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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Diana Kodner Gokce

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Gordon: Where did you attend college and University and what degrees did you earn?

Diana: As you’ll soon see, my journey has been a winding one. I’ve always tried to take life as it came and wherever it led me. I attended Northwestern University for three years as a flute major, but left to play with the Minnesota Orchestra. Some years later, after my conversion to Catholicism, I finished my undergraduate degree at Mundelein College as a major in Liturgical music. I loved the small classes, the in-depth study of scripture, and the opportunity to study singing (something I was denied as a child). From there I returned to Northwestern for a double MM in Vocal Pedagogy and Conducting.

Gordon: What initially interested you in a career in Music?

Diana: My mother was a violinist, and there was always music in our home. When I was fourteen, I took an extracurricular course in conducting, because I wanted to learn music theory and ear training. It was offered on the University of Minnesota campus. My teachers, Henry Charles Smith, Clyn Dee Barrus, and Leonard Slatkin, thought I was an excellent conductor, and urged me to pursue it.

Smith, who was Assistant Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra suggested that I get a church choir to direct, and start an orchestra, if possible. The end of my sophomore year, when I was 15, The band and choral directors were throwing out tons of orchestral and choral music, and they told me I could have whatever I wanted, as long as I hauled it away. I took it all. Then, over the summer, I saw a job opening for choir director at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church posted at the U. of M. Campus. I believe they were looking for a University student, and I didn’t lie, but they didn’t ask my age, and after auditioning I got the job ( I worked at the church for two years and then left for Northwestern).

That same summer, I called about 100 musicians on the rolls of community orchestras and youth orchestras in the Twin Cities (I played in St. Paul Civic Orchestra and the Minnesota Youth Symphony). From those musicians I persuaded 30 to join my orchestra, The Little Orchestra of Minneapolis.

I found 30 folding chairs at a garage sale, and the musicians brought their own music stands for weekly rehearsals on Saturday evenings in our home. The orchestra gave 3-4 concerts a year for two years under my direction, and continued on for two years after I went away to college. In my senior year of highschool I conducted the Minnesota Orchestra at a Young People’s concert as winner of a conducting competition. I was one of the first females to conduct the Minnesota Orchestra in concert.

Gordon: What prompted you to take up the flute?

Diana: My mother chose the flute as my instrument. I wanted to play the violin, but she said she couldn’t endure a student violinist in her home. I asked for singing lessons, which was also denied. Of course, I grew to love the flute.

Gordon: When did you serve as Coprincipal and Utility Flutist at The Minnesota Orchestra, and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there?

Diana: I played with the Minnesota Orchestra for nearly three years starting in 1977, when I was nineteen. I was the youngest member of the orchestra at that time. During the summers I was full-time co-principal flutist, often playing first chair. During the regular season I played as needed, which interfered with my university studies, and led to me leaving Northwestern.

I have two favorite memories from that time. The first happened when I was playing principal flute on the first half of an all Tchaikowsky concert under the great Andre Kostelanetz. For the second half I was to play third chair for Tchaikowsky’s 6th Symphony. After intermission, the first chair was empty, and everyone else was on stage, ready to go. The personnel manager came out and motioned for me to take the first chair as my co-principal never showed up. I had not rehearsed the work, but fortunately had performed it as a highschool senior. After the performance, Maestro Kostelanetz motioned for me to take a bow by myself. Initially I resisted, but at his persistent urging I took the bow. After the performance he had me brought to him. In front of his entourage he highly praised my work, and emphasized the importance of what I had done.

On another occasion, I had the privilege of playing under conductor Jean Pierre Rampal, the renowned French flutist. The entire week of rehearsals was filmed for 60 minutes on CBS. At one point in a rehearsal, Maestro Rampal put down his baton to praise my “exquisite” tone on the flute. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Gordon: When did you serve as Assistant Director of Music at Queen of All Saints Basilica and what were your primary responsibilities?

Diana: My time as a music minister at Queen of All Saints Basilica was very dear to me. It was there that I met and was Baptized by Pastor H. Robert Clark in 1981, once the Superintendent of Catholic Schools in Chicago. I was born into a non-practicing Jewish family, and had been searching for spiritual meaning from childhood. My mother had converted to Judaism, but as a young child I found her old bible, and I loved reading about Jesus. My family occasionally attended the Unitarian church, usually when my mother played there, but I did not find what I was searching for in those experiences.

Rev. Robert Clark, Associate Priest Ken Velo, and the entire staff accepted me at Queen of All Saints as a “non-believer.” They never made any effort to proselytize, but from their warmth and example my long awaited belief came to fruition. I resigned from another beloved position as Choir Director at Rogers Park Presbyterian Church to worship and minister at the Basilica. I was Assistant Director of Music there from 1983-1988, and during that last year, wrote the first edition of my book, Handbook for Cantors, which was published by Liturgy Training Publications..

Gordon: Please share with our readers some information about your work at Loyola University Chicago

Diana: I very much enjoyed my work at Loyola University, though it is hard to make a living as an adjunct educator. Summers from 1985 to 1989 I taught Pastoral Music at Loyola University’s Lakeshore Campus. For the 1985-1986 academic year I was interim director of Loyola University Chorus at that same Campus. I was director of that chorus once again in the 2001-2002 academic year.

In June of 1990, 1992, and 1996 I gave workshops in Liturgical Music at St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, working closely with Dr. Kim Kasling, an extraordinary musician.

Gordon: When were you appointed Director of Liturgy and Music at St. Nicholas Church in Evanston and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there?

Diana: I was director of Liturgy and Music at St. Nicholas Church in Evanston for two wonderful years beginning in 1991. Rev. Robert Oldershaw was pastor, and Gabe Huck, Director of Liturgy Training Publications and a parishioner worked with us on liturgies. These were as fine as any I could hope for. Triduum liturgies were particularly special.

Gordon: When did you serve as Hymnal Editor at GIA Publications and what were your primary responsibilities?

Diana: From 1992 to 1994 I was Hymnal Editor at GIA Publications, and my primary responsibility was their first digitally generated hymnals: the first revised edition of Gather and Gather Comprehensive. I did extensive editing, arranging, and even some composition for those hymnals. My work still appears in a number of hymnals, including Oramos Cantando and the latest edition of Worship.

My very first assignment at GIA was the creation of the collection “Blest Are Those Who Mourn.” I directed music for the recordings of every song in the collection, and music was drawn from these recordings for “Catholic Classics, V. 1 and 2.” I left GIA in 1994 to become production manager at Liturgy Training Publication, and the only woman on the management team. I was there for four years.

About five years ago GIA published “Handbook for Cantors” (now in its 3rd edition) and a year or so later “Why do We Sing?” which offers my last word (I believe) on the importance of the singing assembly.

Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of your work as Senior Editor of Clavier Magazine and Editor of Flute Talk Magazine.

Diana: For two years I was a Senior editor at the Instrumentalist Company, initially writing for and editing Clavier magazine. As editor of Flute Talk magazine I had the privilege of interviewing the great flutist Sir James Galway. He and Jean Pierre Rampal were my favorite flutists.

Gordon: When did you serve at Holy Name Cathedral and what did you enjoy most when you were there?

Diana: I served at Holy Name Cathedral periodically over a period of thirty-five years. Fond memories include playing flute with Richard Proulx, and singing for (and conducting rehearsals with a group) for Tallis’ Forty-Voice Motet under Proulx’s direction. A very sad memory is singing for the funeral of Cardinal Bernardin, who was an exceptional servant of God.

I was on the Cathedral music staff for two years beginning in 2001, directing the women’s schola weekly at 5 pm masses on Saturdays, and singing as a regular member of the professional choir. I also conducted the combined choirs as needed or desired. A fond memory is receiving a note of thanks from Cardinal George for my work with the women’s schola.

Gordon: When did you serve as Music Director of The Mozart Sinfonia and what were your primary responsibilities?

Diana: My mother passed away late in 1998 (my father had passed nearly ten years earlier). She left me and my siblings a nice inheritance, and I wanted to do something in her memory, so I founded the not-for-profit orchestra, The Mozart Sinfonia. Unlike The Little Orchestra of Minneapolis, this was a professional orchestra of all-union players performing primarily Classical and Baroque era works. As its conductor, I led 3-4 concerts a year from 1999-2005.

Gordon: When did you serve as Music Specialist at Baker Demonstration School and what were your primary responsibilities?

Diana: In 2000 I left The Instrumentalist company to return to music ministry, freelancing, and working as Assistant Music Director at St. Joseph Church in Wilmette. In 2001, I was turned down to be self-insured–a bit of a crisis. A friend had asked me to recommend someone to be music teacher at her school, and I decided to take it.

The position was music teacher at Baker Demonstration School, and Associate Professor at National Louis University (a tenure-track position). Baker was within the National College of Education at NLU, and not only educated children, but trained teachers, particularly the associate teachers in every classroom. Classrooms were open to visitors and frequented by groups of students and educators.

Shortly after I started there, I learned from the Dean that NLU was in financial trouble, and she was charged with the task of closing Baker. Baker was and still is a wonderful school, and the entire Baker community wanted it to live on. I was selected by faculty vote (we had faculty governance) to represent them in negotiating the separation agreement. In 2005 Baker became an independent school, and in addition to teaching there, I served as one of its trustees.

Gordon: When did you serve as Music Teacher at The Frances Xavier Warde School and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there?

Diana: In 2012 I left Baker to teach music at the Frances Xavier Warde School. The position offered me the additional opportunity to teach liturgical music and to celebrate frequent school liturgies at Holy Name Cathedral and Old Saint Patrick’s Church. Also an independent school, FXW was the largest Catholic school in Chicago with roughly 1000 students at two campuses. I became the liturgical music specialist for both. The liturgies were exceptional, not only as school liturgies, but compared to any liturgies I have experienced, with robust singing by the assembly. I was there for nine fulfilling years. I left there in November of 2020 because of Covid.

Gordon: What are some of the challenges and rewards of being self employed?

Diana: I am retired now, but still do some teaching, writing, and consulting. I haven’t performed since the advent of Covid. I have time now for reflection, and for seeing the sacred everywhere: in people, in nature, and of course, in song.

Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.

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