Celebrating the Career of Renowned Choral Director Kathy Saltzman Romey

Kathy Saltzman Romey poses in front of a piano with various sheet music piled on top.

There are no simple words to describe the extraordinary impact that Choral Director Kathy Saltzman Romey has had on the University of Minnesota School of Music, the wider Twin Cities, and international choral communities. Through her more than 30 years of service as a UMN faculty member, Romey has taught and inspired the next generation of choral leaders, educators, and performers. Beloved by students, staff, and faculty alike, her hard work truly deserves notable recognition and thanks. In honor of Romey’s upcoming retirement and final performance as Choral Director at the School of Music on April 22, we spoke with some of her former students, who shared their thoughts on Romey’s immeasurable impact on their personal and professional lives.

Professor Matthew Mehaffey, Romey’s colleague of 18 years, reflected on his time spent teaching with her. “I have watched countless students be inspired by and learn from one of the finest servant leader educators in the world. Students revere Kathy because she cares for each as an individual, and she challenges them to dig deeply into every aspect of music. Her creativity and dedication to excellence unlocks worlds of new possibilities. She purposefully guides young singers and conductors to understand music's role in the broader world, and encourages them to dream big. As a result, our young scholars become national leaders and have gone on to gain meaningful employment in all sectors of the choral music field. It is perhaps the greatest compliment to Professor Romey's affirming teaching style that no two of her conducting students are even remotely alike. Her graduate studio is not a factory churning out human metronomes, but a garden in which each conductor is given the room, light, and sustenance to grow and find their own musical voice. Every day I have spent teaching with Professor Romey has been a masterclass for me personally, I credit an immense amount of my professional successes to be a direct result of having the good fortune to call Kathy Romey my friend and colleague. Thank you Kathy for all of the music and all of the inspiration you have given to me and to so many.” 

Romey’s teaching philosophy encourages students to develop into true musical professionals as they graduate from the School of Music. Many of Romey’s alumni have gone on to become choral directors and instructors at universities and high schools across the country, including Andrew Crow, Director of Choral Activities at Ball State University. Crow reflected that Romey “encouraged me to form a “mental board of directors” that I could call on when I needed a professional perspective outside of my own scenario.” He noted that her continued advice and support in the first few years of his career enabled him to achieve tenure and develop the graduate choral program at Ball State University. 

Russell Adrian, Director of Choral Activities at Hesston College, believes that his experience with Romey was more of an apprenticeship rather than a student - teacher relationship. Her students were “immediately given responsibility and trust to work with ensembles and we were each valued in our part to run the choral program. While Kathy taught us the art of conducting, she more importantly demonstrated how to be an outstanding person of character and a  servant leader.” Adrian also noted that she continues to advocate for him professionally and goes out of her way to support his interests and cheer him on as he furthers his career.  

“When I came right out of college, 21 years old with no professional experience, Romey saw potential in me and gave me the next step I needed for a successful career.” Sara Cowen, Choral Director and Performing Arts Department Head at Omaha Central High School said. “As a conductor, I emulate Romey all the time. I still hold fond memories of the way she warmly smiles at her singers, while pushing them to new musical heights. I hope that my students feel the way she made me feel: seen, accepted, and valued as a musician and a person.” 

Alumnus Lukas Perry, currently a PhD Music Theory candidate at Eastman School of Music, wrote “My Masters was such a special time that I cherish. Romey gave me invaluable insights and was an exemplar in so many ways about professionalism, score study, connecting with singers, programming, reaching out to the community, compassion, and so on. I remember when Romey worked into the early hours of the morning to make a seating chart for me for my Masters recital—I will not forget that!” 

Romey provided words of thanks to give for the Twin Cities choral community. “As I look back on my thirty years of teaching within the School of Music, I am so grateful for the many opportunities I have received from my colleagues to grow and flourish as a teacher and conductor. Likewise, the support of our staff has allowed me to realize countless performance projects with our choirs in Ted Mann Hall. It has been a special joy to collaborate these past eighteen years with Matthew Mehaffey, who is a man of extraordinary talent, intellect, and generosity. I have learned so much from him and am forever thankful that he accepted the position of Associate Director of Choral Activities in 2005. I am equally indebted to my students past and present, who have challenged my thinking and artistry in so many ways. To journey side-by-side with them throughout their degree programs has been an honor and privilege, and has inspired my own work in the classroom and on the podium.  To each of you, I extend my heartfelt appreciation for all that we have shared with one another both personally and professionally.”

Romey plans on continuing to serve as Artistic Director of the Minnesota Chorale, collaborating with the Chorale’s family of choirs and the Minnesota Orchestra and their new Artistic Director, Thomas Søndergård. She plans to maintain her Chorus Master role with the Oregon Bach Festival and the Junges Stuttgarter Bach Ensemble in Germany, as well as some additional freelance work. She hopes to be able to travel with her husband, Patrick, explore past hobbies of biking and ceramics, and remain open to whatever adventures lie ahead! 

Join the School of Music in honoring Romey’s career and celebrating her cumulative performance with the choral community in “A Grand Finale!” celebration on Saturday, April 22 at 7:30 PM. If you wish to contribute to a fund for graduate choral conducting students that will continue to honor Romey's legacy, you can find a link here


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