Rick Orpen, 2009 Carlson Award Winner, Music Department

Posted on October 24th, 2016 by

2009 Carlson Award Winner, Rick Orpen, Music Department

Rick Orpen

This year’s Carlson Award winner has been described by student nominators as quiet and reserved, with a calm and collected teaching style that helps to keep students engaged in the material presented in all his courses. He has been described as completely accessible in and out of the classroom, a person who does everything possible to inspire and motivate students. Kind and caring in all regards-and brilliant-he challenges students, yet never loses patience. One student wrote that he “understands when students are frustrated in learning something and will never say no when someone asks for help.”

A faculty colleague says that, from his first days on campus, he has always known this year’s Carlson Award winner to be student-focused in every campus decision, yet adds that some campus faculty members or students may not be acutely aware of his teaching or other expertise, mostly due to the fact that he never boasts or claims credit for anything… making him the epitome of the true servant-teacher.

I first got to know this year’s Carlson recipient accidentally-through a student from Sweden-during my first or second year at Gustavus. Somehow, someone must have told this somewhat confused Swedish student that there was a faculty member named Richard, or something like that, who could help him study Kings, Princes, and Bosses, and the rifts that they create. Or at least that is what he heard-or what I heard.

The student must have looked me up, was probably puzzled to see that I teach in the Political Science Department, but this being Gustavus and as close to Sweden as you can get outside the mother country, he went with it and arrived at my office door.

So naturally when this student came to see me and talk about–I thought–monarchies and social stability and the potential for chaos, I probably launched into a long-winded diatribe on kings, princes, and rifts.

It was only ten minutes later-when this Swedish student asked if by taking my class would he learn how to crank out the RIFF-not RIFT-on Eric Clapton ‘s acoustic version of “Layla”-that I realized the student didn’t want to study Kings, Bosses, and Princes and the rifts they create, but the riffs created by The King, Prince, and the Boss. Stupid me-I thought I was feeding into the revolutionary passions of a Swedish anti-monarchist. But he had bigger things in mind: he wanted to learn how to play the guitar.

I immediately sent him to this year’s Carlson Award Winner, Dr. Rick Orpen.

Rick Orpen arrived at Gustavus in 1980 and during a nearly 30-year career has taught courses in music theory, jazz improvisation, and jazz guitar, composition, and percussion techniques. He holds B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota and is active as a guitarist, percussionist, and bassist.

His performance credits include the Ordway Music Theater and the Walker Art Center, and numerous Gustavus events, including the Nobel Conference concerts and A Royal Affair. Dr. Orpen is also a BMI composer. In 1999, he released a CD of jazz compositions titled Hands of Time Jazz Quartet: Live from the Chestnut Tree Cafe. He is the developer of the MIDI-based music lab at Gustavus, and each summer he offers the Music Technology Workshop at Gustavus, attended by music educators from across the country. I am sure they, too, experience the array of Dr. Orpen’s teaching talents.

As someone who is always booed off the stage on the easy level of “Slow Ride” on Guitar Hero, I am a musical Neanderthal in awe of Dr. Orpen’s talent as a musician. More importantly, as a faculty member at a liberal arts college that recognizes the importance of fine teaching, I am proud to call him my colleague.

Presented by Richard Leitch Jr.
Professor of Political Science
2008 Recipient of the Edgar M. Carlson Award


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