Ralph “Chris” Christoffersen has a long history in academia. First in Kansas, then at Colorado State University where he served as president in the 1980s.
And during his entire career as a chemistry professor and an administrator, Christoffersen says there was another constant in his life: music.
“I’ve been active in music since I was a teenager. I started in choir, and had some strong instructors to show me how important music is. Then, throughout my career, I was doing music in parallel with everything else. I had an a cappella group that rehearsed at my house.”
Christoffersen, who moved to Boulder with his wife Barbara 25 years ago, turned a love of music and higher education into a service to the community in 2011. The couple donated $600,000 to the College of Music to create the Christoffersen Endowment Fund for the Takács Quartet, which helps keep the Grammy-winning quartet in residence at the college.
Recently, the Christoffersens saw another opportunity to enrich and sustain music study at CU Boulder.
“Barbara and I decided we were going to support areas that demonstrated real excellence. The Takács is a world-class organization, so we wanted to further their work. Then—when we heard about Dan [Kellogg] and Carter [Pann], and the Pulitzer nomination—we wanted to do the same thing.”
The Christoffersen Faculty Fellowships in Composition provide salary support for Kellogg and Pann and further funding to bring in guest artists, purchase new composition equipment for the department and travel to conferences.
It’s gifts like these, Kellogg says, that enable the composition department to find new ways to stand out.
“Our program is able to provide more creative outlets for students than those at schools with more national prestige,” the composition area chair explains. “And because we’re a relatively small program, just 20 students, this allows us to build on our already-strong core offerings.”
The endowment comes on the heels of another big gift to the composition department: Last year, an anonymous donor provided $80,000, which went toward the founding of the new Boulder Altitude Directive—or B.A.D.—ensemble.
Pann, who directs the ensemble, says the generous support has opened doors to unique opportunities for students and faculty alike.
“B.A.D. was founded with the first installment of that anonymous gift,” Pann explains. “Its mission is to premiere newly commissioned works by composition students, not only in performance but also in professional recordings.
“All six members of the ensemble—made up of the cream of the crop of graduate student performers—are paid with the funding from the donor.”
Rounding out a banner year for composition at CU, Don and Maria Johnson—longtime friends of the college—endowed the $200,000 Architects of Music Fund, which provides scholarship support. It comes after the couple spearheaded a local celebration of the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence this fall, commissioning a piece from master’s student Conor Brown and creating a scholarship to send him to the Nordic country for research.
“We need to support our students through scholarships and opportunities like this,” Kellogg says. “Our goal is to take all the great things we’ve started, which the students love, and make sure they’re available in 30 years.”
The new endowment brings the Christoffersens’ lifetime giving to the College of Music to more than $1 million. It’s a gift the couple is proud to provide.
“The faculty at the College of Music are a treasure. That’s exactly why we’ve invested in them,” Christoffersen says.