|Wanda Degen - Biography|
|Folk Music Specialist, Performer, Educator, Arts Organizer|
An "idea person" with a strong desire to see things happen, and to see them done well, Wanda Degen's interests, initiative, and abilities combined with her connection to the community to help create and sustain many ongoing, successful events.
Like many who call East Lansing home, Wanda first came to the area as a freshman at MSU. That was in the fall of 1971. She attended Justin Morrill, the Liberal Arts Residential College. Within the next 10 years she established roots and flourished here - beginning a family with the birth of two daughters; realizing and nurturing a passion and joy for folk music by building her first mountain dulcimer, then building a career that would encompass performing and teaching as well as organizing and volunteering at many of the concert series and festivals that help make East Lansing such a rich and vibrant community.
Wanda found fertile ground in the burgeoning scene of musicians that gathered around Elderly Instruments, which first opened its door in East Lansing in the winter of 1972. By 1978 she was an instructor there, teaching private lessons on the autoharp and dulcimer (fast forward 35 years to 2013 - she is still teaching there today, though it is now located in Lansing). In 1981 Wanda became Director of Elderly's School of Music. In that position she oversaw a staff of local instructors and organized group classes, workshops with national touring musicians, open-houses, and children's concerts. She started performing locally and took a particular interest in children's music. Wanda was hired to be the music teacher at the Okemos Nursery School (32 years later and she still teaches three classes of 3 & 4 year olds there). She volunteered at MSU's Mariah Folk and Blues Coffeehouse where she first experienced the behind-the-scenes details of presenting highly successful concerts. Then she became active with the Ten Pound Fiddle Coffeehouse.
In 1983 the trio Lady of the Lake was formed and in this group Wanda began performing at coffeehouses and festivals around the Mid-West. After performing at a concert series for families at the MSU Museum, Wanda suggested the City of East Lansing, the MSU Museum and the Ten Pound Fiddle Coffeehouse collaborate to keep these concerts going. And so it was that in 1985, East Lansing's Children's Concert Series began with Wanda working under Judith Taran's guidance as the coordinator of the series, a position she held for over 10 years. The Children's Concert Series, still going strong, has educated and entertained thousands of local families with young children, providing the community with the opportunity to experience the magic of quality, live performances for free. Wanda continues to perform as part of the series every few years, and occasionally is in the audience enjoying some of her favorite performers, singing along and learning new songs.
Wanda's desire to see things improve for the musicians and the audiences at the East Lansing Art Festival resulted in her being hired as the Performance Coordinator for the 1987 Art Festival. She worked as the Performance Coordinator for 25 years until the position was eliminated in 2012 - 25 festivals in which she sought to bring a balance of musical styles, as well as a mix of national, regional and local talent to the stages - performances that would both compliment the visual arts and inspire the community. She helped with fundraising and grant applications; attended board meetings; solicited advice from music experts; planned the lineup; contacted the performers; contracted stage and sound professionals; worked closely with the festival staff; promoted through radio, television, and social media networks; and oversaw 2 to 3 stages for the 2-day event. Always it was a labor of love. The many highlights over the years include performances by Tom Paxton, Bill Kirchen, Robin & Linda Williams, Brave Combo, bop (harvey), Vienna Teng, Billy Jonas, Three Men & a Tenor, The Chenille Sisters, Steppin' In It, The Duhks... the list goes on and on. She worked with hundreds of musicians and took great care that their needs were met.
Wanda coordinated some other series for the City of East Lansing too - she was there for the beginning of the Fountain Square and Ann Street Plaza Concert Series and Play in the Park. But she was also busy with her own performances and soon felt like putting more time towards her own music. So she eventually let go of all coordinating positions except for the East Lansing Art Festival.
Wanda returned to MSU as a Voice Major in the Music Department from 1986-1989. During this time she instigated a partnership between the Ten Pound Fiddle and MSU's Union Activities Board Noontime Series - local & touring performers were showcased in free, one-hour concerts at the Union.
From 1989-2008, Wanda worked with the prestigious Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, based in Vienna, Virginia. As a Michigan Wolf Trap Teaching Artist she had residencies all over Michigan where she led creative circle-time with young children while training their teachers to incorporate the performing arts into the early childhood curriculum. Wolf Trap is this country's only national park dedicated to the performing arts.
More recently, Wanda was honored to train with the Lincoln Center Institute of New York. As one of six local teaching artists with the Michigan Art Project (2007-2009), she created and led inquiry-based activities preparing Lansing School District students, grades K-8, to more deeply experience a work of art.
Wanda Degen is known as "Miss Wanda" to thousands of area children - many now adults - who have had her as their preschool music teacher over the years. In addition to the Okemos Nursery School, Wanda currently is the music teacher for 3 classes at the Abbott Nursery School in East Lansing. She has taught at many other local daycare homes and centers, as well as at a charter school - one year she instructed 17 classes per week. Her music has touched the lives of countless families, and her love of music and passion for helping showcase some of the brightest talents for our community has touched countless more.
Wanda's performances have taken her to nearly every nook and cranny in Michigan - from Isle Royale to Monroe, from Beaver Island to Benton Harbor, from her hometown of Montague to Paradise. She is listed in the Michigan Arts & Humanities Touring Directory. She has also educated and entertained audiences in over a dozen states around the country as well as in Canada, Ireland and Norway. Seniors enjoy her concerts as much as the preschool crowd - currently her work through the Wheatland Music Organization's Community Ed Program places her in Senior Centers and Retirement Communities several times a month in Gratiot, Montcalm, Newaygo, Mecosta, Clare and Isabella counties. Wanda does similar work on her own at several locations in Ingham County.
Dedicated to passing on the tradition of playing the mountain dulcimer and the autoharp (both instruments related to the zither), Wanda has taught workshops at the Swallow Hill School of Folk Music, Denver, CO; at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL; at Dulcimer Days II, Duluth, MN; and at several Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gatherings, Newport, PA. She often leads workshops at many of the Michigan traditional music festivals including: Hiawatha Music Festival in Marquette; Bliss Fest in Bliss; Midland Folk Festival in Midland; the Wheatland Music Festival in Remus; and nearly every Mid-Winter Singing Festival in East Lansing.
Wanda is a longtime member of The Ark in Ann Arbor and a patron sponsor of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. She is a member of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, the Lansing Area Folk Song Society, and volunteers at the Ten Pound Fiddle Concert Series in East Lansing - including helping to produce the East Lansing Dulcimer Festival (2010-2012). Wanda is a member of, and volunteer workshop leader for, the Original Dulcimer Players Club & Funfest, based in Evart, Michigan. She served on the Community Advisory Music Selection Committee for the National Folk Festival's 3-year run in East Lansing (1999-2001) and has continued on as one of the Music Selection Advisors for the Great Lakes Folk Festivals (2002-2013) where she also volunteers as a presenter.
MSU's weekly radio show, Progressive Torch and Twang, had this to say about Wanda when they honored her as the Twang Link of the Week on their World Wide Twang website:
A long time supporter of Progressive Torch and Twang, Wanda Degen is a legend around these parts. Besides being an accomplished singer, songwriter and dulcimer player, Wanda works tirelessly to support roots music around the mid Michigan area.
RESUME - Wanda, the Music Teacher