Local Women: Wanda Degen

Wanda Degen served as the performance coordinator for the East Lansing Art Festival for 25 years. Although her position was removed, she stays busy with her folk music doing performances and teaching classes and is thankful for the extra time to commit to both.

Q: What did you primarily do as performance coordinator for the east lansing art festival?

A: I organized the music at the stages and introduced the bands. I was in charge of identifying and hiring the performers and negotiating prices to work within our budget. When coming up with a schedule I tried to keep a variety of music styles that would appeal the community — I tried to make it something for everyone. My position was eliminated, and while it’s a change that’s hard to get used to, it’s really fine because there are so many other things for me to do. I have a deep sense of accomplishment from my work with the Art Festival. As an organizer I saw many dreams come true. And I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to do something I loved for so long. While no longer being with the festival will take some getting used to, I am also appreciative of the freeing up of some precious time to pursue new adventures. I live a life rich in creative experiences.

Q: You’re a folk musician as well? Tell me about that.

A: I’ve always loved music. I originally took some lessons at Elderly Instruments in Lansing, and I ended up becoming the director of the school of music there. I started making a living with music, and next year marks 35 years of teaching at Elderly. I’ve had students come from as far away as Missouri and Canada to take lessons from me. I enjoy teaching a lot. I ended up going back to Michigan State around 15 years ago as a music major. I responded emotionally to folk melodies, and those really hit me. I really like how you can tell an amazing story and have an emotional connection. I emotionally connect with this music. When I respond to a song, I really need to sing it. When I fall in love with a song, I play it on all my instruments and just absorb it. I do intergenerational performances teaching both preschoolers and doing lots of work in senior homes.

Q: With more free time now, what does your future hold?

A: My future holds my continuing teaching and performing. I wouldn’t mind working with more preschool classes and expanding my work with seniors. I would also like to see an expansion of my work with the Wheatland Music Organization. They put a lot of performers in senior homes with very little cost to the centers. There is also a program in Grand Rapids called Arts Enrichment, and I would love to develop something like that in Ingham County. There is a need for it. A lot of retirement communities are limited in their funding for extra events, and we have wonderful musicians around here that we could connect with those places. I would enjoy being a part of something like that.

Tags: East Lansing Art Festival, folk music, Local Women

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