Sophomore Karin Dye is Principal Viola of the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra, a member of the Gustavus Ringers, violist for the Corda String Quartet, and fiddler in a bluegrass band on campus called Vintage Prairie Dirt. Dye’s passion for music led her to pursue an independent study opportunity this past January in the Dominican Republic, which turned out to be more rewarding than she could have imagined.
Dye’s mother is a physical therapist who has been traveling to the Dominican Republic regularly to practice therapy at a group home for disabled orphans in Palmar Arriba. With that connection, Dye traveled to Santiago and worked out of the office for the Latin American Regional World Mission. She taught music at three church affiliated schools in Palmar Arriba, Pueblo Nuevo, and Licey, where music programs were nearly non-existent.
“I have been interested in exploring other cultures and traveling to new countries for as long as I can remember, so I was very excited for the opportunity to teach abroad,” Dye said. “I believe music education should be accessible for everyone, no matter where you live or how much you make.”
Dye typically spent mornings writing lesson plans and preparing materials for her students. She would then travel to the three different schools in the afternoon and then act as a church music director in the evenings. She taught basic music theory, guitar, and piano to students ages 8-15, as well as a few adults.
“The hope of these lessons was that students would eventually be able to play in worship and help lead their congregation in liturgy and hymns,” Dye said. “I encouraged my students to become more and more active as musicians as they became more proficient on their instruments. I also wrote a curriculum for the mission team to follow so students could continue to learn while I’m back here at Gustavus for spring semester.”
While students benefitted from Dye’s tutelage, Dye herself reaped the benefits of immersing herself in a different culture for an entire month.
“I taught my students in Spanish, attended office meetings completely in Spanish, and was frequently in social settings where only Spanish was spoken. This immersion was great for my language skills and made me such a better speaker,” Dye said. “This opportunity also bettered me as a future music educator by giving me a more global teaching perspective and a more comprehensive understanding of the importance and role of music in other parts of the world.”
Dr. Ruth Lin, who serves as an assistant professor in the Music Department at Gustavus and also directs the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra, advised Dye during her independent study experience.
“Dr. Lin has been a fantastic mentor during my time at Gustavus. She is constantly pushing me to be a better musician and music educator,” Dye said. “She was instrumental in the success of this project during J-Term and supported me the entire way, asking me thought provoking questions and helping me realize when important life and career lessons were presenting themselves.”
Dye enjoyed her experience in the Dominican Republic to such a degree, that she plans to return there this summer to pick up where she left off. During a nine-week stay, she will be designing a music curriculum and summer music program schedule at the Pueblo Nuevo and Palmar Arriba locations. She will continue to teach basic music theory, guitar, and piano while also leading a small church choir.
“I plan to work with the students and teach them to be self-sufficient musicians. It’s very important to me that this is a sustainable endeavor,” Dye said. “I plan to work with the strongest students on teaching methods. I cannot remain in the Dominican Republic for extended periods of time since I’m still a college student, but I can hopefully teach people how to teach music.”
Teaching music would seem to be an inevitable part of Dye’s future career plans—something Gustavus music professor Justin Knoepfel has helped Dye sort through.
“Dr. Knoepfel has really helped me to think about my career trajectory in a very “make your life count” way. He’s helped me to realize what I feel I am called to do and where I see myself in the future,” Dye said. “I am very interested in further exploring the power of music as a community builder and working to develop music education programs where none exist. In times of economic crisis, the arts are often the first thing to be cut from the budget, and I see a future in advocating for their preservation.”