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NIU remembers composer A. Oscar Haugland

December 18, 2013
A. Oscar Haugland

A. Oscar Haugland

A. Oscar Haugland, professor of theory of composition in the NIU School of Music from 1960 until his retirement in 1992, died Monday, Dec. 16. He was 91.

Born on a farm in southern Minnesota to Norwegian immigrants, he served three years in the U.S. Army, performing on French horn and piano and later as a conductor. After his 1946 discharge, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music composition and theory from Northwestern University.

His teaching career began at West Virginia University in 1949; seven years later, he was awarded a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition. After four years serving as head of the theory and composition department at WVU, he came to DeKalb.

During his five decades in the NIU community, he also played French horn for many years in the DeKalb Municipal Band.

“Dr. Haugland was one of my first composition teachers in my undergraduate studies at NIU. He was a tremendous musician, but most of what I remember of my time with him was his supportiveness and kindness: whether it was his interaction with other students and colleagues, or whether it was his gentle guidance to me as I began my first serious musical studies,” said David Maki, an NIU School of Music professor.

“In later years, after I joined the faculty here, I would see him at many composition recitals and he was still as warm, good-humored and supportive as ever,” Maki added. “I’m thankful for Dr. Haugland’s example and influence and will miss him greatly.”

Photo of a French hornHaugland’s works cover a variety of media, including symphonic, chamber, choral, musicals and solos, many of which are published. A variety of his compositions have been performed throughout the United States, as well as around the world, including performances in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan.

In 1964, he earned attention from the Mason City Globe-Gazette – a newspaper published about an hour southeast of Thompson, Iowa, where Haugland graduated from high school in 1939 –  for his arrangement of “Peer Gynt.”

The score melded “sounds from medieval Scandinavia, the ancient church and the space age,” the paper wrote, and included parts for Scandinavian folk instruments. Haugland’s wife, Janet, performed on the lur, similar to a trumpet. Haugland himself played the Hardanger fiddle, which has “eight strings, four of which are beneath the regular played strings and merely vibrate sympathetically.”

Survivors include his wife, Janet; three children, Janet Loerkens (Paul), James, and John (Connie); and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 23, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 830 N. Annie Glidden Road. Visitation will be held from 9:30 a.m. that day until the time of the service at the church. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Janet and A. Oscar Haugland Scholarship in Music Composition or Music Theory.