After 30 years, Michael Rugen, Homewood-Flossmoor High School teacher and Viking Choir director, will step away from the podium. He will direct the Viking Choir for the last time at H-F’s graduation ceremonies June 3.
After 30 years, Michael Rugen, Homewood-Flossmoor High School teacher and Viking Choir director, will step away from the podium.
He will direct the Viking Choir for the last time at H-F’s graduation ceremonies June 3.
Rugen is only the third choral director in H-F’s 60-year history, something that he says makes it unique among Illinois high schools. For him, music and making music with his students, brings him great joy.
“Music is really close to my heart. It’s part of my soul, I think. And, I love working with kids and I like teaching. Music gives kids a chance to express themselves, in socially acceptable ways,” he said.
He started his career in music as an instrumentalist. Rugen plays the clarinet, saxophone and flute. Then, as a high school freshman in north suburban Glenview, his older sister “dragged me down to the choir director because I sang a lot at home. We made a connection and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
He earned a music education degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and worked for 10 years in northern Wisconsin schools teaching kindergarten through high school.
He decided to earn a master’s degree in choral conducting and he and his wife, Cathie, relocated to the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In 1989, Rugen knew nothing about Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
“The first time I heard about H-F was at the National Choral Directors Convention in Kentucky, and I heard the job had come open because Elvis Coble was retiring,” he recalled. Colleagues encouraged him to apply “and I was fortunate enough to get the job.”
Rugen says he will walk away with many great memories of outstanding performances given at H-F and abroad, and of wonderful students, some of whom have gone on to music careers.
One of his favorite recent programs was the 2018 “Solar Wind” program that honored local astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who was being honored by NASA. Rugen is especially proud of the program because “besides having a music element, it was involving the No. 1 art department in Illinois, our science department, composers in our community who wrote pieces for it, and more than 450 kids performing that day. It was interdisciplinary, which I think took it up a couple of notches.”
He was happy to share his enthusiasm for music with Viking Choir members on the 10 international trips he organized. This year, he took students on tour through northern Italy.
“I looked for locations based on where I think the kids will have the best experience, and the best experience in the world of choral music is northern Italy” where Rugen finds “great venues.”
Traveling there also took him back into the Renaissance, his favorite music period, because of the “polyphonic music dichotomy. That world of music focused on each part as being an integral part of the composition.”
Although he’s retiring, Rugen won’t be leaving the area. He’s going to continue as choir director at Flossmoor Community Church.
“Keep supporting the arts. It’s one of the reasons people come to Homewood-Flossmoor,” he said. “It’s an excellent community to live in.”