‘Teaching was my love, students were my kids’

Anoka Hennepin orchestra teacher Judy Blomgren retires

By Megan Hopps

SUN PRESS Newspapers

 

Judy Blomgren has taught music to thousands of students in the Anoka Hennepin school district for more than 30 years.

Judy Blomgren conducts her orchestra at Champlin Park High School. Blomgren has taught at the school since it opened in 1992 and has been teaching music in the Anoka-Hennepin School District for over 35 years.

Judy Blomgren conducts her orchestra at Champlin Park High School. Blomgren has taught at the school since it opened in 1992 and has been teaching music in the Anoka-Hennepin School District for over 35 years.

But her students don’t know her as Ms. Blomgren, and especially not Judy Blomgren. Her students call her Ms. B or Mama B.

“We call her that because she’s such a motherly figure to all of us,” said Champlin Park junior and orchestra student, Katie Ung.

Blomgren’s love of music began in sixth grade when her piano instructor had asked her to teach music in the classroom.

“I started playing in the orchestra in Jr. High,” Blomgren said. “I played for six years all through high school.”

Her interest in conducting, however, didn’t spark until high school.

“I will never forget watching my instructor direct Russian Sailor’s Dance,” she said. “It was the first time we had ever played full orchestras, and I was sitting there watching him and he was getting really into it. Sweat was flying and he was frantically waving his arms and I just thought this is really cool. I just thought, yeah, I could do that.”

 

The Beginning 

Flash forward a couple of years and Blomgren found herself taking the ACT.

“Back in those days, you could only take it once,” she said. “And I had major test anxiety. I sat down with it and I butchered it. I got a really low score.”

So she decided to discuss her test results with a high school councilor.

“I sat down with her to go over the scores and she asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told her I want to get a teaching degree; I’d like to teach orchestra. And she looked right at me and said, ‘You’ll never be one of those. Look at your ACT scores, you’re not bright enough.’”

But Blomgren was determined to prove her wrong.

“I was really upset by that,” she said. “So I applied to places like Luther, the U of M, Augsberg and St. Olaf. And my councilor was right. I didn’t get accepted. My ACT score was too low.”

But fate has a way of revealing itself. And it was wrapped up in a promise made by a man named Herman Herz.

“One day in my orchestra class, in walks this older gentleman with a think German accent,” she said. “He was recruiting for his orchestra at Mankato State. I asked him if he was still looking for students and he said in a loud voice, ‘My sweetheart, of course I’m looking for more students! Come down to Mankato and I will show you the campus.’”

So that very weekend the aspiring string player went down to tour the Mankato State campus.

“He spent the whole day showing me the entire campus,” she said. “And I thought, my goodness, the orchestra director is spending all this time with ME?”

Unsure if she would be accepted, she went to the administration and they told her if she applied, she’d be accepted.

“And they accepted me!” she said. “I was so excited.”

But Blomgren had another obstacle to overcome. “I didn’t think my folks had enough money to pay for my schooling,” she said. “I told this to Mr. Herz and he said, ‘Oh my sweetheart, apply for a scholarship!’”

So she prepared for an audition.

“He called me and told me I got the scholarship!” she said. “But there were a few conditions. He told me I was to play first chair, second violin with the orchestra all four years and I’d get a full ride to Mankato State. And I said, ‘It’s a deal.’”

 

Conducting

Then the then came for Ms. B. to decide if she was really going to teach. And she had made up her mind that was what she truly wanted to do.

“I was in Mr. Herz conducting course and he told us we would be able to audition to be a guest conductor for our last concert as a senior,” Blomgren said. “So I asked, ‘What do I have to do?’”

He told her to practice Magic Flute overture. So she began studying. She put the record on her record player and began conducting.

“I studied the score really hard,” she said. “I practiced conducting tons and tons in my dorm room. My room mates just thought I was nuts.”

The time came when Mr. Herz held auditions to see who would be the one to conduct the orchestra in the seniors final performance.

“And guess who got picked?” she said. “I did. It was such a cool experience. I will never forget that.”

 

Graduation

Then, in December 1976, Blomgren graduated with cum laude honors from Mankato State. And there was someone from her past that she had to visit. “I took my diploma back to that councilor and I put it on her desk, pointed at it and said, ‘You told me I’d never be a teacher.’”

But finding work was another obstacle. Blomgren applied for several different jobs and didn’t hear back.

Then, one day, she heard from the Anoka Hennepin school district looking for someone to take over the orchestra program at a junior high. “So I interviewed and got the job,” she said. “I was the third orchestra director that year at Northdale Middle School.”

At that time, there were 14 students in the orchestra.

“I remember that so clearly because all these rambunctious junior high kids thought they were going to rail road over me? Mm mm. Wasn’t gonna happen.” So she made it a goal to build the program.

“I was able to get students that had quit to come back,” she said. “By the end of the year we were up to 28 or 29 strings, which was a whole lot better than when we started.”

 

‘She’s Really Good’

At the end of that year Blomgren was given a pink slip, which doesn’t guarantee that her position be held for her again in the coming year. “And those students went to the principal and said, you can’t do this. She’s really good.”

And the parents stood behind her too. When the district saw this, they accepted her back to the program. She taught the students for five years until the district was underwent major budget cuts. “And again, students and parents got very upset,” she said. “Only this time they went to the school board.”

The district kept her in the program and she taught at Northdale, teaching general music, choir and orchestra for 15 years.

And then in 1991, Blomgren got a job offer to be the orchestra director for a new high school opening in the district, Champlin Park High School. So she accepted the position, which, at the time, was only part time. She divided her time between the high school and Northdale Middle School until the program at the high school really took off. “I built up the orchestra program and eventually moved to be full time here,” she said.

And she’s been with Champlin Park ever since.

 

Memories

But Blomgren added that nothing beats the many memories of students over the years. “So many have gone on to be teachers, professional string players and directors and that means so much to me.”

Music will still be a big part of her life after she retires from teaching.

Students Katie Ung, Monica Creary and Sophia Hortman share their many fond memories of 'Mama B.' The girls agree, Champlin Park's music department just won't be the same without her.

Students Katie Ung, Monica Creary and Sophia Hortman share their many fond memories of ‘Mama B.’ The girls agree, Champlin Park’s music department just won’t be the same without her.

“I am very excited for the future,” Blomgren said. “I want to travel a little bit, but more importantly, I want to set up a teaching studio at home. I want to teach piano, violin and viola. I love one on one teaching; to see the light turn on. I’ve missed it.”

Though she plans to continue teaching privately, she worries for the adjustment of her current students.

“About 25 that are in my orchestra this year have not signed up for next year,” Blomgren said.

“I’m not playing next year because she’s leaving,” said Monica Creary, a junior at Champlin Park. “It just won’t be the same. We can’t function without her.”

“It’s really sad, because she’s such a big part of the music department,” said junior, Sophia Hortman.

“She’s one of those teachers that doesn’t do this because it’s her job, she does it because she loves music and because she loves us,” said Creary.

Blomgren added that the relationships with her students are timeless, and that she’ll never forget the many memories over the years. But she’s ready for the next chapter.

“It’s been 37 years,” she said. “And that’s enough. Teaching was my love. And the students were my kids.”

 

Contact Megan Hopps at megan.hopps@ecm-inc.com

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