Making Service-Minded Music

Clara Presser (Osowski) is the recipient of the 2022 Horizon Award, which recognizes alumni who have graduated within the past 15 years and have attained great success in their profession or have been engaged in outstanding community service.

Story by Micaela Gerhardt | March 29, 2022

Horizon Award | Clara Presser (Osowski) | Evening of Distinction 2022 | NDSU Foundation

As an NDSU student, classical musician Clara Presser (Osowski) ’08 was inspired by Prakash Mathew, former Vice President of Student Affairs, and his commitment to servant leadership. Clara says that although performers are sometimes perceived as self-oriented people who are most interested in fame, she recognizes that a career in music has a greater purpose: building empathy and community.

“We do see the importance of how music can shape culture and how music can shape the individual, and I really think it’s so important that we performers think of ourselves as cultural ambassadors, but also empathy ambassadors,” Clara said. “We have the ability to tell someone’s story in a different way — it gives people a chance to be completely beyond themselves and to put themselves in a different position.”

Clara grew up on a farm in Turtle Lake, North Dakota, and her mom, a saxophonist and K-12 music teacher, recognized Clara’s talent and work ethic early on. She drove Clara 100 miles for voice and saxophone lessons every other week and encouraged her participation in International Music Camp. At NDSU, Clara continued to hone her musical skills.

“I knew how special the education at NDSU was, but now I think the region and the United States are starting to realize how good this program actually is and how much they care about the individual student,” Clara said.

Her career has since taken her around the world. Clara sings in professional ensembles, including Seraphic Fire, and has participated in numerous music institutes overseas to enhance her craft. She was also the first American prizewinner in the Das Lied International Song Competition in Heidelberg, Germany — one of the most prestigious voice competitions worldwide — and, in October 2021, she performed her debut recital at Wigmore Hall, a world-renowned chamber music hall in London, England.

Clara’s global experiences and service-minded musicianship led her to co-found Source Song Festival in 2013. Based in the Twin Cities, the art song festival provides educational masterclasses for composers, vocalists, and pianists; it also offers concerts and recitals for local audiences to enjoy.

“The driving factor was making sure everybody had access to this type of music education,” Clara, who serves as the festival’s artistic director, said. “My experiences overseas in similar programs inspired bringing the experience to Minnesota, knowing that it would be really well-received.”

Her approach to interpreting music — whether she’s performing a solo recital or singing with incarcerated women as part of a music residency at the Minnesota Correctional Facility — is informed by equity and the importance of empathetic communication.

“All of our feelings are so contemporary beyond time and beyond even cultural barriers at times,” Clara said. “Unlocking what those words do for the composer and what they do for the audience is a really important part of my job.”