CLC offers new music degree: Program strikes a chord with students

Beginning this year, those interested in a music degree can try it out without having to worry about losing out on all their credits, should they change their minds.

Jonathan Laflamme, a music director at Central Lakes College, talks Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, about the new music degree he created at the college, allowing students to try out being a music major without losing out on credits if they change their mind. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Jonathan Laflamme wants Central Lakes College to be the No. 1 two-year music school in the state.

And with a new associate of fine arts degree the music instructor created himself, CLC is on its way there.

“There’s nowhere in the state of Minnesota — or frankly anywhere — where you can ‘try out’ being a music major,” Laflamme said after a rehearsal Nov. 3. “So I reverse engineered a degree, essentially.”

Because music majors have to take so many unique classes throughout their two years at CLC, those who start the program but change their mind partway through and want to switch to something else essentially lose out on all the credits they’ve already earned, as they don’t transfer to other associate degrees.

The idea came to Laflamme after seeing a student pursuing a music degree on his own recommendation who decided to switch career paths and was left with dozens of credits that didn’t transfer to any other degree.


“So I never told another person to major in music because it really affected me,” Laflamme said, recalling his time as a high school music teacher in Pierz and Little Falls, noting he still supported his students who wanted to go that route but did not bring it up as a suggestion.

He still boasts 14 current band directors who were former students of his but believes that number could be a lot higher if colleges were set up differently.

"There’s nowhere in the state of Minnesota — or frankly anywhere — where you can ‘try out’ being a music major. So I reverse engineered a degree, essentially."

— Jonathan Laflamme

So that’s what he did at CLC. Beginning this year, those interested in a music degree can try it out without having to worry about losing out on all their credits, should they change their minds.

The program includes general classes needed for most degrees along with courses required for a four-year music minor under the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum, which is a collaborative effort by all two- and four-year public colleges and universities in the state to help students transfer credits to other schools.

“So if someone comes and tries to be a music major, at the very least they graduate with their generals complete and a minor in music at a four-year university,” Laflamme said.

Those who complete the program and want to continue their music studies will be able to do so at the College of St. Scholastica, Bemidji State University and Minnesota State University Moorhead without having to audition. They will be able to drop directly in as a junior music major, thanks to articulation agreements CLC has with those schools.

But because of the way the program is set up and because CLC is part of the Minnesota State system, theoretically, students should be able to transfer to their school of choice and have their credits transfer.


Having the right setup of classes was only half the battle for Laflamme, though. As he looked at the books that would be needed, he realized some of the course materials would cost more than the courses themselves.

“And that really bothered me,” he said.

"So if someone comes and tries to be a music major, at the very least they graduate with their generals complete and a minor in music at a four-year university."

— Jonathan Laflamme

So with the assistance of Orchestra Director David Thompson, he created the entire degree with open educational resources, meaning all the materials needed are accessible for free.

“I don’t think there is a college that will provide you a place where you can try being a music major, not have to pay for books and be able to tour internationally at cost with the transfer agreements that we have and the university experience that we have at a two-year school in the state,” Laflamme said.

Through his work as a guest musical clinician for a travel company — where he judges national and international band competitions, Laflamme is able to take his students on trips at one-third of what the actual cost would be. This summer, he’s taking band students on a tour of Spain, France and Italy.

“I want people to have the time of their life,” he said.

Garnering interest

Thanks to the new degree program, students like Jordin Roxberg and Dakota Walburg can stay close to home while working toward their career goals.


Roxberg, a Fort Ripley student who graduated from Brainerd High School last year, aspires to be a high school band teacher. His dad works at CLC and told him of the new music degree, which turned out to be a perfect fit.

Jordin Roxberg Contributed

Roxberg plays the flute, alto saxophone, piano and percussion, and Laflamme is trying to persuade him to learn the baritone saxophone next semester.

“I love music. I’ve been playing in bands since I was in sixth grade,” Roxberg said, noting his teachers at CLC have been great so far.

And he hopes to pass the knowledge he has gained at CLC on to another generation of musicians after he graduates.

“I want to teach people what I think is interesting,” Roxberg said.

Walburg is another first-year music student at CLC, hailing from Royalton. He plays alto saxophone, began taking piano lessons this semester and has been playing guitar and bass guitar for a couple years.


“I heard the music program was good, and I wanted to pursue music,” Walburg said of his decision to choose CLC. “My band director worked with Jonathan (Laflamme), so he kind of had a little insight. When he first started teaching, they taught together, so that was another big thing.”

His first couple months at CLC have been nothing but enjoyable, he said, and he hopes the degree he pursues there will help him on his way to a career in composition of some sort, perhaps working on soundtracks.

“I just want to make music,” Walburg said.

More than just a degree

While the new degree will no doubt attract students who want to pursue a career in music, CLC’s music program is about more than just a diploma. For Jon Williams, it’s a place to find a passion for music again after 45 years.

Before 2019, the last time Williams played his alto saxophone was during his senior year of high school in 1974. But six weeks before his daughter’s wedding, he decided he wanted to play for her and her husband. He took lessons from Scott Sater at Kingsley Music School in Brainerd and was able to play “My Girl” for his daughter. The next year, he played at his son’s wedding, too.

Not knowing how exactly he wanted to move forward with his musical journey, Williams was referred to CLC, where he now plays in the concert and jazz bands.

“I’ve been very impressed with, actually, all of CLC, where there’s been people that have helped me with registration or whatever I needed,” he said. “And of course, I’ve been very impressed with Jonathan and just the department here.”

Going forward, Williams wants to continue playing in ensembles and taking private saxophone lessons. He hopes to learn to improvise and maybe even write music now that he is at a point in his life where he has time for music after working and raising a family for so long.


“The nice thing,” Williams said, “is there’s a place for somebody that’s 65 years old.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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