Doctor of Philosophy, Music Education, University of Oregon
Master of Music, Music Education, University of Arizona
Master of Fine Arts, Viola Performance, University of California, Irvine
Bachelors of Music, Viola Performance, University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Dijana Ihas is an associate professor of music education at Pacific University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in music education, serves as an applied viola instructor, and supervises student-teachers. She is a founder and also serves as a director and master teacher of String Project, the first program of its kind in Oregon.
Dr. Ihas’ educational background includes a PhD in music education from the University of Oregon, master's degree of music education from the University of Arizona, master of fine arts in viola performance from the University of California in Irvine, and bachelor's degree in viola performance from the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, she holds K-12 music teacher license and is registered SAA Suzuki violin/viola teacher.
Prior to her position at Pacific University, Dr. Ihas taught strings and symphony orchestra at Sprague High School in Salem, Ore., where her advanced high school string orchestra won the Oregon State Championship for three consecutive years, an elite national competition called the Mark of Excellence for two consecutive years, and, in her final year of teaching in public schools, a full symphony orchestra co-directed by Dr. Ihas won the state championship.
While in Bosnia, Dr. Ihas was mainly a performer and was for 11 years employed as a viola player in Sarajevo’s four professional orchestras. She was also the viola player of the Sarajevo String Quartet, a group which captured international attention and received the most prestigious honors by Bosnian government for its unprecedented efforts in preservation of human dignity during the Bosnian war. The group has been subject of a documentary movie and two books.
Dr. Ihas’ research interests revolve around effective string teaching strategies and developing higher levels of thinking in string classes.
The arts and music carry the power to resonate with with people, more than broken windows, bombs or the looming threat of war. No one understands this more than Dr. Dijana Ihas, assistant professor of music at Pacific University.
The program she and other student teachers have spent the last five years cultivating at Pacific has revolved around utilizing music as a means to help people feel humanity.
"It deeply bothers me that many call this country a democratic society, yet we don't have equal opportunity for education or health care, which are two things that trouble me," said Ihas. "I'm an educator, and I always want to do something, and I've always asked myself, 'How will I contribute?'"
The National String Project Consortium supports the creation and growth of string projects at universities across the country. These programs are unique in that they provide practical, paid, hands-on training for undergraduate string education majors and give children the opportunity to study a stringed instrument. The affordable program takes care of the needs of young students and future teachers.
The project at Pacific is the only active program of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. It began with 12 students in 2012 and has grown to include 112 young minds studying the viola, cello and other stringed orchestral instruments.
Ihas was a professional musician employed by the Sarajevo Philharmonic and Opera Orchestra, and playing with the Sarajevo String Quartet was part of her job.
In 1992, nearly a month after Serbians sparked the Bosnian War with an invasion of the country and surrounded the capital city that she lived in, her rehearsals resumed amidst bombings and massacres. There was no running water, and the concerts the quartet played happened in the middle of the day, due to lack of electricity.
"One day, on the way to the concert, we could hear the bombing, and we set up and started to play, and people were running and walking, and then they would stop, and come toward us," she said. "And that was a transformative moment for me — explosions and shelling happening all around us, and seeing people stopping to watch and listen to us perform."
During the three and a half years of Sarajevo's besiegement, the quartet played 206 concerts in broken schools, churches, the frontlines and other venues crippled by war. Two members of the quartet were killed. Ihas and company received the Plaque of the City of Sarajevo — the highest honor a citizen could receive — for their performance during the war.
When a peace deal was brokered in December 1995, Ihas intended to stay in Sarajevo. But with the region suddenly split along ethnic lines, and her being in a mixed marriage, along with having an ethnically mixed son, she knew that her time in Bosnia had come to an end.
In August of 1997, she came to America with a bachelor's degree in viola performance. As a war refugee, she had very little, but took English classes and pursued a master's degree in viola performance at the University of California at Irvine.
When working toward a master's in music education at the University of Arizona, Ihas noticed that the school had a National String Project program.
"I thought to myself, 'If I ever have the chance to start that, I'm doing it,'" she said.
After receiving her doctorate in music education from the University of Oregon, and during her highly successful tenure as an orchestra teacher at Sprague High School, she received an email from Pacific.
The university was seeking someone to help start a String Project, and Ihas could not turn the offer down.
"The president of the NSPC told me that the program couldn't really exist at liberal arts colleges, and that they mostly exist at state schools, because those have more graduate student support," she said. "But Pacific has been very supportive. I applied for the grant in November 2011, and now, by the time the it expires, we'll be self-sufficient."
One of the key things about the Pacific String Project is to ensure that it remains accessible and affordable for everyone. Many schools don't have strings program, and after-school programs and expensive private lessons act as barriers for many students.
"This thing is really special, because there's this camaraderie among the kids. They're building relationships," said Andrea Zdrantan, a parent of a student in the program. "Every summer, she has a camp to give students a chance to see what they want to play, and there are different levels of expertise in the program."
"Our kids will always remember her," said Gail Harris, another parent. "They'll take this into their adulthood. She's had such a huge impact on their lives."
Students meet twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday for around 50 minutes to practice with Ihas and her student teachers. Although the assistants are required to take a class called String Pedagogy before helping Ihas, not all of them are music majors.
Kristine Ly is a sophomore at Pacific, currently studying Biology. She's played the viola for eight years, and is working toward becoming a master teacher in the program so she can teach a group on her own.
The program has even changed the educational pursuits for some university students, like Mikela Rayburn, a senior who came to Pacific with the intention of studying general education, but switched to music education after working with Ihas.
"Learning under her has been life-changing, and she's intense, but her level of excellence permeates this entire program," said Rayburn.
Tyler Goldman, a recent Pacific graduate, received a full-ride scholarship at Southern Illinois University, based on his four years of teaching in the String Project program.
The students and student teachers have been hard at work preparing for a concert this week.
Each show is based on a book so that students can learn more than music. The public is invited to attend.
"What saved Sarajevo was the working of humanity through the arts, and my experience from the war is what made me sensitive to the plight here in America," Ihas said.
IF YOU GO:
What: National String Project Concert
Where: Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center, Pacific University, Forest Grove
When: Thursday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.