Alumni Angle: Dr. Matthew Arau ‘97

Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Matthew Arau ‘97.
Photo by Hannah Burgess.

After spending enough time on the Lawrence campus, it becomes increasingly evident that a surprising number of our faculty and staff are in fact former Lawrence students. Assistant Professor of Music, Chair of the Music Education Department and Associate Director of Bands at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music Dr. Matthew Arau ’97 attributes this to the fact that “Lawrence grads had a very special education which makes us a good fit for this school, where other people may not have had the benefit of the liberal arts undergraduate education.”

Dr. Arau elaborated on his own time at Lawrence, how this liberal arts education influenced his career, and the path back to becoming a professor at his alma mater.

While at Lawrence, Arau completed an intense quadruple major. Already in the double degree program in music and government, Arau decided to add K-12 teacher certification and political science certification into the mix.

“I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life and started seeing education as the most important thing in society, and so I thought about becoming a secretary of education, but then I realized that being on the front line was where I could make the greatest positive impact. So I decided to become a teacher,” Arau reflected.

While at Lawrence, Arau revelled in his love of jazz and classical music, playing saxophone in the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, saxophone quartet and band. Aside from performing in a wide variety of musical groups, Arau was involved in several organizations and leadership positions on campus.

“I was the head of the judicial board for two or three years also, and in the Conservatory I was part of the Dean’s Advisory Council, a member of Lambda Sigma and I was part of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a music fraternity here,” Arau added.

After graduating from Lawrence in 1997, Arau took up teaching middle school and later high school band in Colorado for the next 15 years. During this time, Arau also began working towards a doctorate degree in conducting at University of Colorado Boulder. Though deeply involved in these programs, an invitation to come speak at an alumni scholars’ weekend at Lawrence altered the course of Arau’s career.

Looking back, Arau said, “It was like a dream come true when I came to Lawrence just as a guest alum to talk to students. I shared with some of the professors that my dream was to teach at Lawrence.” Little did Arau realize that shortly after, in the spring of 2014, a position would open up at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music.

Thrilled by an invitation from Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl to take up the position, Arau left his graduate residency a year early to move to Appleton with his wife and embark on his dream of working with Lawrence students and faculty in the Conservatory.

While Dr. Arau’s career has revolved around music education, his time as a student at Lawrence has allowed the band director to bring a further element of depth to his work. Dr. Arau spoke to the “unexpected consequence” which his Lawrence education had on life after Lawrence by helping him to look at “theoretically disparate subject areas and find similarities between them and integrate them and bring them together.” In Dr. Arau’s case, the subjects he hoped to combine were government and music.

Dr. Arau continued, “I was able to actually in the end combine what I learned in government with music, and where I found commonality was through leadership.” Using this, Arau started a student leadership program in Colorado for high school band students called the Leadership Symposium, a training program for the high school students.

“As we grew as leaders and learned about leadership, it had a positive impact in every element of the music program, even performance and how we treated each other, the relationship with the community, and then beyond high school the students found that what they learned in the Leadership Symposium was one of the most valuable things they brought to the rest of their life,” Arau said.

Arau continues to pursue the ideas of leadership in combination with music at Lawrence. In his recent article in the Lawrence magazine, “Leadership Through the Eyes of a Conductor,” Arau spoke to the power of an ensemble in which each member is “empowered to think like a leader” so as to create a unified whole. The band director also offers classes in leadership outside of the Conservatory.

“When I was a student at Lawrence I was trying to find the pathways to peace through the use of music … and struggled with that. I wasn’t able to discover the correlation between music and peace at the time, but now I’m able to see how we can learn leadership skills through the study of music, and that’s been a valuable lesson,” Arau concluded.