Wendolin Lee Pazitka Munroe
Wendolin Munroe has taught music at Canadian University College for over three decades, a record tenure in music teaching at that school and one of the longest on record for music teaching at one Adventist college or university. Serving as chair of the department since 1995, she also continues to give voice lessons, conduct the choral program, and teach classes in music education and conducting. In spite of carrying what would be regarded as an overload at most schools, she keeps one of the busiest touring schedules with her choirs of any Adventist college or university choral music group.
While Munroe was born in Ajax, Ontario, Canada, one of three children of Milan and Alexandra Pazitka, her childhood and teenage years were spent in nearby Oshawa, near Kingsway College. She started taking piano lessons at age five from her mother, who came from a family of accomplished amateur church musicians. She later took more advanced study in piano from Mildred Shankel Lange and by grade twelve had completed requirements for grade ten in piano in Canada's Toronto Conservatory of Music program.
Munroe sang in vocal groups and choirs during her junior and senior high school years and at age sixteen, began formal voice study with Ralph Coupland. She also took lessons on and played clarinet in the band in her high school years and held first chair in that section of the band at KC.
After graduating from the academy at KC in 1969, Pazitka continued for another year taking college level classes and lessons at KC and then spent a year at Newbold College in England. She enrolled at Andrews University in 1971, unsure of her major, torn between taking music or physical education. She decided on music when she successfully auditioned for the AU Singers, the select choir at AU. Rudolf Strukoff, conductor of the ensemble, would also be her voice teacher during the next three years at AU.
Following completion of a B.Mus. in music education in 1974, Pazitka accepted an invitation to return to KC alma mater, where she assisted choir director James Bingham, directing the Ladies chorus and doing vocal coaching for the next two years.
In the summer of 1976, she was given funding to attend three conducting workshops. She chose to attend those at Ithaca College, Loma Linda University, and Indiana University, the latter because Robert Shaw was the featured clinician. While there, she signed up to conduct and be adjudicated by a panel that included Shaw and one of his former teachers, Julius Herford.
Her assigned work was the Kyrie and Gloria from the Bach B minor Mass. By the time she conducted on the last day of the workshop she had come to realize that conducting was not mandatory and that those who were conducting outranked her in degrees and experience.
When her turn came, she was very nervous but responded to the questioning that followed as she proceeded to conduct. She was struck by how quickly the choir responded to her, mirroring every nuance and inflection she made in her conducting.
She was allowed to conduct for the full period, and when she finished, Herford stood up and said, "Young lady, this is Bach! You have a maturity well beyond your years. It is the opinion of this panel that you speak with the Dean of the School of Music and that you be given a full scholarship to study conducting at Indiana University and teach our bachelor's students how to conduct."
Although Pazitka was offered a scholarship for that September, she declined it, feeling she could not leave KC on such short notice. She did enroll at IU the following school year and completed an M.Mus. with distinction in choral conducting in 1977. During that time and in subsequent graduate study at IU, she taught conducting and assisted in directing the choirs at the university. She was also a member of the IU Singers, which performed in Lincoln Center in New York City during her three years in that group.
Pazitka was invited to be choir director at Canadian Union College, now Canadian University College, in 1977 as she was completing her master's degree. Although not interested at first, she was impressed by then president Neville Matthews and his vision for the future of the college and eventually accepted the invitation. She later recalled the circumstances that led to her to decide to go to CaUC:
Dr. Mathews called me on the phone and invited me to be the choral/vocal teacher at CaUC and PAA [Parkview Adventist Academy]. I had received several calls to teach at McGill University or again at Kingsway, so I graciously declined the offer. As an Easterner and a graduate of Kingsway College, I'm afraid I had some biases at that time against CaUC.
He called me a few weeks later, again asking me to be part of his vision of developing CauC into a liberal arts college (they only had theology at the time). I again declined. A short time later, I answered a knock at my dorm room at IU and there stood Dr. Mathews. He asked if he could take me to dinner and share his vision for CaUC. At the dinner, I was impressed with his passion and drive. When he said that I would also have men in my choir - and not just girls, as was the case at KC - and that there was a great need at CauC and the potential in the future to have fully accredited music degrees, I decided to join him in his dream for CaUC.
Three years after arriving at CaUC, Patzitka married Richard Munroe, a theology student.
She continued graduate study for a doctorate at IU in the summers and during a one-year leave of absence, completing a D.M.E. in Choral Methodology in 2002. Her research and dissertation dealt with the development of a statistically-valid analytical method for choral auditioning at the college and university level.
In her graduate work in conducting, she studied with Julius Herford, Robert Shaw, Jan Herrington, Alan Ross, Robert Porco, and Alan Harler. She also took conducting workshops with Paul Salmonavich, David Willcocks, John Rutter, and other noted conductors. In 2005 she was selected to join a group of conductors for study under world-famous conductor Helmut Rilling,
Munroe has sung frequently and given numerous voice recitals during her career. When still a student at Kingsway College, she won the Batten Silver Tray award in the Kiwanis vocal competition in Oshawa. While at AU and IU she was a soloist with both choirs.
In addition to her study in voice at AU, she took lessons with Vera Scammon, Michael Bellam, and Jean Deis at IU, Roy Scarr at Newbold College, Joy Mammon at the Royal College of Music in London, Megan Rutledge at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, and Merla Aickman in Edmonton, Alberta.
In the more than thirty years she has taught at CaUC, Munroe is best known for her exceptional work with the school's choirs. She has built a program that involves a yearly average of over a hundred singers, who sing in two ensembles, the CaUC Singers and Choral Union.
The two choirs have toured extensively throughout Canada and internationally. They have been to Western Europe three times; sung at the Pan American Youth Congress in Mexico City; and at the 1980 General Conference Session in Dallas, Texas; performed in 47 of the fifty states in the U.S.; and traveled to China.
Among the many other choir achievements could be listed three performances for the premier of Alberta and, by the end of this year, three appearances in the past six years with the Sinfonia of the North Shore, a prestigious orchestra in Vancouver, British Columbia. Also, by the end of the 2009-2010 school year, her choir members will have participated in three Carnegie Hall choral festivals since 1993, the first two having been conducted by John Rutter and Jonathon Willcocks.
Munroe is active as a clinician in music festivals in both Canada and the U.S. In 2003, she did mission work in Bolivia for six weeks, where she started a boys’ choir and taught music appreciation. More recently, she has served as conductor of the Parkland Classical Singers, a choir in central Alberta. She served as an officer in IAMA in the 1990s.
Munroe is known and loved by her students for her radiant personality and inspiring approach to rehearsals as well as life itself. The 1990 Aurora Borealis, CaUC yearbook, paid tribute to these qualities and the influence she has had on campus when it expressed appreciation for her music, friendship, and spiritual example.
Sources; Information from and Interview with Wendolin Pazitka Munroe, October 2008; Yearbook dedication in the 1989-90 CUC Aurora Borealis; personal knowledge.
A Providential Choice
Wendolin Pazitka Munroe
I had been teaching at Kingsway College for a year when the school came to me with a request that I continue a girls' choir that I had started that year with my voice students who had not been accepted into the larger choir. Debra Bakland (then Richter), who was teaching at KC, had accompanied the group from the beginning. The two of us had actually put up our own money to buy music for the group when it had started.
I responded with a request for the college to send me to conducting workshops that summer to get more training. They agreed and made a commitment to underwrite the expenses for those of my choosing. I narrowed my choices to three: Ithaca College, with Ivan Trussler; Indiana University, with Robert Shaw; and Loma Linda University, with Sir David Willcocks. While I attended all three, the choice of IU as one of these would prove to be providential.
While at IU, I signed my name to a list to conduct before the panel of conductors that had led to my going to IU. I was assigned the Kyrie and Gloria from Bach's B-minor Mass and scheduled for the last day of the workshop. When my turn came, I was so frightened. By that time I had realized that I was the only conductor with just a bachelor's degree who signed up to conduct. I also did not realize until then that it was not mandatory that everyone conduct! Most in the workshop were chairs of departments or had their doctorate. I have never felt my heart pump as strongly since that morning when it was my turn to conduct.
I began conducting. The members of the panel stopped me and asked questions such as, "Which part was flat? What is Bach doing here compositionally? What would you do to improve the tone here?" etc. I had not been used to conducting singers that read the music so quickly, and I began to love having a group respond to my every nuance. We made great music together. They let me conduct for the entire period.
At the end of the session, an elderly member of the committee stood up and said, "Young lady, this is Bach! You have a maturity of musical style well beyond your years. It is the opinion of this panel that you speak with the dean of the school of music - Dean Charles Webb - and that you be given a full scholarship to study conducting at Indiana University and teach our bachelor's students how to conduct."
I did not know that the man who stood up was the master teacher, Julius Herford, Robert Shaw's teacher along with many, many other world class conductors. This made big news on campus and I was stopped in the halls and asked if I was the girl that had conducted for Herford.
Although I was offered a scholarship for that fall at IU, I felt I needed to honour my commitment to KC for that school year. In February of that year, I was contacted by IU and invited to be one of the fourteen master's students they accepted annually into its conducting program. By this time I had learned more about IU's and Herford's reputations and made a decision to enter IU in the fall of 1976.
I ended up doing my master's at IU with Herford and some of my doctoral studies with him before he died. What an awesome experience that was. I feel God opened up this opportunity for me, and that is why I decided then and there to dedicate my career to teaching within our SDA system.
It was an honour in 2002 to have Indiana University contact me after all these years and ask me if I would apply for a conducting opening they had. I talked to CaUC and asked if I was chosen if they would give me a 3-year sabbatical to teach at IU and then come back. They agreed. Unfortunately, the first USA conductor they asked accepted the position.