Professor inspired students through caring attitude and passion

Justin Horwath

Mirjana “Minja” Lausevic, an ethnomusicology professor at the University, died July 15 in Northampton, Mass., of an undisclosed illness.

She was on a year-long leave from the University to spend a year as a Valentine Professor at Amherst College, near Northampton. She was 41.

Those close to her said she touched people through her caring attitude and passion for her work and life – and her smile.

“The substance behind that smile is the greatest lesson I’ve learned from being with her,” said her husband, Tim Eriksen. “She was full of life and full of love.”

The Bosnia-Herzegovina native released a book on Dec. 11, 2006 called “Balkan Fascination.” In it, she investigated Americans’ attraction to Balkan music, despite their lack of cultural ties to the rich, textured tunes of her homeland.

She taught with Eriksen, an Amherst alumnus and well-known musician.

“It was our happiest year ever,” Eriksen said. “We did everything together.”

The two met at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., after Lausevic moved to the United States with a degree in musicology-ethnomusicology from the University of Sarajevo in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Her move came just before war broke out in Bosnia in the 1990s.

She earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. at Wesleyan.

“She always just shone,” Eriksen said.

Lausevic and her husband moved to Minnesota in 1999, the year the University hired her as an associate professor.

She and Eriksen relocated and immersed themselves in ethnic music scenes in the Twin Cities – from African dance to Hmong pop music.

She worked on a research Web site called, “A World in Two Cities,” with her students and husband, which examined a multitude of ethnic music scenes in the area.

on the web

To check out the research Web site about ethnic music scenes Lausevic worked on, go to: http://cla.umn.edu/twocities/ rprojs/rprojs_index.asp

For more information on her memorial service in Amherst, Mass., go to: http://www.wmshc.org/ minja_memorial.php

Allison Adrian, a musicology and ethnomusicology graduate student at the University who studied with Lausevic for four years, said her professor made an impression on her right away.

“She had a huge smile on her face and her arms wide open to hug me, and I didn’t even know her,” Adrian said. “She just makes a big impression on everyone she meets.”

Musicology and ethnomusicology concentrate on the history and context of music respectively – why people make the music they do – which was a direct reflection of Lausevic’s “engaging” and “adaptive” personality, said Jerry Luckhardt, the head of the music department.

“Her work and her life was one in the same,” he said. “Who she was as a human being and what she did was perfect.”

David Grayson, a musicologist at the University who sat in Lausevic’s classes as her tenure was under review, said she was one of the most naturally gifted teachers he has seen.

“She knew the subject so thoroughly that she never had to look at any notes,” he said. “She just kept the students enthralled. She had a way of drawing them into the subject matter.”

Lausevic was to return to the University this fall as a tenured professor. She taught Music, Society and Culture, which focuses on cultural roots of music.

Music therapy senior Heidi Hackbarth recalled walking into Lausevic’s class her first year at 8 a.m. It was her first class and, after four years, remains one of her favorites.

“As a music major, you’re often absorbed in all this traditional, classical music,” she said. “And the first day of class she plays this, it ended up being this Bosnian folk song, and not a lot of people liked it.”

“Right away from the beginning, she challenged what we thought about music; what music was and what music isn’t,” Hackbarth said. “She was always very adamant about getting us to just try to listen to it, and if we didn’t like it, to analyze why we didn’t like it.”

Her teaching didn’t just stay in the classroom. Kim Bahmer, a University graduate and former student of the professor, said she sent Lausevic an e-mail “on a whim,” expressing concerns about her musical ability.

“She responded by inviting me to her house for tea,” Bahmer said. “She encouraged me to keep singing. If it was something I wanted to pursue, to just go for it. Ö She was definitely more about spending time with people, with students.”

Bahmer became fast friends with Lausevic. She once joined Lausevic, Eriksen and three students on a road trip to Alabama for a Sacred Harp singing convention.

Sacred Harp singing was one of Lausevic’s talents and passions. She made an appearance in the film “Cold Mountain” as a Sacred Harp singer, also performing at the 2004 Academy Awards.

Along with being in a Bosnian band, Zabe i Babe, together Lausevic and Eriksen raised money for victims of the 2004 tsunami by organizing an ethnic musical concert benefiting the disaster-struck nations.

Eriksen said Target Corporation officials were consulting the two on the world’s first global instrument museum.

Lausevic is survived by two children whom Eriksen said she “beautifully loved,” her son Luka, 5, and daughter, Anja, 3.

She is also survived by her brother, Dragan, of Whistler, British Columbia and mother, Nadezda, of Sarajevo.

A memorial celebration will be held Saturday in Northampton from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exact location is to be determined sometime this week.

The School of Music will hold a memorial celebration fall semester, which will include musical performances, according to the department’s Web site.

“Our home has been filled with her goodness and will continue to be,” Eriksen said.