Monday, October 14, 2013

Alice Hanson

I went to a Lutheran college in small town Minnesota renowned, quite honestly, the world over for its music department. The choirs, orchestra, and band all were miles beyond the typical college ensembles, and were compared favorably with the likes of other world-famous ensembles. But behind the groups was the faculty. While being peerless in excellence, the demeanor of the instructors ranged from friendly to aloof, modest to egotistical. But the most notorious instructor was the one whose name was spoken with not a little fear: Dr. Alice Hanson.

Dr. Hanson taught what was universally known - not just in the music department, but schoolwide - as the toughest two courses at college: the two classes in music history required for music majors. Organic chemistry? Pshaw! Advanced statistics? A cake walk. Her classes all started at 8:00 am. Her door shut at 8:01. And students who showed up late were locked out and received an absence. Her lectures were legendary. She would be discussing Schubert lieder, then in a split second, point at you or one of your unwitting classmates and ask you a question about them. Woe unto you if you didn't know the answer or weren't paying attention, since participation every class by every student was mandatory and a significant part of the grade. She'd go down the line, knocking down student by student until someone gave her an acceptable answer. If corporal punishment were legal in college, I'm sure there would have been more than a few knuckle-rappings for not knowing the answer. I never heard about the rigors of writing papers for Dr. Hanson, but I think this post by a respectful former student rings true. No one who crossed her forgot her, and everyone who took her classes emerged a better person for it.

As you've guessed, I wasn't a music major, although I took as many classes as I could without declaring an official major, so I never met Dr. Hanson. I'm certain that I walked by her more than once in the halls of the music department, small as it was, but I never really recognized her, which added to her mystique. And once I left college, any mention of her disappeared...until this past week. She left behind the kind of legacy that I aspire to: that of a hard-ass who was frequently harsh and unyielding but always in the service of improving those around her. People may not have liked her, but they unanimously held the highest of respect for her. To be blunt, perhaps as she would have liked it, bitch got shit done. And she taught others how to get shit done in her own way, too.

I'm imagining one of two scenarios right now. Either St. Peter is wondering if Dr. Hanson really belongs up there, or Satan is afraid of being upstaged. I'm thinking more the former, but wherever she ends up, there's gonna be a lot of chain-rattling going on.

And again...damn. I never met the woman. I never took a class of hers. But I heard stories upon stories about her the entire time I was in college. And years later, upon hearing about her death, I'm spending part of my afternoon writing a whole post about her. That, my friends, is one awesome legacy.