Home >> Features >> Cover story
In 2007 and 2009, Haglund guest-conducted the N.B. Filharmonica Bantul in Timisoara, Romania.
By Richard Haglund | SUBMITTED
View Richard Haglund gallery (5)

View all 5 photos

A career of note
Richard Haglund makes a living both making music and introducing it to the next generation
By Darrin Burnett

As conductor of the Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony, Richard Haglund has plenty of opportunities to speak to young people about careers in music.

He tells them to find another career. He tells them this as persuasively as he can. The ones left after he is done may just have a career.

"The first thing I try to do is talk them out of it," Haglund, 41, said. "If I haven't talked them out of it, then I believe it is their true desire."In order to pursue his own true desires, Haglund has followed a path that started in the suburbs of Minneapolis, led him to study on four continents and landed him in Springfield for the past eight years.

"I get that question all the time," he said. "How did a kid from Minneapolis end up in Springfield?"

Actually, a Midwestern kid ending up in a Midwestern city isn't that noteworthy. The real question is how did a young musician who studied in Costa Rica and Russia and still travels the world as a guest conductor stay in Springfield?

Maybe he's just too busy to think about leaving.

"I do what I love, and I make a living doing it," Haglund said. "I know so many people that go to work day after day and absolutely hate their job. I am thankful that I'm not one of them!"

In addition to his duties with the youth symphony, Haglund is the director of the Sangamon Valley Community Orchestra and the Erato Chamber Orchestra, a nonprofit group of professional musicians in the Chicago area. The Erato Orchestra performs three to four times a year and recently released a CD, Haglund said. 

He is an assistant conductor at the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and teaches music at Blackburn College in Carlinville. And he still travels extensively across Europe to serve as guest conductor in Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Italy.

"He is very passionate about it," said co-worker Robert Chambers. "It is one of the things that he prides himself in. He approaches the Illinois Symphony the same way he does the youth orchestra. He pours a lot of himself into whatever he is doing."

On top of that, he manages apartment buildings in the Springfield area, and he and his dog, Wolfgang, appear in ads for the Animal Protective League. The tag? "Richard was adopted. Wolfgang was adopted."

Haglund was adopted and ended up in a musical family. Score one for nurture over nature.

"My mother was into musical theater and my grandmother was an accomplished pianist," Haglund said. "She showed me 'middle C' (the musical note located in the middle of a piano keyboard) about the same time as I was learning my first words."

He studied piano and percussion in elementary school. One day in fifth grade, he asked to lead the band during warm-ups. A conductor was born.

As he progressed through his music education, a band director told him that if he was serious about pursuing a career in conducting, he should learn a string instrument. The largest numbers of players in an orchestra are string players, so he needed that knowledge to conduct. He learned the viola, which he now plays solely in private.

Shortly after graduating from the University of Minnesota, Haglund taught high school music in the Minneapolis suburbs, conducted marching bands and played drums and vibraphone in jazz clubs. "I was burning the candle at five ends," he said.

As he added more and more jobs, he found that he strayed further from that fifth-grade boy's dream of the baton.

"I couldn't be a jazz player, teacher and orchestra director," he said. "I have to pick one. So, I went and studied with (internationally known conductor) Gustav Meier in Kiev. I decided to focus on conducting."

He met former Illinois Symphony Orchestra music director Karen Lynne Deal when she was a guest conductor in New York. He would later answer an ad for the job of youth conductor.

Perhaps calling upon the advice once given to him about string instruments, Haglund helped create a Starter Strings program for children in grades 3-6. "I was shocked to hear that there were no string instruments in the local schools," he said.

He's been around long enough to see his earliest students off to college. Not all pursue music careers - one he mentions is in medical school. But all have benefited from music education.

"The greatest part about working with young musicians is their growth," Haglund said. "Being here for eight seasons, I have seen students mature from elementary school to graduating high school. I have seen their maturity both musically and otherwise."

Rebecca Maguire participated in her first orchestra under Haglund as a high school sophomore. She's now a senior at Western Illinois University and will graduate with a degree in music as an oboe performance major. She currently is deciding between continuing her studies at the University of Texas or the University of Wisconsin. Maguire plans to earn a doctorate in music and wants to teach at the university level.

Maguire credits Haglund with playing a "big part" in shaping her as a musician, encouraging her and instilling in her discipline and professionalism.

"The youth orchestra (SVYS, with Richard) was my first orchestra experience, and a very influential beginning of my oboe career. Richard, I think, saw my potential in me early on and was always extremely supportive of my musical progression and took interest in helping me continue to pursue oboe," said Maguire in an e-mail.

"I think that if I had a nickel for every time he said, 'Rebecca, if you want to be a professional oboist ...' I would be a rich woman. He was just always very adamant about how important it was/is that I always be prepared, and giving my best effort, always. That kind of influence for three years really did shape me into habits and standards that I still hold today, and probably always will."

Haglund still spends summers in Europe as a guest conductor. The Old World is welcoming, he said, and he enjoys showing Europeans that Americans have creativity and are more than just "military ambassadors."

It helps that he makes a point of picking up a few words of the local language wherever he goes. Nothing jaw-breaking - usually just the basic pleasantries such as "please" and "thank you" - but it's enough to show the locals he makes an effort.

That kind of effort in what is really a form of public relations is an example of how a musician can't be just a musician and expect to succeed. Anyone wanting to major in music also would do well to minor in business.

"You have to be a grant writer, assemble a budget, keep control of finances and donations," he said of the music director job. "You can be the greatest musician in the world, and it won't matter if people don't hear you."

The Sangamon County Youth Symphony was founded in response to the threat of young musicians not being heard. Springfield School District 186 cut orchestra funding in the 1970s and parents stepped up to fill the void. 

Such cuts are a common story that will only be repeated as schools continue to deal with budget issues. Haglund's former high school passed a referendum to buy string instruments, and then when it came time for budget cuts, the program was cut in the early 1980s.

Haglund said music is important to students because it is one of the few activities that uses both sides of the brain - cognitive and motor - at the same time. He added that studies have shown that adults with music and/or foreign language skills have healthier brains as they age.

Moreover, people who study music show a built-in work ethic. "You're not going to find a lazy person who has mastered an instrument," Haglund said.

"People can get information instantly," he said. "You can rent movies on demand. If I don't respond to an e-mail in one day, people wonder if I got it."

In music, there is no "instant fix," he said, and a successful orchestra relies as much on teamwork as any athletic squad. "In orchestra, they have to play as a team all the time," Haglund said. "What a joy it is to see the team develop."

As important, he said, is music's ability to be relaxing in a hectic world."With music, you sit down and relax. If you go to a play or a movie, you are directed pretty tightly. With music, you let your mind wander.

"With a Brahms melody, someone who feels good or feels bad will take the music in different directions."



Richard Haglund


  • Age: 41
  • Residence: "A little house in Jerome with Wolfgang, who is fluent in English, German and dog," Haglund said.
  • Occupations: Founder and conductor of the Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony; assistant conductor with Illinois Symphony Orchestra; manages six rental properties; teaches at Blackburn College in Carlinville; performs with the Erato Chamber Orchestra, a nonprofit group of musicians in the Chicago area.
  • Inspiration: His father and his father's cousin, who both served in World War II and "taught me much about life," Haglund said.




To learn more:





Story published Friday, May 6, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 3 )

Stay connected

Twitter Facebook
Copyright ©  GateHouse Media, Inc. Some Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use
Original content available for non-commercial use
under a Creative Commons license,
except where noted.