New director chosen for Parkland College Orchestra

Sarah Powers

Staff Writer

Photo by Cindy Smith | Fine and Applied Arts at Parkland College Parkland College’s orchestra performs during their December concert in 2014.

Photo by Cindy Smith | Fine and Applied Arts at Parkland College
Parkland College’s orchestra performs during their December concert in 2014.

The search for a new conductor for the Parkland College orchestra was recently concluded with the hiring of Dr. Rodney Mueller, a Parkland orchestra cellist and retired string music teacher in the Champaign County school district.

The need for a new conductor was sparked after Dr. Jack Ranney, who served as conductor of the Parkland orchestra for over 25 years, was ineligible for rehire because of SURS policies.

Last year, the Illinois State Legislature passed a law placing income restrictions on state employees who receive retirement income from the State University Retirement System (SURS), making Dr. Ranney ineligible for rehire without a penalty from the state.

SURS retirees are limited in the amount they can earn from SURS related institutions, like state colleges and universities. If an employee exceeds the restricted limit, the school hiring the employee is imposed a penalty.

Dr. Ranney, who retired from teaching at the University of Illinois School of Music in 2005, was still acting conductor of the orchestra until this past May. With the installment of new SURS policies, Parkland administration decided not to renew his position to avoid a fine from the state.

This decision caused an amount of frustration among members of the group, who believe Dr. Ranney’s seniority and effectiveness in the orchestra is worth a fine from SURS.

“I do believe that some [current participants] will no longer come back to the orchestra,” said Glen Salo, a community member in the orchestra.

“That’s not a reflection of Dr. Mueller but because of the general discontent of the situation, ” he added.

Understanding of the political circumstances, Dr. Mueller believes that despite the current frustrations among the orchestra, hopes remain high for a productive and enriching semester.

“I can’t fit into [Dr. Ranney’s] shoes, because they’re different, but I’m looking forward to this opportunity as a chance for both the group and myself to grow,” said Dr. Mueller.

With over 30 years of string ensemble education experience, Dr. Mueller is confident in taking levels up from teaching children in Champaign County schools, where he taught for the past 19 years, to adult students and community members.

“I have a wide range of teaching experience, from preschoolers to adults,” says Dr. Mueller. “There are some small differences between teaching those levels, but I think I can move between those levels pretty easily.”

Describing the selection of music for the first concert (on September 27th) as the biggest challenge faced so far, “I’ve chosen music that won’t make us reach and reach, so we can come together and make music accordingly before that quick first concert,” said Dr. Mueller.

Selecting a stage and screen theme, expectations can be set for well-known pieces from movies and popular musicals and stage plays, or operas.

“I would like to try and grow the student participation in the orchestra as well,” Dr. Mueller said, referring to the group’s 75 percent community member involvement.

“More than a maestro, I’m a teacher. And to grow the Parkland student, whether they’re a music major or a non-music major, I want to help them grow in their musical understanding,” he said.

For more information about the Parkland orchestra or concert schedule, visit

For more information about SURS policies, visit