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Canoes sit on the shore of a lake at the Green Oaks Biological Field Station.

Kira Horel Omelchenko ’05

Ontario, Canada

Majors in Music and Theatre

Kira has been awarded a Fulbright for 2024 to travel to New Zealand for a project focused on the co-existence of classical, European orchestral music and Indigenous music, and to connect and co-create music with local composers.

Kira Omelchenko '05

Kira Omelchenko ’05 knew during high school that conducting was probably in her future. Today, she is a conductor, associate professor of music, and associate dean at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“From a young age, I always had the performance bug,” she said. “What really nurtured my love of music was having great mentors.”

Omelchenko played violin in the Knox string ensemble led by Carolyn Suda. “She was a role model and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. I think it is so important to have a cheerleader in your court,” she said.

She also sang in the Knox choir and played in the Knox-Galesburg Symphony Orchestra. She credits Laura Lane, professor of music, and Bruce Polay, professor emeritus of music, as mentors, providing her with confidence and opportunities to fine-tune her skills.

“Being in front of the ensembles at the undergrad level is a unique and rare opportunity,” Omelchenko said. “That's something that I’ve carried with me now as a professor, a conductor, and a mentor to young and upcoming conductors. I try to provide that opportunity to my students.”

Once she gained confidence in her abilities, she realized that she wanted to continue on a path similar to her professors at Knox.

“For me, it was always about how can I be the best musician I can be? How can I contribute in a meaningful and positive way to the field and inspire those around me?” Omelchenko said. “I've always had this love of conducting and then I had more experience at Knox and I knew I wanted to do it as a career.”

She attended the University of New Mexico for her master’s degree in music (orchestral conducting) where she studied with Jorge Pérez-Gómez, and received her doctor of musical arts degree in music (orchestral conducting) at the University of Iowa, where she studied with William LaRue Jones. 

While at Knox, she toured Spain with the choir and loved the opportunity to perform on an international stage. She continues to perform internationally and was the 2017 winner of the International Institute for Conductors in Bulgaria, subsequently conducting the Vidin State Philharmonic Orchestra in a concerto festival. In the summers of 2018 and 2019, Omelchenko served as artist-in-residence and guest conductor at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, where she mentored graduate conducting students and conducted the university orchestra. Upcoming international guest engagements include conducting in Carnegie Hall, Vienna, Thailand, South Korea and Papua New Guinea.

Her Fulbright Award will bring her to Wellington, New Zealand, for five months of conducting, teaching, mentoring students, collaborating with local composers, and conducting research in the National Library of New Zealand. During her Fulbright, she will be a visiting scholar and artist-in-residence at The New Zealand School of Music-Te Kōkī, at Victoria University.

“What really drew me to New Zealand is its diverse music-making,” Omelchenko explained. “One part of my research project in New Zealand is collaborating with local composers and specifically with local Indigenous composers.”

In her teaching, she recognizes that most of orchestral music focuses on the Western canon.

“I’ve come to realize that the pieces that we’ve played historically have been very limited and not diverse enough for today's society,” she said. “One of my goals is to contribute to that field by expanding the literature by helping to bring awareness of other living composers beyond our continent and beyond our hemisphere.”

“I attribute a lot of who I am as a person to my experience at Knox,” Omelchenko said. “What I really love about conducting and playing with an ensemble is being with other people. Once you are a member of the Knox community, you are always a member.”

While applying for the Fulbright, she reached out to Knox and Todd Heidt, professor of German, helped to review her application.

“It's great to still have those connections and support for Knox alumni,” she said. “Todd told me ‘We're here to help.’ And it's great to know that.”

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Printed on Friday, July 19, 2024