one time the college’s arts building that housed not only the music program, but also the visual arts, which included spaces for glassblowing, painting, photography and ceramics.

A new 28,976 square-foot visual arts building was built on the campus in the first phase of the project and opened in 2010.

The second phase of the project was to renovate the arts building to house just the college’s music program, which had seen a 198.1 percent increase in students between 2000 and 2010.

The $5.3 million project included not only the renovation of the 17,171 square-foot building, but also construction of a skyway linking it with the visual arts center.

The completed project provides a larger and updated choir/recital classroom, an updated band room, new student collaboration spaces and a new small ensemble room, according to Mary Jacobson, college director of marketing and public relations.

The updated choir/recital classroom has seating for 100 students, while the band room capacity is now 75 students, Jacobson said.

According to Sam Bergstrom, music department faculty member, the renovation doubles the space for the music program, which previously occupied the lower level of the former arts building before the move of the visual arts programs to their new facility.

In fact, the renovated building was ready when spring semester classes began Monday, the day of the grand opening, Bergstrom said.

“We love it,” he said. “It has turned out great and we are excited to be here.

“We have not had chance to test it out, but things are going well so far and we are very pleased.”

The grand opening ceremony took place in the new choir room to a standing room only crowd.

Dr. Jessie Stumpf, interim president of Anoka-Ramsey and Anoka Technical College, emceed the program, at which Deidra Peaslee, college vice president; Roger Freeman, college director of facilities; Cheryl Dickson, MnSCU trustee; Bergstrom; and Vanska spoke.

“This is an incredible, exciting day,” Stumpf said.

Stumpf was “ecstatic” by the completed project, she said.

It is a dream that has been 20 years in the making, Stumpf said.

She thanked not only staff and students for their support, but also MnSCU and local state legislators.

According to Peaslee, the grand opening of the renovated music building was a “momentous day” and significant of the importance of music and its role in society.

“You see unbridled joy in the students’ faces when they are performing and pride in the faculty,” Peaslee said.

Freeman traced the history of the project. The first designs for a music building were produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Freeman said.

“What a transformation,” he said. “The building looks like new.”

Dickson called Anoka-Ramsey a “jewel” in the MnSCU system and said the music building and the college’s programs would be a “beacon” for the whole northern tier in the Twin Cities.

Early last year, the music faculty and other ARCC staff applied for and received full accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Music for its associate in fine arts in music degree program.

Dickson said perhaps a baccalaureate music degree was in the future.

“I am so happy that you have got the space you deserve,” she said.

Vanska, a native of Finland, has been the Minnesota Orchestra’s music director and conductor since September 2003.

He spoke of his early days as a musician and how an LP record of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in a performance of Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 2” had piqued his interest in a music career.

“I had no other dreams in life,” Vanska said. “I have been a very lucky guy.”

At the age of 18 years he was named principal clarinetist with the Turku Philharmonic in Finland then 13 years later graduated from a conducting program and began a new career as a conductor, according to Vanksa.

He had arrived back in the Twin Cities late Sunday night after conducting the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in Amsterdam Saturday evening, Vanska said.

“Music is the essence of a human being,” he said. “Music can change our lives, usually for the better.”

Playing in a music ensemble requires lots of practice and the ability to listen to the other musicians, Vanska said.

“You need each other,” he said. “It’s not about me, me, me.”

“Music helps us become better citizens, better human beings.”

The better the quality of the music, the better the feelings, Vanska said.

“Music speak to the audience and makes the next morning easier,” he said.

For more information about the ARCC music program, visit

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]