The Canadian-born conductor, music pedagogue and musicologist, Melvin (Mel) P. Unger, obtained his Bachelor of Music degree in Choral Music Education from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, where he Studied music education (1970-1974). He was one of the first North American conductors to study Choral Conducting with Bach specialist Helmuth Rilling at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Frankfurt, including recordings for his comprehensive Bach Cantata Series (1974-1975), while on a scholarship from the German government (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst). He continued his studies at the University of Oregon, where he obtained his Master of Music degree in Choral conducting (1977- 1979), including conducting at two seasons of the Oregon Bach Festival. He received his Doctor of Musical Arts in Choral Music from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1980-1986), (where he was a University fellow).
Melvin Unger holds the Riemenschneider Chair in Music at Baldwin Wallace University, where he serves as Director of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute. Advances under his leadership have included the securing of NEH grants, heightened international visibility and regard for the Institute's journal BACH (sent to subscribers in 26 countries and now available online through EBSCO, JSTOR, and RILM), the creation of opportunities for staff development, the planning and completion of renovated/expanded facilities, and the establishment of an endowed scholar-in-residence program.
Melvin Unger is the founding director of the Baldwin Wallace Singers, and since 2001 he has also conducted the Singers’ Club of Cleveland, a male chorus serving the greater metropolitan area of Cleveland with an annual subscription series. Before moving to the USA from Canada, he served for 18 years as music director of the Da Camera Singers in Edmonton, a choir of semi-professional caliber.
In 2012–2013, as a Fellow with the Emerging Leaders Program of the American Council on Education, Melvin Unger worked at Roosevelt University (Chicago) with President Charles (“Chuck”) Middleton in the university’s strategic planning process, alongside consultants from Penson Associates and Noel Levitz. During the year, he also met with leaders of more than 20 institutions of higher education, participating in discussions of the most pressing issues in higher education today. These included the different models for MOOCs (Stanford, Coursera, and Udacity), current issues in athletics (NCAA headquarters), integrating cost and design processes to manage construction contingency (Wayne Community College, Detroit, and Hamilton Anderson Associates), risk management (University of California, Office of the President), academic renewal (Howard University), access and student stratification in higher education (Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University), and meeting the nation’s 2020 completion goal (Lumina Foundation), to name a few. For his “focus project” (a required element of the fellowship program), he chose to study best practices in integrating the liberal arts with professional career programs. The result was a 10,000-word white paper referencing 46 colleges and universities. For Roosevelt University, he produced a study of similar length, identifying the commonalities among nine of the university’s academic and administrative “centers of excellence,” relating his findings to the national literature and making recommendations on how these centers could be replicated. For DePaul University, Dr. Unger co-wrote a white paper on opportunities for leveraging their efforts in community engagement. During the year, he also completed the three levels of training required for certification by the Society of College and University Planning (SCUP).
Melvin Unger has collaborated with a diverse array of composers, soloists, conductors, ensembles, and theatrical directors. Among them are Grammy-award winning composers William Bolcom and Chen Yi, Grammy-award winning bass-baritone Mark Doss, Heldentenor Timothy Mussard (winner of the 2009 Prix Lauritz Melchior Award), Armenian-American composer Loris Chobanian (premiere of April 24 - Armenian Requiem), the Alberta Baroque Ensemble, the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra, the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem), and Canadian Big Band legend, Tommy Banks (Canadian Country Music Awards). His ensembles have appeared at numerous national and international conventions and festivals, including the Toronto International Choral Festival and the Classical Music Seminar-Festival in Austria, where his choir served as principal chorus-in-residence, an honor that included a performance of Vierne’s Messe solennelle at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. His North American appearances have taken him to twenty-four states and provinces.
Melvin Unger's publications include numerous scholarly articles, several critical music editions, and five books, the most recent being Historical Dictionary of Choral Music (Scarecrow Press, 2010). He is a recipient of the American Bach Society’s William H. Scheide Fellowship (1996), two American Choral Directors Association’s Awards (1991, 1997), and the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors’ 1998 Book Award. He is a present or past member of numerous advisory boards including the Ohio Choral Directors Association and the American Bach Society.
In April 2005, Melvin Unger was appointed Director of the Fredonia School of Music (State University of New York at Fredonia).