Debra Kay Bakland
Debra Bakland, formerly Richter, is an associate professor of music and head of the piano program at Canadian University College, a position she has held since 2007. Prior to this appointment she was associate professor in piano at Walla Walla College, now University, and head of its preparatory division for 24 years. She is acclaimed throughout the Northwest and Canada for her teaching of students of all ages and for her work in developing an outstanding preparatory program at WWC.
Debra was born in Niles, Michigan, and raised in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, the oldest of three children of Thor C. and Alyce Jean Quimby Bakland. Her father was a native of Norway and a dentist who eventually taught at and served as Executive Associate Dean for the Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, and her mother was an elementary school teacher.
She started piano lessons at age eight, her primary teacher though her grade school and academy years being Sterling Gernet, piano teacher at Atlantic Union College. She graduated from South Lancaster Academy in 1969 and enrolled as a major in American Studies at Atlantic Union College. During this time she studied piano with Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse.
In 1971 she transferred to Andrews University, where she pursued a B.Mus. in keyboard performance with piano and harpsichord as her instruments, with Hans-Jørgen Holman as her primary keyboard teacher. While at AU she met and married Leonard Vrana Richter in 1972.
The Richters taught in Canada at Kingsway College from 1973 to 1975 and then moved to New York, where Debra taught in the church school at Patchogue while he pursued graduate work at the Manhattan School of Music. They enjoyed their time there and had a close relationship with the church’s young pastor, Ted Wilson, current General Conference President, and his wife, Nancy.
They moved to College Place in 1978 when Leonard was hired to teach at WWC and she was hired to teach in nearby Clara E. Rogers Elementary School. They would have a daughter, Kirsten, a year later. While Debra continued to teach at CERES, she also taught private piano lessons in her home, quickly gaining a reputation as a gifted teacher whose students made remarkable progress.
In 1983 she led out in establishing a preparatory division in piano at WWC. Bakland quickly became known for her skills in helping performers achieve superb performances of music by many composers, especially J.S. Bach and Mozart. This gift, coupled with her ability to motivate and guide students as they developed their own unique style, resulted in an incredible list of student achievements. The program rapidly evolved to not only provide instruction for young students but to also afford an opportunity for college piano students to learn to teach under the guidance of a master teacher.
From the start, students in the piano preparatory division garnered numerous medals in the annual Spokane Allied Arts Competition and others. Even so, Bakland wanted to provide an ultimate experience for the most gifted in her program and to involve more of the musical community.
Accordingly, in 1989 she presented the first in a series of Concerto Gala concerts that featured preparatory division students playing orchestra-accompanied works by J.S. Bach. Conductor Robert Bode of Whitman College conducted the first Gala Concerto orchestra which was comprised of musicians drawn from the community and the Walla Walla Symphony Orchestra.
The program was a huge success and additional gala concerts followed, including one given at the Washington State Music Teachers Association (WSMTA) convention in 1990. Three years later, the successes of Bakland’s students and those of assisting student teachers were nationally noted when the preparatory division celebrated its tenth anniversary by responding to an invitation to once again present a Concerto Gala Concert at the Spokane Opera House during the Music Teachers National Association national convention.
In 1997, a Concerto Gala concert titled "Bach to Poulenc," given as a prelude to the Walla Walla Symphony season, resulted in a thank-you donation of $3500 to the symphony for its part in the musical life of the community. The success of that event led to an invitation from conductor Yaacov Berman for her to plan a gala concert as part of the regular symphony season the following year. The concert, which featured students of the preparatory division as well as the college students of Kraig Scott, Bakland, and Richter, was a season highlight.
As Bakland's reputation grew, she became a sought-after adjudicator and presenter in workshops throughout five Western states and at Washington State Music Teachers Association events and conventions. The success of the Walla Walla College piano preparatory division under her leadership was considered so noteworthy that an article Bakland wrote about it was one of five selected for the 75th anniversary of the WSMTA Journal.
In 1987 she completed an M.A. in music at Washington State University. Primary teachers at WSU included Ruby Ronald, Loren Olsen, and Judith Schoepflin. Additional studies have included harpsichord with Peter Wolf at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, Phyllis Bensen in San Bernardino, California; Lanny Collins at Walla Walla College, and Harold Vogel in Germany. Additional piano studies were taken with Daryll Irvine at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, Seymour Bernstein in New York City, and Donald Walker at Northern Illinois University.
Her teaching skills led to her teaching piano majors at WWC. Several of these students consistently earned top honors in regional and state piano competitions, received high praise when they participated in master classes with some of the world's great pianists and pedagogues, and have gone on for further piano study at some of the country’s most prestigious institutions. She was invited to teach at nearby Whitman College from 1996-1998 and at Western Washington University in Bellingham on an interim basis during the 2000-2001 academic year, specifically invited to help build the piano and piano pedagogy program at WWU.
Bakland's sensitivity as an accompanist and performer led to a number of successful collaborations with Susan Pickett, Sonja Gourley, Lee Thompson, Jackie Wood and others, and to a role as a sought-after accompanist and performance coach for WWC music students. She soloed three times with the Walla Walla Symphony.
Particularly noteworthy is the work she did with violinist Susan Pickett of Whitman College and soprano Sonja Gourley, adjunct voice teacher at WWC, in the ensemble Donne e Doni, a trio that performed numerous recitals of a number of works by women composers. Their work was recognized in The Chronicle of Higher Education, featured on National Public Radio in a program that subsequently aired in Canada, Australia, and Russia, and in a segment for a Sunday edition of ABC’s television program Good Morning America. They released two CD’s, Donne e Doni, Volume I and Volume II.
Upon her arrival at CUC in 2007, Bakland worked with Wendy Markosky, chair of a Piano Project campaign to replace aging pianos. By the end of her first year, they had raised enough money to purchase nine-foot and seven-foot Steinway grands and five Boston upright pianos.
During her five years at CUC, she has continued her reputation as an inspiring and effective teacher of students of all ages both in the classroom, where she teaches Music Theory and Musicianship, Form and Analysis, Music History, Intro to Music and the Arts, and piano pedagogy, and private piano lessons. Most recently she presented a lecture which presented a sweeping overview of music history from the Medieval Era to the present in the Scholars Class, the honors program at CUC, and has been invited to do it again in another year.
Bakland has had numerous CUC and private piano students go to the provincials in Edmonton to successfully compete against junior and senior high and collegiate students from all of Alberta. Two of her students were selected to perform in a master class by the Canadian-born concert pianist Angela Cheng at the Alberta Music Educators Foundation Convention held in Red Deer in 2010.
She frequently performs as a soloist, participant in chamber music, and accompanist. Her most recent endeavor in this area was five duo piano recitals given with Cheryl Cooney, a well- known composer and pianist in Central Alberta, in the fall of 2013.
The program was extensive, the first half starting with the Lutoslawski Paganini Variations, continuing with the Brahm’s Variations on a Theme of Haydn, and ending with a work by Rachmaninoff. Bach’s Concerto for Two Pianos in C opened the second half of the recital which included Frederic Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. The concluding number was Misere, a work originally composed for orchestra by Cooney and then arranged by her for duo piano.
Although Bakland keeps a very full schedule at CUC, she has found her work with the faculty and students there to be both personally and professionally satisfying. As in her previous positions, she is totally committed to her students and their growth as persons and musicians.
Sources: Interview, 2013; Faculty Records on file at Walla Walla University, Issues of Opus, the WWC music department newsletter, 1988-2000; Ben Cawthra, “College’s Prep Piano Program is Successful,” NPUC Gleaner, 18 September 1989, 12, 13; “New Development Council at WWGH welcomes Bakland,” 7 August 1995, 20; personal knowledge.