Concert pianist Gregory Slag received a doctorate in music at The Juilliard School and played at the famous international Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Pianist Paul Heisler got his master’s degree at Yale and played a concert for royalty in Jordan. Besides being world-renowned pianists, these two men had one other important thing in common. They both learned how to play the piano from Mandan piano teacher Josephine Mushik.
Josephine was born in Mandan in 1917. As a child she wanted to learn the violin, but at the time the violin was considered an instrument for boys, so she took piano lessons instead. She learned piano from the nuns of St. Benedict, then studied piano at St. Scholastica College in Duluth, Minnesota. Unfortunately, she was not able to graduate, because her family didn't have enough money for tuition during the Great Depression. Upon her return to Mandan, she taught at the Belle Mehus Conservatory.
Before her career had a chance to take off, Josephine made national news in 1944, but in a very unexpected way. While hunting with friends, she ran towards a downed pheasant, but a skunk had appeared, guarding the pheasant for itself. Josephine came to such a sudden halt that she twisted her ankle. She and her friends waited for the skunk to leave, but the skunk was more patient, so they left without the pheasant. The story made the Associated Press and was picked up around the country. It was a pleasant and silly story to distract from the War.
In 1958, Josephine opened a piano studio in her home. She excelled as a piano teacher, with more than 500 students over 40 years. She strove for excellence in her students and herself. She became a certified independent teacher by the National Music Teachers Association and started the North Dakota chapter. She always read the latest literature in piano pedagogy.
In 1991, a concert was held in her honor and featured a solo performance by Gregory Slag, the student who made it to Juilliard. Due to Josephine’s outstanding achievements, it was announced on this date in 1994 that a scholarship at the University of Mary was started in her honor. She was much beloved by her students, many of whom became piano teachers themselves. She died in 1995.
Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa
Author Unknown, “Gregory Slag,” The Bismarck Tribune, March 26, 1994, pg. 9A.
Author Unknown, “Mandan Man Plays Piano for Royalty,” The Bismarck Tribune, October 7, 1988, pg. 3.
Author Unknown, “New U-Mary Scholarship Honors Mandan Pianist,” The Bismarck Tribune, April 8, 1994, pg. B1.
Author Unknown, “Skunk Cheats Mandan Woman Out of Pheasant,” The Bismarck Tribune, September 26, 1944, pg. 1.
Feickert, Gloria, “Lessons a Treat for Jo’s Pupils, The Bismarck Tribune, April 22, 1978, pg. 7.