Released: July 1, 2011
Lincoln, Neb. - Lincoln East Band Director Lance Nielsen has a unique distinction. This August he will receive his third degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but each degree has come with a different conference affiliation.
"I never intended to get three degrees from one institution. But I am getting three degrees from three different conferences, and I never had to pay out-of-state tuition," Nielsen said.
Nielsen received his Bachelor of Science in Music Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1991, when UNL was a member of the Big Eight Conference. In 1998, he received his Master of Music degree while UNL was a member of the Big 12 Conference. And this August, he will receive his Ph.D. in Music from UNL just after it joins the Big Ten Conference.
"We're going to see some new traditions being started in the Big Ten," he said. "We'll have some new collaborations and some new places to visit. I think it's going to be exciting."
Nielsen grew up in Stromsburg, Neb., a rural community of about 1,200 located about 30 miles north of York, Neb., on Highway 81. He learned to play the trombone and was in the marching band at Stromsburg High School. He served as drum major his junior and senior years of high school.
"That got me interested in doing music and becoming a band director," Nielsen said. He decided to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to pursue a bachelor's degree in music education.
"I wanted to stay in the state of Nebraska, and I thought they had the most comprehensive program at that time."
Professor Emeritus Vernon Forbes also influenced him.
"I remember taking lessons from him when I was still in high school. He was just a great professor," he said. "We developed a close relationship. As my applied music teacher, he knew I wanted to be a band director, so a lot of what he taught me in my private lessons was about 'This is what you need to do as a band director.'"
Nielsen participated in the UNL Marching Band during his five years as an undergraduate, serving three years as a drum major.
"After my sophomore year, I just tried out [to be drum major] for fun," he said. "I really didn't intend to make it my first year, but I did. It was a great opportunity for me to develop leadership skills, and I had a passion for the marching band. To be able to serve in that role was really important to me."
He remembers his first football game at Memorial Stadium. "I remember the first game, and that was my first Husker game at Memorial Stadium," he said. "It was an evening game against Florida State. I just remember marching out of the northwest corner and remember seeing all of the people. It was so exciting, and we beat them 34-17."
Nielsen also remembers in the late 1980s, the band would enter the stadium in the morning for rehearsals through the southwest gate, which was protected with just a padlock. "They gave me a key to the padlock because I had to be there early to open it up so the drumline could start their rehearsing," he said. "So as an undergraduate student, I had a key to Memorial Stadium."
Nielsen was also one of the first directors of the women's volleyball band. The late Barbara Hibner was the women's athletic director at that time and wanted to start having a band for women's volleyball and basketball. Graduate Teaching Assistant Beth Brader Kelly got the band rolling in the 1988 season. Nielsen was still an undergraduate during the 1989-90 season.
"There weren't enough graduate teaching assistants to do it, so the marching band director asked me if I'd be interested in heading this up," Nielsen said. "So we started with this little band. It's evolved over the years and is now the Big Red Express. Back then we were just the volleyball band-small but mighty."
That second season, 12 band members traveled with the team to Hawaii for the Final Four. "It was a fun trip, and we developed a very close relationship with Coach Petit and the volleyball team," Nielsen said.
Following graduation, Nielsen was a band director in Kimball, Neb., for three years. He began exploring Master's degree programs at the University of Northern Colorado and Florida State, but then Norris Public Schools in Firth, Neb., recruited him to rebuild their band program in 1994.
"I decided while I'm teaching, I would work on my Master's at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln," Nielsen said.
He stayed at Norris for seven years, before becoming the band director at Lincoln East in 2001. He started to seriously consider getting his Ph.D. and looked at programs at Northwestern University and the University of Kansas, but then fate intervened again.
"I was serving on the board of NMEA (Nebraska Music Educators Association)," Nielsen said. "I was asked to run for president, and that was a six-year term. That kept my ties to Nebraska."
So he enrolled in the newly created Ph.D. in Music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2009-10, he took a one-year leave of absence to complete a year of residency at UNL.
"I worked with student teachers, observed student teachers practicums and taught music education courses," he said. "It was really exciting, especially after having all my years of teaching experience to bring that back and share it with future music teachers."
He will receive his degree this August. He has studied under Associate Director and Steinhart Professor of Music Education Glenn Nierman and Associate Professor of Music Education Brian Moore. Moore's first year at UNL was Nielsen's freshman year in 1986, and he served as the chair of his doctoral committee.
"Dr. Moore and I have worked on projects together throughout the years, and there's no one better versed in music education research as Dr. Nierman," Nielsen said. "When you have the best here, why go somewhere else?"
Nierman remembers him even from his undergraduate days. "It has been a pleasure to watch Lance Nielsen grow as a professional music educator. He was a member of my Introduction to Music Education class as a first-year student, and I had the pleasure of being the co-chair of his doctoral committee recently," Nierman said. "His organizational skills and work ethic are second to none. This young man has already made important contributions to the profession nationally; and, I predict, he will make many, many more."
In the meantime, Nielsen has kept his ties to the UNL Marching Band, helping with Bowl trips and serving as camp coordinator for their summer high school marching camps and junior high band camps. "I've had a close relationship with the band office, so I've been able to help them out when they need extra help," Nielsen said. He's attended the Orange, Citrus, Sugar, Cotton, Alamo, Fiesta, Rose and Holiday Bowls with the band, as both a member and assistant.
"Lance has been an important figure in the leadership of the Cornhusker Band ever since his undergraduate days," said Anthony Falcone, Associate Director of Bands and Director of the Cornhusker Marching Band. "He was a drum major for the band, and after graduating remained involved in the program in many important ways. Lance has been, and continues to be, a great example and ambassador for UNL Bands."
Today he continues to value his role in the lives of his music students. "Music kids-band, choir, orchestra, no matter what-they're the best kids in the school," Nielsen said. "It's an opportunity for students in the course of the day to come in and express who they are and share their creativity through music. The coolest part of my job is that I get to be a part of the music making with the students. When I am conducting a concert on stage, I am performing with the students."
- Kathe Andersen, Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts