Music at AUBG through the Eyes of One of Its Founders

June 13, 2023 Anna-Maria Ravnopolska-Dean
Music at AUBG through the Eyes of One of Its Founders

The following piece tells the story of the Fine Arts department of AUBG. It is written by Anna-Maria Ravnopolska-Dean, Professor of Music, PH.D, A.D., Harpist, Pianist, and Composer.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Being one of the founders of AUBG I am very excited to share with you some of my memories connected with the history of our University, and the music courses which we developed from the very beginning to the present day.

After studying for a while at Julliard School, N.Y. as a graduate student I transferred to Indiana University, Bloomington where I won a competition for entering in an “Artist Diploma” degree. After six successful recitals in order to complete my degree, I was awarded “Superior Artistic Achievements in Harp Performance”.

At this time I was offered a job as an Artist in Residence in the state of North Carolina.  Right then I found out about the founding of an amazing university in my native country Bulgaria.  The new university would follow the US Liberal Arts tradition and would give an opportunity to many kids from the Balkans and all other counties to experience this tradition, so far unknown in the region. After some thinking, I decided to decline the offer for the Artist in Residence and to take the adventurous path. I applied for a teaching position in Music at the American University in Bulgaria.  So did my husband, the American cellist, Geoffrey Dean who at this time also graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington. We were accepted as professors of music and came to Bulgaria right after our graduation in 1991.

Forming the new University was tough, exciting, and rewarding at the same time.  Starting during the summer we had to establish it before the school started in the fall. Many things had to be done. We were developing the university “in motion”. As our first president Ed Laverty was saying: “We are acting like the fairy Tinker Bell”.

My husband and I were appointed as Residence Life Directors. Our whole founding group consisted of about 10 people, including the President Laverty and his wife Roberta. We all had to do many unexpected things. For example, I had to be an “impromptu” translator for our president on the radio, when there were problems with the Parliament recognizing the University and the students’ degrees. I will never forget this day:

Ed Laverty just came to me and said: “You need to come with me!”  He didn’t explain anything, put me in a car and I ended up in the studio of the Blagoevgrad Radio where I was surprised that I had to translate for him to Bulgarian оn air.

Finally, we were ready to meet the first class of AUBG students.   Our students were “exposed” to the harp from the first day they came. This is one more thing that makes our University so unique! We were living in the dormitory with the students where I was constantly playing the harp and was concertizing at the University, in the city of Blagoevgrad, in other cities and countries.  I had my Carnegie Hall, NY debut in 1992.

To the question: “What music course will be the most appropriate to start with?” the unanimous answer was: a music appreciation course, which we called “Introduction to Music I”, FAR 101. It was to introduce the students to the elements of music, and to Western art (or “classical”) music through representative works by leading composers of the last 400 years.  We developed it under way and it was first offered in Fall 1991. It was taught jointly by me, Anna-Maria Ravnopolska-Dean and Geoffrey Dean. This was also the first Fine Arts Course at AUBG.

At this time we didn’t have any audio and visual music materials in the just-opened library, and there wasn’t YouTube. That’s why we put together a “Recorded Anthology of Music”, so the students can listen to the major Classical works that we included in this course.

Our first students showed a growing interest in music.  That’s why we developed in progress our second music course, “Introduction to Music II”, FAR 102.

We offered it in Spring 1992. This course was about vocal music in the Western classical tradition, with an emphasis on operatic literature in a historical context. The purpose was for the students to become familiar with the music and dramatic content of representative operas. We developed a“Recorded Anthology of Music II” in both videotaped performances and audio recordings. We also added to these a synopsis of the major operas presented in the course.

After having two courses on classical music I had the idea to also develop a course concentrated on Jazz. I was and still am a big fan of Jazz. Also, the country of Jazz is the US, and we are an American University. And it happened! In Spring 1993 we had FAR 197, Jazz taught by me and Geoffrey Dean. Starting Fall 1994, we offered History of Jazz, FAR 307.

I am still teaching “History of Jazz”, each spring. It is much remodeled and enriched, and not presented the same way, however, it is still on the same subject.

Now I will pay more attention to the applied music courses at AUBG, sharing with you my story.

Everything started with the U.S. military: they donated 5 pianos to AUBG, which were lying around the University and no one was using them.  One day I thought: why don’t I start teaching our students piano?  I shared this idea with colleagues from my department at that time. I had “great support” from them, such that they responded to the idea with phrases like: “Are you crazy? These are not music students!  They can’t even read music”. This attitude made me even more ambitious to start the piano program, and I proved that it works!

My very first students were absolute beginners. Not only did I teach them how to read music, but we had our first recital at the end of this very first semester.  This became a tradition: ever since then we produce a recital at the end of each semester.

I can’t even count how many students I have taught piano for all these years! Some of them already had a music background, but most of them didn’t have any.   That’s why I started composing pieces for particular students according to their capabilities and I was dedicating these pieces to them. I was also adapting and simplifying more difficult pieces, so they can play them. Many times I made special versions of pieces that they liked on YouTube and wanted to play them.

In spite of my colleagues’ skepticism at the beginning, it turned out that I inspired two of my students to pursue careers as professional musicians and be successful!

The first Applied Music Course was piano, FAR 203 and started in Fall 1994.

The first mass music course involving more than just one person, was the AUBG choir, which started in Spring 1995, FAR 105.  The choir conductor was my colleague, Hristo Krotev, and this course continues to be offered now. In the same semester, he also started the applied music, voice, FAR 203.  This course is still offered now.

Because I had some very advanced piano students at this time I started a new piano course in Spring 1995, Advanced Applied Music, piano, FAR 403. One of them was Miroslava Mincheva, who took all my music courses and graduated from AUBG as a JMC major.  She completed her doctorate in piano in the USA.  Now she is a professional pianist, and pedagogue, and has her own private music school in Colorado.

The applied music students at that time were seriously interested in the fundamentals of music, they wanted to understand what they were playing.  For that reason, Hristo Krotev and I started Ear Training I, FAR 107 and Harmony I, FAR 207 respectably in Fall 1996, and Spring 1997.  They were followed by Harmony II, Fall 1998, FAR 208, and Ear Training II, Spring 1999.  In Spring 1997 Hristo Krotev started Bulgarian Folk Music, FAR 297, and it is still in the curriculum.

Since our students were familiar with the harp from the very inception of the University through my harp playing, I wanted to also offer a harp course, but it took me a while to find a harp. Finally, I succeeded in this and offered Beginning Applied Music, harp, FAR 203 in Fall 1997.  It was followed by Beginning Applied Music, cello, FAR 203 in Fall 1998 taught by Geoffrey Dean.

The new courses contributed to the variety of our music curriculum.

In Fall 2004 Hristo Krotev offered History of Choral Art, FAR 306, for one semester.  In 2006, our students were very interested in opera and demanded a new music course, which Geoffrey Dean and I started teaching jointly in Fall 2006 — History of Opera, FAR 308.

Over the years, it seemed like interest to this course diminished and I was asked by the administration to replace it with a new music course. Being a big fan of Latin American culture, music, and dances, I thought that our students will like a course that will take them on a wonderful journey to Latin America and show them the richness of Latin American music in historical and cultural contexts. So I developed a new course, Music in Latin American Culture, FAR 310, which I started teaching in Fall 2009.  I still offer this course each fall. It is more of a cultural studies course emphasizing first on the history, culture, and arts of the different Latin American countries, and finally music.

In Spring 2010 the administration decided that not so many students are interested in taking Ear Training and Harmony, and they suggested closing these courses.  Then I thought of a new course, related to these courses, which will suit more the demands of the students and will unify mine and Hristo Krotev’s efforts. This new course was Music Theory, FAR 109, offered first in Fall 2010.

Currently, we offer a good variety of theoretical music courses:

  • Music in Latin American culture
  • History of Jazz
  • Bulgarian Folk Music
  • Music Theory

The applied music courses include beginning, intermediate, and advanced piano, harp, voice, and also AUBG choir. I am very proud to say that many students like to take music courses and enrich their knowledge by learning different things about music, how to play the piano, harp, and how to sing. I personally am very satisfied with my career at AUBG and with the results I have with my students.  Teaching students who usually have no musical background is very challenging and rewarding at the same time. I am so happy to see how much the students from my theoretical courses learn!   At the end of each semester and even earlier they talk about music like professionals, using the appropriate terminology. I am thrilled to hear how my applied music students play the piano and the harp at the concerts at the end of each semester! Most of them couldn’t even read music at the beginning of the semester. I think that this is amazing!

That’s why I don’t regret even for a second that I made this decision to decline the proposal to become an Artist in Residence in the state of North Carolina and joined AUBG instead.



I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Registrars’ office and specifically to Tanya Markova, for offering me the information of all music courses taught at our university from its very inception in chronological order.