The Gaarder Award is presented each year to an undergraduate music education major from one of Wisconsin’s public or private colleges or universities who has shown exceptional leadership, musical excellence and service to the campus and community.
Dominic Gischia's performance résumé reads like that of a professional musician many years his senior.
He's played some of the most beloved instrumental works in the some of the country's most prestigious venues. And as he begins his senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Gischia, from Kohler, Wis., is adding another honor to his cap.
He is the winner of the 2014 Richard G. Gaarder Award, the 16th Warhawk to receive it since its inception in 1989.
Awarded by the Wisconsin Music Educators Association, the Gaarder Award is presented each year to an undergraduate music education major from one of Wisconsin's public or private colleges or universities who has shown exceptional leadership, musical excellence and service to the campus and community.
Gischia will be honored at the State Music Conference on Oct. 29 at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison.
"Dominic is one of the most authentic students with whom I have ever worked," said Glenn Hayes, professor of music. "By that I mean he never seeks to impress or seek the spotlight. Instead, Dominic dedicates himself to any task that needs doing. Sometimes he is in charge and sometimes he is not. Regardless, his efforts are the same -- total commitment."
A percussionist who specializes in marimba, snare drum and timpani, Gischia has performed with eight of UW-Whitewater's 14 music ensembles, from the Symphony Orchestra to Vocal Jazz.
As a member of the Warhawk Marching Band, Gischia helped keep the beat and inspire fan participation as the national champion football team wowed the crowds at Perkins Stadium. His role as principal percussionist of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble -- a group directed by Hayes -- has enabled him to perform in venues many musicians only dream of.
"Our performances at Carnegie Hall and the Chicago Symphony Center were incredible moments of creating music with friends and classmates," he said. "You're so focused you only remember playing the last notes. You feel like you were on stage for five seconds."
Gischia says he thrived at UW-Whitewater -- not only because of the many opportunities to play and practice music -- but also due to the individual attention he received from his instructors.
"Doc (Hayes) is one of the biggest reasons why I came here. He's an incredible human being, always there to help, with so much experience in music education," Gischia said. "My one-on-one practices with Tobey (Wilkinson) steered me in creative directions and revealed new ways of thinking and doing things.
"Some people argue I've matured," he joked. "I've been able to experience so much, grown intellectually as a leader and a person. I've figured out what it takes to be the musician I want to be."
Wilkinson, a lecturer of music, calls Gischia a positive role model with integrity, kindness and a passion for excellence in everything he does.
"Dominic is, without question, the most dedicated future music educator I've had the privilege to teach," Wilkinson said. "I've had the pleasure to see him grow as a musician, an advocate for music education, and a person. I have complete confidence he will be an amazing music educator, and quite frankly, already is."
Among his many leadership roles, Gischia serves as a teacher and counselor at UW-Whitewater's popular band and percussion camps. The weeklong summer experiences bring middle and high school students to campus to enhance their skills and strengthen musical knowledge.
Gischia coaches small ensembles and teaches snare drum techniques to the campers. In turn, he learns a lot about leadership and working with students of different ages.
"It's fun to watch them interact with one another. The kids are so excited to play music. It gives me chills thinking about what they can accomplish in a short week," he said. "They played very challenging music really well."
After graduating with his Bachelor of Music, Gischia hopes to teach music education to middle school children.
"At that age, they're fun and impressionable, and they have a lot of energy," Gischia said. "I like that because I have energy, too."
Glenn Hayes agrees.
"Dominic's energized manner and vibrant personality brings out the very best in the students with whom he works," he said. "He is the person you want your child to have as a music educator."
Previous Gaarder Award winners from UW-Whitewater:
2013 - Deanne Carloni
2011 - Abigail Martin
2010 - Abigail Pulvermacher
2009 - Anthony Kading
2008 - Kristen Mary Baus
2006 - Lauren Lubinski
2005 - Katie Plovanich
2004 - Laurel Meuth
2001 - Megan Halinski
2000 - Anne Terneus
1999 - Shari Swiecichowski
1998 - Jennifer Schwingle
1996 - Ann Basten
1990 - John Scheib
1989 - Robin Davis