Mixing math and music

NAME: Gavin Foust-Wollenberg
HOMETOWN: Cascade, Iowa
MAJOR: Secondary Math Education with as Music Endorsement
CAMPUS INVOLVEMENT: Castle Singers, Wind Ensemble, Phi Eta Sigma, Math Honor Society, Orientation Leader, Math Lab Tutor, MCSP (Math, Computer Science, Science, Physics) Department Chair Assistant, Wartburg Ambassadors

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE WARTBURG: My choir director was a Wartburg graduate. My junior year, she asked me if I wanted to go to All-State camp at Wartburg, and I said ‘yes’  because I love singing. I also did Meistersinger Honor Choir. It finally got to be my senior year and I was trying to decide where I wanted to go. I wanted to do music education at the time, and I knew that Wartburg was really the best choice because of their amazing music program. Additionally, campus was so welcoming and open.

WHY DID YOU CHANGE MAJORS: I’ve always loved math, and it was my strong subject when I was younger. But I liked music too, and I loved choir, so I decided to go with that. When I came here as a music education major, I was talking to everyone around me and I felt uncertain, so I rerouted and I asked myself, ‘What else do I like?’ and math came up again. I’ve always enjoyed it, and I knew if I wanted to try something other than education later in life, I would have a strong math background.

Gavin Foust Wollenberg

IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU HOPE TO COMBINE THE TWO IN YOUR WORK: I want to find a way to connect math and music closer together. I think they are two separate entities now, but I want to find how I personally can find an impact on both of those departments to bring them closer together. When people think of math they think of arithmetic and numbers and I think that’s so far away from what I believe math to really be. I think math is a way of thinking. I think it’s a way of looking at a problem and analyzing it and breaking it apart, and we can do that with music too. What is our next step, what is the next rhythm or jump? The way you think of math can be applied to everything you know.

WHY IS EDUCATION IMPORTANT TO YOU: I want better for our future. There are so many more things we can give to the next generation of students and I think that is so important. With the internet, it’s amazing what resources these students already have available to them, and it’s crazy to think about what is going to happen in the next 10 years. Hopefully I can help shape them and be a strong role model. I want to give back, I want my students to understand and feel comfortable coming to me, and I want them to know they have someone.

HOW DID YOU BECOME A MEMBER OF TWO AUDITIONED ENSEMBLES: My choir background was pretty limited coming from a small school, but I still decided to audition for both Castle Singers and Wartburg Choir just to see what would happen. Since it was COVID year and we had to do online auditions, I really had no expectations, but I was going to be happy with whatever happened because it was something I wanted to do. I was fortunate enough to get selected for Castle Singers my first year.

I wasn’t originally going to audition for Wind Ensemble. The last day of orientation three other people and I got an email from Dr. Craig Hancock, the Wind Ensemble director at the time. The  Wind Ensemble didn’t have enough saxophones, and he wanted us to audition. I thought I ended my band career in high school, so I politely declined, but told him I could come talk to him if he wanted me to. He immediately jumped on that and told me to meet him at 2 p.m. the next day. I wasn’t planning on auditioning, so I had no music or saxophone, but he said all I needed to do was practice. I spent the rest of the day nervously practicing. Next thing I knew, I was auditioning for Dr. Hancock. At the end, he asked me if I had any questions, and I asked him how he even knew I played saxophone because I came to Wartburg on a voice scholarship. I never said I could play the saxophone to anyone. He sat there for a second and got really quiet, and he said, “I believe that there are certain things that happen in this world for a reason, and I think Gavin, whether your name somehow got mixed up on a list, or whatever happened, I think this was meant to be.” It was a surreal experience and still is one of my favorite Warburg memories to this day.

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE PART OF EACH ENSEMBLE: I love Wind Ensemble and the community feeling I get being a part of it. It’s so amazing to know that was something I wasn’t guaranteed when I was coming here. I especially have a really close community within the saxophone section. In Castle Singers, we always set up in a circle so we can see everyone, and we communicate that way. A special memory I have in Wind Ensemble is singing The Lord Bless You and Keep You at Dr. Hancock’s last concert. We were all holding hands with the alumni and knowing that this was his last performance, and it was so incredible to bond together. For Castle Singers during tour, we have a tradition where the seniors sit down and we all tell them how they’ve impacted us. Everyone is in the room loving and supporting these people and the incredible things they did.

IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU GROWN AT WARTBURG: I’ve grown in knowing who I am. I think about myself as a first year and who I was, and I am such a different person now. Coming from a small town, it was so hard to find real connections or be accepted, and now I can choose people that I feel comfortable with and who I can grow with. Building connections has been a huge thing for me along with finding who I want to be in this world and how I will find my place in it.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF WHILE AT WARTBURG: It’s okay to be different. Accepting who you are as a unique individual really does play a part in the big picture. You provide unique experiences and give something different than everyone else sitting next to you, and that’s so important and valuable to recognize. I think that’s often overlooked but being at Wartburg, I’ve learned that it’s okay to be unique. You have something to bring to the table no matter what.

WHAT HAS BEEN A HIGHLIGHT EXPERIENCE: I have several. Touring with Castle Singers to Colorado was a huge one. Also, my first math class. It was such a small group of people that were there, and we felt comfortable with each other, and it was so cool learning and growing with them. My service trip I did my first year with Students UKnight (now Knights Who Serve) was amazing as well. Learning how to give back to a community in different ways was really fulfilling. We went to Chicago and did a lot of hard work like mulching and building gardens.

And even though my band tour with Wind Ensemble didn’t go abroad, it was still amazing. We were supposed to go a lot of different places, but COVID got in the way. It’s not what we wanted, but it was probably what we needed to realize that this is how the world works, and that’s sad, but we have to continue to move on and press forward. That taught us a lot of perseverance.