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On Friday, December 21, at 8:15 a.m., the VanderCook College of Music Symphonic Band will perform at the 2018 Midwest Clinic for the 72nd year in a row.

Having co-founded the Midwest Clinic in 1946, VanderCook is the only institution that has been invited to perform every year.

“For a lot of directors, it’s not Christmas without Midwest,” says VanderCook’s Undergraduate Dean, Stacey Larson Dolan. Dolan has conducted the college’s band every year since 2004, and has personally attended every clinic since 1992. Dolan conducts again this year, along with guest conductors William Jastrow, Dr. Joseph Manfredo, and Charles “Chip” Staley. In addition, this year’s appearance sees Herman Knoll, retired Senior Vice President of the Hal Leonard Corporation, conducting the band. Knoll and Dolan are both VanderCook alumni, having earned Master of Music Education degrees in 1973 and 1998, respectively. Professor David Eccles will also conduct this year, with special guest Yang Liu as the violin soloist.

Guest conductors of the VanderCook band reads like a Who’s Who of the band world. Forrest L. Buchtel conducted the band at Midwest 18 times over the course of his relationship with the college. Paul Yoder and Victor Zajec each conducted 17 times, while VanderCook co-founder H.E. Nutt conducted 13 times. Composers Lucien Cailliet and Alfred Reed both conducted 11 times each, often conducting their own compositions. Reed, in fact, composed “Viva Musica” for the VanderCook band, which they premiered with Reed conducting at the 1983 clinic. The record-holder is VanderCook’s President Emeritus Dr. Charles Menghini, who led the band at 22 clinics.

Other esteemed composers and conductors have led the VanderCook band at Midwest, including Frederick Fennell, Vaclav Nelhybel, Harry Begian, Merle Isaac, H. Robert Reynolds, Thomas Fabish, Toshio Akiyama, William Owens, Eric Whitacre, William Revelli, Gary Green, Richard Brittain, Craig Kirchhoff, Allan McMurray, Frank Ticheli, Brian Balmages and Johan de Meij.

H.E. Nutt was a pivotal figure for both organizations. He not only co-founded the college together with Hale A. VanderCook, but also organized the first gathering that would become the Midwest Clinic with Neil A. Kjos and Howard Lyons. In addition to conducting the VanderCook band, Nutt had presented 46 clinics during his lifetime.

Nutt didn’t limit his involvement strictly to conducting. Ruth Rhodes, woodwinds professor at VanderCook (and BMEd recipient in 1969), remembers her former professor projecting the scores on a screen behind the bands while they performed. “He used a film strip, and every time a section in the music was repeated, he had to zip back through the film to find it – while still projecting.”

The VanderCook band has also welcomed a number of performing artists as guest soloists at the clinic, including jazz drummer Louis Bellson, trumpeter and bandleader Doc Severinsen, saxophonist Sigurd Rascher, trombonist Alan Raph, flautists Julian Baker and Jim Walker, clarinetist John Bruce Yeh, trumpeter Allen Vizzutti, and the Boston Brass ensemble.

VanderCook students also work during the clinic as stage hands and ushers, a tradition that has endured since the first Midwest Clinic in 1946. They have earned the nickname “the Blue Vests” for their distinctive uniforms, and the experience they get is “incomparable,” according to Dolan. “They get a first-hand behind-the scenes view of the largest convention in Chicago.”

Performances by the VanderCook band have been a highlight of the clinic for many attendees, and even within the college there are numerous moments that stand out above the rest. Freddy Martin conducted Vivaldi’s Concerto in B-Flat in 2006, with his sons Christopher (now principal trumpeter of the New York Philharmonic) and Michael (now with the Boston Symphony Orchestra) both guesting on trumpet. In 2009, Frank Ticheli conducted his piece Angels in the Architecture with VanderCook vocal instructor Angela Presutti Korbitz soloing, a performance that left many audience members moved to tears.

For Dolan, the memory that stands out most is when H. Robert Reynolds rehearsed with the band in 2015. “He just ignited on the podium,” she recalls. “He became a 24-year-old in front of our eyes. Everyone in the ensemble felt it. It was a study in conducting in 30 minutes.” 

VanderCook students are music education majors working towards teaching licensure in addition to their degrees.  All VanderCook undergraduates learn to play and teach 19 instruments, and complete over 60 days of supervised classroom instruction, by the time they graduate.

 



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