Greg Marion
Greg Marion

Kaplan Chair to enhance music department

With more than 30 years on campus before he retired in 1991, plus a continued presence as an emeritus professor thereafter, it’s impossible to measure the remarkable effect someone like David Kaplan has had on the University of Saskatchewan.

But, with the combined efforts of administration, faculty and two generous donors, it is possible to honour his legacy.

“David Kaplan was a very, very special person to this department,” said Greg Marion, head of the U of S Department of Music. “He was also very special to the community of Saskatoon, to the province of Saskatchewan and beyond.”

Xiaoping (Bob) Xu and Ling Chen, two former graduate students who worked closely with Kaplan during their time at the U of S, had already contributed $1-million to the music department to establish a series of ongoing scholarships in honour of their former instructor.

After Kaplan’s death in 2015, the duo donated an additional $2-million—the largest single alumni contribution in the history of the College of Arts and Science—to create the Kaplan Chair in Music, a new position at the U of S that will add another high-profile expert to the faculty and greater capacity to the department.

“I believe that the Department of Music is going to become a destination of choice, much more than it already is, in large part because of (Xu and Chen’s) generosity,” Marion said.

The goal of the Kaplan Chair in Music is to fill a gap in the department that has existed longer than Marion’s own tenure. Despite a wide selection of sessional lecturers providing tremendous instruction on string instruments and beyond, the department does not have a dedicated faculty member who specializes in research, scholarly and artistic work in the area.

“We have a very strong performance tradition in this department, but what we do lack currently is the strength of a tenured faculty member who is a string performer,” Marion said. “We have piano, we have trumpet, we have voice, we have saxophone, but this is going to take us into a whole new area.”

Filling the position will invigorate not just the music department by bringing in students who might otherwise seek string training

elsewhere, but will also help the city by funnelling talent to the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. Marion said the person selected for the role will most likely have a focus on either violin or cello, and will enter a tenure-track position as either an associate or assistant professor.

Marion said that the Kaplan Chair in Music will be expected to possess a high level of renown as a string instrumentalist, and will perform both nationally and internationally to promote the university and create opportunities for students.

“It’s going to be a catalyst that will draw attention to the things that we already do very well and will help us build toward greater opportunities,” he said. “Not only will the person we hire showcase their own talent, but they will also provide opportunities, perhaps even taking students abroad to perform. The benefits of this position are going to extend in concentric circles.”

Marion is also hopeful that the Kaplan Chair will take a key role in shining a wider spotlight on the U of S Amati Collection, a quartet of string instruments with a rich musical history dating back generations and widely considered a crown jewel for the university, by attracting celebrated musicians to perform on or study them.

“It's going to put these precious, irreplaceable instruments from the 1600s on broader display,” he said.

The gift from Xu and Chen will fund the Kaplan Chair in Music for 10 years, after which the College of Arts and Science has committed to take over moving forward.

Share this story