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Profound impact

Governor-General’s Medal, graduate

By Grant Loveys

Dr. Judith Klassen, a graduate of the ethnomusicology program at Memorial, is the recipient of the 2009 Governor General’s Medal – the highest academic honour a graduate student can receive.

“It is difficult to convey how surprised, elated and extremely happy I feel about being given this award,” she said.

After obtaining two bachelor’s degrees in music in 2000, Dr. Klassen, who originally hails from Altona, Man., travelled to Paraguay’s Gran Chaco region offering violin lessons to members of several Mennonite communities, an activity which influenced her profoundly.

“It confirmed for me the extent to which I value the human interaction that music-making affords and my love of teaching, but also awakened in me a desire to explore questions of musical ‘meaning’ a little more intentionally.”

Dr. Klassen soon acted on that desire, completing a master’s degree in Toronto and beginning doctoral research at Memorial in 2005 which examined the function of music in Mennonite families in relation to memory and worship.

Along the way, she also became a 2007-2008 Fellow of the School of Graduate Studies, an award given in recognition of outstanding academic achievement throughout a graduate program. Her doctoral dissertation, Encoding Song: Faithful Defiance in Mexican Mennonite Music Making, explores how analyses of song repertoire, performance style, social interaction and the assigning of musical meaning might inform understandings of Mennonite faith communities.
Dr. Beverly Diamond, Dr. Klassen’s research supervisor, has nothing but praise for her award-winning student.

“I am honoured to have served as Dr. Judith Klassen’s supervisor,” said Dr. Diamond. “Her work probes socially sensitive topics about how faith communities negotiate the proscriptions of their religious leaders and how they interpret belief in their daily lives. Only a person that is utterly respectful could have managed to study and write so compellingly about such difficult topics.
“Judith’s work in and on Mennonite communities in Mexico is an outstanding contribution to ethnomusicology and other social sciences. We are delighted that her important study has been recognized with this well deserved Gold Medal.”

Being awarded such a prestigious accolade is a fitting end to Dr. Klassen’s four years at Memorial. “Throughout graduate studies,” she said, “I experienced both intellectual challenge and overwhelming support for the work I was doing, whether it overlapped with the specific interests of colleagues and mentors or not.

“In many ways, receiving this award feels like an extension of that support, and I am enormously thankful for it.”