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Babcocks share love of music, appreciation for Monmouth College

Barry McNamara
Paul Babcock ’87 and Dianna Lukkasson Babcock ’88
When Paul Babcock ’87 told his mother that he wanted to have a career in music, she was quite skeptical.

“This is a true story – my mom was afraid that music would not lead to a job,” said Babcock, president and chief operating officer of the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. He was back on campus Monday to speak to several groups of Monmouth College students, along with his wife, Dianna Lukkasson Babcock ’88.

Finding a career in music is just one of many things the couple has in common.

Paul worked his way up at the MacPhail Center, holding his current position since 2009. Dianna, who directs the Sing Play Learn program, has worked at the center since 1990.

In addition to each working at MacPhail for more than 25 years, the Babcocks not only attended the same graduate school (University of Minnesota) and college, but they were also high school sweethearts.

“We met in concert band,” said Dianna. “I asked him for a ride home.”

Their mothers both worked at Monmouth College, and their fathers were both employed by Gamble-Skogmo.

In addition to sharing a life together, they share a love of music and what it means to those who are exposed to it.

“We’ve had a great opportunity because of Monmouth College to really be deeply immersed in music, music education and the community,” said Paul. “Being a liberal arts school, Monmouth gave us a platform to test our interests and see what was possible.”

Paul said he chose Monmouth for the chance to be a part of its strong music program, and he remembers being particularly “intrigued” by the College’s jazz band, which was directed by John Luebke.

While performing with that ensemble, he had the opportunity to open for Louie Bellson, who Louis Armstrong called “the world’s greatest drummer.”

“I played on Louie Bellson’s drum set,” said Paul of that memorable concert.

Dianna also has fond memories of the jazz ensemble, serving as a “roadie” when the group toured Europe, visiting Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Babcock had been advised by his drum teacher, Chuck McClurg, to pick up a second academic major. So he chose business, taking courses from the late Homer Shoemaker and the “incomparable” Rod Lemon.

The choice was a wise one, as Babcock found a unique environment at MacPhail – a place that combined his talents in teaching, performing and administrating.

Dianna, who studied psychology at Monmouth for three years, has had a similar experience at MacPhail, incorporating her interests in music, psychology and education.

As a teacher, her goal is to make sure each individual child is engaged and learning. She says that providing learning through the medium of music enhances brain development, promoting social, emotional, cognitive, language, creative and physical development.

“We recently completed a three-year research project with low-income families in St. Paul,” said Dianna, who completed her final year of undergraduate work at Minnesota, then earned a master’s degree there in early childhood education. “We measured the impact of music integration with preschool children, and the results were very favorable. We see a huge impact with kids in areas such as vocabulary, pre-math skills, impulse control and de-stressing.”

The MacPhail Center now has nearly 250 faculty members who serve more than 15,500 students. It provides instruction at more than 130 locations outside of its downtown Minneapolis facility in more than 35 instruments and a variety of musical styles.

The center has three satellite sites in Minneapolis suburbs. It recently started a site 100 miles away from the city in the diverse community of Austin, Minn., a project that has taken much of Paul’s time.

“There are 58 different languages spoken in Austin, so music is really helping to level the playing field there,” he said. “We’re growing the business, so to speak, but the important part isn’t how many members we have – it’s making sure we have an impact with each individual.”