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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: David Dodrill
Interviewee: Elwood Keister
April 8, 1987
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee Dr Elwood Kelster
Interviewer David Dodrill
April 8, 1987
Dr Elwood 'Woody" Keister is retired professor emeritus of choral music from the University of
Florida He was with the Department of Music from 1957 to 1980, where he taught voice and conducted the
University Choir and the Choral Union Keister has sung with the Robert Shaw Chorale, a group that
recorded with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony He also is a founding member of the American
Choral Directors Association This interview is part of a series on the history of the Department of Music
Kelster came from a musical family, his grandfather played violin, and his mother sang and played
piano Kelster has sung and played violin throughout his career He attended Baldwin-Wallace College
While he was in the army he was able to take the courses he needed to complete his bachelor's degree
Keister then entered Eastman School of Music for his master's degree He went to Iowa State Teachers
College (nowthe University of North Iowa) to teach voice, he also performed in the orchestra It was there
that he met his wife, Gloria, a pianist and accompanist Keister earned his Ph D at Columbia University
Teachers College He returned to Iowa for a year and then went to East Carolina Teachers College (now
East Carolina University)
Keister came to the University of Florida in 1957 as head of voice and choral activities He
describes the music building, and old wooden World War II building, as very noisy, but faculty relations were
very friendly He has high praise for past chairman Alvah Beecher for developing the department and
bringing in faculty He recalls that at his interview Beecher told him, "You have to get along There were no
bitter feuds in what has been called the "war department" at other institutions Alvah Beecher was a man of
national standing, particularly as an officer of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Colonel Harold Bachman, the band
director, was another faculty of national reputation Keister noted that the department emphasized classical
training, since that is easily applied to other styles of music
Keister recalls that integration in the 1960s was no problem whatsoever He recounts how he
canceled one concert while on tour when he was informed that blacks were not allowed He did note that it
was difficult to find qualified black faculty He describes the role of the music department as a service
organization, noting that non-music majors found a special camaraderie in the choral groups that they did
not find in their other classes He has special thanks for Vice-President for Academic Affairs Robert Bryan
and UF President J Wayne Reitz for their support, as well as the Student Government for financial support
that enabled the department to being in soloists and to take the band and chorus on tour
Keister discusses at length how music department faculty worked with architects in designing the
new Music Building (1971) He is distressed with how Florida State University was able to restrict degree
programs at UF, resulting in fewer courses and more non-majors participating in programs here He also
notes that the Department of Music made a mistake when early on it did not hire faculty with terminal
degrees, which also limited higher degree programs Keister counts holding the department together during
the difficult early years and producing an atmosphere of culture on campus as successes He recalls how
the chorus, soloists, and orchestra used to produce operas and large-scale vocal works as Handel's Messiah
and Verdi's Requiem Of special interest to Keister was his research at the Institute for the Study of the
Communication Processes on how the voice works
Since his retirement from the University, Keister has removed himself completely from music He is
involved in his second career commercial flying He has been flying since 1946 He and his wife also enjoy
working in their yard
D: This is an interview with Elwood Keister, [retired] professor of [choral]
music at the University of Florida. The interview is being conducted in the
living room of the Keister residence, 706 21st Avenue in Gainesville,
Florida. The interviewer is David Dodrill. Today is April 8, 1987, and it is
approximately ten o'clock. This interview is for the University of Florida
Oral History archives. Mr. Keister, will you please give us your full name
and when and where you were born?
K: My name is Elwood Keister, but everybody calls me Woody. I was born in
Canton, Ohio, 1920.
D: How did you get the name Woody?
K: Well, it came out of Elwood, I guess. That is a little stiff. My parents gave
me that name, and it was just a little stiff, so people started calling me the
"wood" part and called me Woody. It has stuck over the years.
D: Tell me a little about your family when you were growing up.
K: Well, I was always interested in music. My grandfather was a violinist,
and my mother was a singer and played the piano, so music was a part of
our home. I started violin lessons very early. The singing came later. I
studied violin and went to Baldwin-Wallace conservatory in Cleveland,
Ohio, for part of my bachelor's degree. [Baldwin-Wallace College is in
Berea, just southeast of Cleveland. Ed.] The last part of my senior year in
college I was drafted into the army. Subsequently, during my army period,
I was in Columbus, Ohio, and was able to get a few credits to finish my
degree there before I got out of the army. Then after the army I went to
D: Where did you go to graduate school?
K: After the army I went to Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York,
and got my master's degree. From there I started my teaching. My first
job was at what was then called Iowa State Teachers College [in Cedar
Falls, Iowa]. Of course, that "teachers college" concept is all gone now.
The name was changed some years later to the University of Northern
Iowa. It was a very large, fine music department. There were three of us
from Eastman that went there the same year.
D: What year was that?
K: That was 1947. I met my wife there. She was teaching piano and
accompanying faculty and students.
D: What is your wife's name?
K: Gloria. Gloria's studio was across the hall. Singers always need
accompanists, so we got friendly really fast.
Going back, I was a violin and a voice major all the way through, but the
voice did not start to develop until later. At Baldwin-Wallace I graduated in
both voice and violin. At Eastman I concentrated mostly on voice, but I did
do a lot of string playing while I was there.
I taught at Iowa for about five or six years. During that time I went back to
Columbia University [Teachers College in New York City] and spent two
years there getting my doctorate. Then we went back to Iowa for one year
after the doctorate and before we went to North Carolina to teach at the
state college there.
D: What year was that that you went?
K: I went to North Carolina in 1952, I believe. I was there four years. It was
called ECTC, East Carolina Teachers College. It was in Greenville, North
Carolina. They have since changed the name to East Carolina University.
That was a very nice department, too. It was very good. I taught there
for four years. I was the choral director. Choral [music] eventually
became my field.
I left Iowa for two reasons. First of all, I replaced a faculty member that
went away for a year to get his degree. I enjoyed his choir immensely, but
I knew he was coming back, so I took the job at East Carolina. Guess
what? He did not come back. [Laughter]
Of course, at both Iowa and East Carolina I played violin in the orchestra
and played in string quartets and things like that, but mostly I directed the
university choir and kind of looked after the voice end of it--voice teaching.
Then in 1957 we moved to Florida, where I became chairman of voice and
choral activities [at the University of Florida]. I stayed there the rest of my
K: So you were at North Carolina for five years?
D: Four years. Gloria was at Iowa for about six years, and I think I was there
for five years. We liked it out there very much. We liked both North
Carolina and Iowa, but Iowa is just so cold. My hobby of flying just did not
work in zero weather.
D: Your master's degree and your Ph.D. were in what area specifically?
K: The master's degree from Eastman was what they called music literature,
but it really was a performance degree in voice and violin. Then when I
went to Columbia, after I gave it a lot of thought, I thought if I was going to
be in the teaching profession, I really ought to know a little something
about teaching. I had never had that sort of thing. Columbia at that time
was very strong in the teaching aspects of it. It was the strongest in the
country. They call it Teachers College of Columbia University. They had
all the best people in the country at that time, I think. They were very
good people. That was the time when Columbia was really at its peak. It
has somewhat "depeaked" from then on, but its heyday was after the war,
and there were very famous people there. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
At the same time, I was in New York, and I sang professionally. I
auditioned for and got into the Robert Shaw Chorale. I was singing all
over town and doing all kinds of things. We did opera and a lot of singing
at funerals and parties and all kinds of things, so I kept busy while I was in
New York. I really enjoyed the professional part of being in New York.
K: Approximately what years were those?
D: About 1952, 1953, 1954, somewhere around there. Then I went back to
Iowa for a year. Then we went to North Carolina in 1957.
K: Was there any particular person that had a profound impact on your music
career, when you were growing up or in your early adulthood?
K: Yes, there were people all the way along. Music, of course, is a one-to-
one thing. It is not like science or history or something like that where you
can get it out of books and you can get it in a class. When you study
music, it is always one-to-one, you and the teacher together for a lesson.
So I think there is a better chance that one person can make a real
difference with a musician, because you are one-to-one. In high school I
had a violin teacher that looked after me and supported me and
encouraged me. Then in college I had another violin teacher that
influenced me, I think, as much as any. That was at Baldwin-Wallace.
K: Who was that?
D: That was George Poinar. George was the director of the orchestra and
taught violin. There were other teachers there, of course, that were very
good. George was the kind of person that could inspire you to work
harder than you really wanted to work. George died just recently. Of
course, there were others, too, that had an influence.
When I really got serious about choral music, when I got with Shaw in
New York, I began to watch the way he operated. The things he did with
the choir were just stupendous, and the opportunity to be in that group for
a year [was immeasurable].
K: That is an independent company?
D: It is the Robert Shaw Chorale, which is the most famous chorale that ever
was, I guess. At that time he was [Arturo] Toscanini's fair-haired boy.
[Toscanini was the director of the NBC Symphony.] We did a series of
five concerts at Carnegie Hall with Shaw, and we also did Beethoven's
Ninth Symphony and the B Minor Mass [by J. S. Bach] with Toscanini.
We did several operas. It was just wonderful. We did the very finest
things. Working with Toscanini was an eye-opening experience, and an
ear-opening experience, too.
K: What do you remember most about him?
D: I remember most that he operated entirely in rehearsal and performance
without any music at all, without a score. He just knew everything about
that. He was standing in front of the NBC Symphony, which was a fine
orchestra, and all these singers, and he knew not only the score, but he
knew the rehearsal numbers. He would tell us to start two bars before
number 3, for instance. He knew exactly where that was. He also had a
terrible temper, some of which may have been for effect. He had a terrible
temper. But he was a tradition at that time, and everybody tolerated him,
mainly for the results that he got. He was very inspiring.
I cannot remember any others at Columbia that inspired me, particularly. I
felt fortunate that my training all the way along was very good. Baldwin-
Wallace was an excellent school. It is a small church school of about
eight hundred. The best department they had, I think, was music. They
had a fine conservatory of music. Eastman, of course, is one of the
outstanding music schools in the country. It was difficult for a little farm
boy like me to get through it, but I was fortunate there. I think, too, it was
fortunate that I went to Columbia and learned a little something about the
process of learning and the process of teaching. The fact that you know
something does not guarantee that you can teach it to somebody else.
I decided two things: (1) I ought to know something about the teaching
process, and (2) if you are going to be in the field you have to have the
degree requirements. You would always be handicapped at the college
level, especially without the doctoral degree. It was not so much that way
then, but I could see on the horizon where they would put a stack of
papers [of applicants for a college teaching position] without the degree
and a stack of papers with the degree. They would be separate piles, and
your name may not always be in the pile from which they were going to
choose a candidate.
K: Turning to your time at the University of Florida, what brought you to the
University of Florida Department of Music in the first place [in 1957]?
D: Well, East Carolina was a fine school, and we enjoyed being there. But I
felt that being associated with a large university like this was probably
advantageous. At that time I did not realize that East Carolina was going
to develop like it did. East Carolina College at that time was one of the
poor step-sisters of the state system. All the money in North Carolina
down through the years, as you may know, went to Chapel Hill. I have
since learned that the funding at East Carolina College, where I was, was
exactly one-half of the funding that Chapel Hill got. So the academic
standards at East Carolina and the funding that they got were really lower
than at a place where I wanted to be, and I just felt that Florida had a
much better opportunity.
They offered me, of course, some inducements here, with the choirs and
the chairman of voice and chairman of the choral [department]. They
gave me the University Choir and the Choral Union, which is a large
singing group of people that do large works like [G. F. Handel's] Messiah.
I think the climate had something to do with it, too. I never regretted
coming to Gainesville, because it is such a fine town and a fine climate.
We feel fortunate to have been here and raised our children in Gainesville.
D: Do you think it was an easy adjustment when you first came?
K: Well, not really. The summer I came my wife was pregnant with our
daughter, and I was at Lost Colony, which is one of Paul Green's outdoor
dramas. I was directing the music for this production at the North Carolina
Outer Banks. The problem of getting my wife down here in her pregnancy
was significant. The doctor said she could fly, and she thought she could
do that all right, but she neglected to tell the doctor she was going to fly in
my small plane. [Laughter] So we flew down here in my small plane.
Before we left, the department chairman at that time [Robert S. Bolles]
said, "You just leave the housing to me. There will be no problem at all."
When we got here there was absolutely no housing. Nothing. At that time
there were no houses in Gainesville for rent. There was just nothing. We
finally settled on a tiny apartment that was so small that we could plug our
vacuum cleaner in one place and clean the whole apartment at one time.
So housing was a great problem for us [when we first arrived]. After we
were after here a couple months we did settle on a house on NW 21 st
Avenue. We are on SW 21st Avenue now. We settled on a house there,
and we were very comfortable in that house for many years. But it was a
trying period because of the change in jobs, the fact that my wife was
pregnant, and the housing difficulty that we had. I guess that is what it is
D: That is true. Who was the department chairman at that time?
K: The department chairman was Robert Bolles.
D: What was your image of the school before you came?
K: I did not know very much about the University of Florida before I came. I
had no idea what they were doing. Fortunately, during that previous
winter, I had flown to Miami in my little airplane to the Music Educators
[National Conference] convention in Miami. At that convention the
University of Florida [music department] presented Verdi's Requiem with
their choral groups, orchestra, and soloists, so I had a chance to see what
the resources were. It was a very good performance of that work. When I
talked with the people, I was pleased with them, [both] the department
chairman and faculty members. It just looked like it would be a good
situation. There is a little guessing going on all the time. Everybody
guesses. You cannot rule out guesswork.
D: How did your image of the music department change when you finally got
here? Was it a positive difference, was it what you expected, or what?
K: Well, reality, of course, always has a little of a chilling effect, but reality
many times is coupled with what you can see in the future. "Reality now is
that we have these problems, but the future looks like these things are
going to develop and things are going to get better." Our big problem in
the beginning, which we thought was a great problem but really was not
that much of a problem, was the facility that we had. It was a little, old,
wooden World War II building right next to the Women's Gym. I do not
know if you know where that is.
D: I have been told where it was, but I [cannot picture it].
K: There is a parking lot there now [the parking lot on the north side of the
infirmary]. The worst thing about it, of course, was that music is very
noisy, and the building was not soundproofed at all. The noise was just
horrendous. You could hear everybody singing and blowing. But it was a
friendly kind of a place. We were close together. Faculty, I think, were
much closer in those days because we were there in that one building. It
was a good feeling.
D: How big was the department at that time, professors and students?
K: I think we had about eighteen or twenty faculty. It has since gone up to
about thirty or thirty-five. There was a good feeling. Music department
faculties many times are what a lot of deans call the "war department,"
because musicians are strange fellows. They tend to be difficult to work
with, and the interpersonal relationships many times are not good at all.
At some departments it is just bitter. The infighting between groups of
faculty or between one faculty [member] and another faculty [member] can
be very bad.
We did not have that here in this faculty. I think that is probably due to
one person who was the assistant dean of fine arts then, Alvah Beecher.
Alvah Beecher was brought to the University in the 1940s  to
develop the department. Up to that time they had only an organ teacher
[Claude Murphree] and a band director [Harold Bachman], I think. They
had a choral director, too, that did other things. [Joseph V. Lupkiewicz
was associate professor of choral music. Robert Bolles was assistant
professor of music, Russell Danburg was professor of piano, and Edward
Preodor was director of the orchestra. Ed.] Alvah Beecher came to
develop the department. He was good at that. He had done it in other
places, developed departments and found faculty.
I remember my interview with Beecher when I flew down here. I do not
remember much else about it [the interview], but I do remember his saying
to me that to get along in this department you have to get along. "Unless
we can get along and have a good feeling, we cannot get any work done.
Work has to be in a special atmosphere that has to be positive, not
negative." In his department, the music department, he wanted me to
know that unless I felt that I could get along and go along with the things
that were happening and work together that I would not be around very
long, because this was his idea of the way a department should work. We
all had that feeling. We had our arguments, of course. We did not agree
on many things, but after the meeting was over, we would all troop over to
the cafeteria and have a cup of coffee and agree to disagree.
This was not true in many departments--at our sister institution, Florida
State University, for instance. My daughter is a graduate from there, and
she told me of the bitter fights that go on. That is not atypical. But I think
one of the good things about [the music department at the University of]
Florida was that we did have this feeling that we were doing something
together and that to get anything done we had to cooperate. Many times
we had to put ourselves in second place to the department, which is not
the case with many musicians. They say, "Get out of my way so I can get
my work done." They have no understanding of the relationship of what
they are doing with the entire department. They want to do their
performances and do their thing, whether or not it is in the best interest, in
their estimation, of the overall department.
D: Now, you were the head of the choral work there in the department. Were
you over other areas?
K: Well, choral and voice were sort of lumped together. We had three or
more voice teachers, and there were two of us, sometimes three, doing
choral work. What that means is I had the headache and burden of all the
paperwork. I had the responsibility for getting new faculty and intervening
in situations and trying to guide the choral and voice people along a single
path that would mean progress to the department.
D: Who in the department do you feel during that time had the most
influence? It was a community of equals, but not everybody has the same
influence if they want to push a certain idea or program.
K: I think Beecher, even though he was the dean [director] of [the Division of]
Fine Arts, was basically a musician. [He was also a professor of music.]
He was a conductor and a singer. I think he had the greatest effect of any
person on the department by moving it along in the direction he wanted it
We had some rather famous faculty, too. Colonel Harold Bachman was
here. Harold Bachman was a very famous band director. He had a
professional band for many years called the "Bachman Million Dollar
Band." I think that was headquartered in Chicago. Harold knew
everybody in the band business, and everybody knew him. He was a
wonderful guy. So everybody sort of connected the University of Florida
with Harold Bachman. He was perhaps our [most] outstanding faculty
member. He was known nationwide.
Beecher was well known nationwide, too, because he was one of the
founders of a fraternity called the Sinfonia [Phi Mu Alpha] which is the
music fraternity. I think he was the secretary/treasurer of that, or maybe
the president. I am not sure. But he was known nationwide because of
that affiliation. Then he was known because of his affiliation with the
University of Florida. Those were perhaps the two best-known people we
D: Tell me a little about the choral section that you were the head of. How
did it change during the years that you were at the University of Florida?
K: Well, it did not change much. I think it got better. When I took it over, we
had the University Choir, which is the top performing group. It had the
best singers in it. It was a mixed group of singers, about sixty voices.
Then there was a men's group and a women's group. [Delbert] Del
Sterrett, who is still in town, directed for many years the women's group.
The men's group has had a series of changing directors. But there was
usually a director for the men and one for the women.
Then there was a large group called the Choral Union in which anybody
that wanted to sing could come in on Monday night and sing. They
usually did large orchestral works like the Messiah. We did a lot of the
I think the University Choir got better as we went along over the years.
The choir, I felt, had some excellent seasons and excellent tours. In those
days the student government supported us very well. They gave us ample
money to buy music and ample money to do a yearly tour. We toured for
a week, usually up and down the east coast. That was a great thing,
because in one week we gave maybe ten or fifteen concerts. We sang in
high schools, in churches, in civic auditoriums.
D: What time of the year was that tour, usually?
K: It was usually in the spring. We went through semesters, then we went
through trimesters, and then we went through the quarter system and
back to semesters. Every time that changed it changed the way in which
we operated, the time schedules and so forth. By far the best for music
was the semester, so I am glad they are back at that now. The trimester
is probably the worst.
We went in the spring, and that was always very stimulating, because they
felt like they were professional singers out there singing. We had some
D: Who preceded you as choral director at the University of Florida?
K: His name was Clem Boatright. He was originally from Jacksonville. He
had taught in the high schools there and had a good reputation. He came
to the University [in 1954] and stayed two or three years, up until the time I
came. I just do not know what the exact story of that was, but I do
remember Mr. Beecher told me at the time I was interviewing that his
[Boatright's] contract would not be renewed. Whether he left of his own
volition or they asked him to leave, I just do not know. The choir, when I
took it over, was a fairly good choir. He was a good organizer, and he
seemed to have the backing and the respect of the students that had been
in the choir, so I do not know what was behind [his leaving]. Evidently Mr.
Beecher felt that the future did not look as bright as it should. I am not
sure what happened there.
D: I was doing some reading, and in 1959 the first black students came to the
campus of the University of Florida. Up until 1962 there were still very few
black students. How did the Department of Music deal with integration in
the early 1960s?
K: I do not remember there was ever a problem. Music is a very honest
profession. Either you can play or sing or you cannot. The black voice, of
course, is very effective. It is a good voice. It has a richer quality, many
times, than a white voice. So I do not remember that there were any
incidents regarding blacks in the department. We were glad to have
people no matter what [race] they were.
The only incident I had regarding a black in the choir--we had several in
the University Choir--was one time (I forget what year it was) when we
were on tour. The tour was all set, when I suddenly got a note from a
minister from Georgia or South Carolina (I forget where it was) saying they
were looking forward to having us at their church. Then at the bottom it
said, "Of course, you understand that we are not integrated." They were
keeping us overnight, too. "If you have any blacks in your group, this
would not be satisfactory. They could not perform [at our church] or stay
in our homes." I did not even bother to call him and tell him that we were
not coming. I just made other arrangements, because I thought that was
completely unfair. We talked it over with the group, including the black
students. I told them that no matter if we had to stay that night in a motel
and I had to pay for it myself, we were not going to stand for that sort of
thing. That is the only [racial] instance [that I recall]. In later years we
[continued to have] blacks, and we sang in black schools and black
churches. That is the only problem we ever had.
I remember one principal in a black school was very nervous. We did an
assembly in his school.
D: Was this a high school?
K: Yes, it was a high school. He was very nervous. After the concert we all
got together in the choral room with his choir, which was black, to sing
together. Boy, he was wringing his hands. He had a policeman there
because he thought there was going to be a riot. We had a wonderful
time! We sang spirituals together. I think it was a good example to both
choirs how music can bring people together.
D: Were there ever any black professors? Who were the first black
professors in the music department?
K: I believe that Elwin Adams, who is on the faculty now [as professor of
violin], was our first black faculty member. He came during the time when
it was difficult to get blacks, and I think he came on a special grant. If you
would take a black member, they would pay for his salary for a certain
length of time. And I believe Dr. Harry Sisler was administrative vice-
president [of the University] at that time, and he was an amateur violinist
and amateur singer. I think he took advantage of that opportunity to bring
Elwin Adams for a couple of years. Then gradually, of course, he was
kept on. I am not sure about that. Perhaps someone else can correct me.
D: Do you know approximately what year he came?
K: I think he has been here at least ten years. It must have been 1975 or
1977, somewhere in there. [Elwin Adams came to the University in 1970
and is still on the music faculty. Ed.] It was when the colleges were really
trying to find qualified blacks. It was as difficult then as it is now.
D: Let me back up a little bit. I have heard through several people that there
was a big controversy about the playing of "Dixie" at football games by the
band. Did you have any reaction to that or any knowledge of that?
K: No, I did not know that. They played it a lot. Everybody played it and
sang it everywhere. I do not remember we had any difficulty.
D: Some people felt that it offended the black students, particularly when they
waved the Confederate flags and all the rest of the stuff.
K: I was not aware of that. We used an arrangement of "Dixie" on our tours
many times, a very slow arrangement. Most of the arrangements create
excitement because it is a fast, exciting piece. But this was a very quiet
rendition of "Dixie," a very beautiful arrangement of it, and we used it
throughout our tours at black schools and white schools. I do not
remember having any difficulty about it. I am not aware of that.
D: Most of the students in the choral section that you were a part of went on
to do what? Were they teachers? Performers? Did they go into opera?
Where did most of them go?
K: In those early days, and still now, I believe, the music department was
thought of as a service department. That is one of the things that
attracted me to it, because as a service department most of our work
would actually be in performing, not just the teaching of education classes.
Any college has to provide its own artistic atmosphere, and unless you
have a large music department there is no way you can have the groups--
the orchestra, the bands, the choirs, and so forth. So the University was
anxious to promote the music department, even though it was costing
them a lot of money. Music never pays its own way. We did not create
what they call FTE, full-time equivalent. A teacher in a classroom of one
hundred students creates a lot of income, and it looks good on paper,
whereas a voice teacher teaching one student [at a time] is a financial loss
to the University. But all those things are necessary to provide this
atmosphere. I must say that over the years [Robert A.] Bob Bryan has
kept at that.
D: Who is Bob Bryan?
K: Bob Bryan has been for many years the vice-president for Academic
Affairs. For many years he has supported music. The other person that
supported music was J. Wayne Reitz, because his wife was a voice major
in college at the University of Cincinnati. He was president [of the
University of Florida from 1955-1967]. He decided that our facility was so
bad he was going to get us a new music building. He did, but the problem
he had in keeping that music building at the top of the priority list must
have been difficult, because at that time everybody wanted a new building.
He got us that building. I am sure it was primarily because of him,
because he felt the need for this artistic emphasis on the campus. Bob
In those days most of the people in our groups--and I think I can say this
for the orchestra, the band, the chorus--were not music majors. They
were people that loved music, that loved to sing or loved to play, but were
not majoring in music. In those early days I suspect only a third or a fourth
of them were majors. Perhaps in the University Choir it might be half or
more now who are majoring in music. But most of them [were various
majors from across] the campus [that] just wanted to sing or play.
D: How many students were in the department when you came here, and
how has it grown?
K: Do you mean as music majors?
K: Oh, I would imagine when I came there were maybe thirty-five or fifty that
were majoring in music. I do not know what it is now, maybe three times
that--maybe one hundred or two hundred, something like that. It is
amazing that music has that attraction for people that love music. They do
not care whether they get credit for it. If they can get into a good group,
that was important. In fact, the best choir members I had, many times,
were people that were not majoring in music. They loved it; they loved to
sing. They were going to be a doctor, an Indian chief, or something else,
but music for many of them on a large campus like this was their only
personal contact with others in a group. They went to class, and there
was no relationship there. They went to class and left class, and maybe
they met a few people. But in the University Choir they found a home.
They found sixty people that loved the same thing they loved, and they got
to be friends with all of those sixty people. They did something together
that they liked--with music. Of course, an awful lot of marriages resulted,
but I take no blame for that.
But it was a way to enrich the campus, and it was a way to enrich their
lives, too, by giving them a group to belong to. The larger the university
situation is, the harder it is for the student to find a group with which to ally
himself. Some of them ally themselves with fraternities and sororities and
in other ways, but music is one of the best ways to do that. I think these
students found a home in the Department of Music.
D: When was the new Music Building finished?
K: I am bad with dates. Have you asked that question of anybody else yet?
[Laughter] I think we must have been in there now for fifteen years.
Where would that put it?
D: Around 1972.
K: 1972, 1975, somewhere in there. [The Department of Music moved into
the new building April 1, 1971. It was officially dedicated in the spring of
D: Were you satisfied with the way the Music Building turned out, as far as
K: Oh, listen, that was a joy. That was a dream come true. It had never
happened at a university before. Usually the architects would get together
and say, "You need this," and they would design and build a building and
say, "Faculty, here it is." When they [the faculty] got in there, it was not
what they wanted at all.
But here it was done differently. I do not know if it was J. Wayne Reitz
who decided, but it was decided to let the architect come to the faculty,
and each faculty member put down on paper what he wanted. So I
designed the choral suite that is over there now. I designed the choral
room and the rooms that are around it. We have a beautiful choral room,
two studios, a nice library, and a room that was to be devoted to storage
for robes, equipment, and that sort of thing. I designed that as a suite.
The band director designed the band part of it, and the orchestra director
designed [the orchestra room]. Willis Bodine designed the organ studio
upstairs. We put it all together in a book and gave that book to the
architect, and he came back with a design. It is just a marvelous building;
it is absolutely marvelous.
We had to cheat. We did not have enough space to build enough practice
rooms, so we decided to cheat on that end of it and get the big facilities,
the big rehearsal halls, and hope sometime in the future to get the practice
facilities. But as far as the utility of the building, it has been just
marvelous. And the location, of course, [is a vast improvement]. We were
way over stuck on the edge of campus, and now we are right in the center
of it. I think the building is a nice piece of architecture. I do not know
whether you agree with that or not, but it is a pretty building.
D: It really is pleasing.
K: The choral room is the one that sticks out right behind the University
[Memorial] Auditorium, so I hope you will take a look at it. It is a good
D: Throughout your tenure at the school, what have been some of the
financial problems of the department? Have they always had enough
money to work with?
K: No, there is not enough. There never is enough. I do not remember,
though, that we were that bad off. The student government during those
years supported the individual groups well, and that is what was
meaningful to us.
D: Each choral group was financed, then, by the student government?
K: Each group like the University Choir got a budget each year, and the
Choral Union received funds from student government. We had a good
budget. We had enough money to bring in big soloists from New York
when we sang the big works. Big Metropolitan [Opera] singers came in
when we performed Messiah and similar works. The band got touring
money. Of course, they also got money from the athletic department. I do
not remember [any big problems].
Salaries were very low, but they kept moving up and up as we went along.
I was always grateful for the money they gave me. I was always worried
that they were not getting their money's worth. I do not feel in my own
case that if they had given me twice the money they gave me the choir
would have been twice as good. It does not work that way. I did not feel
[It was not a situation where there was] absolutely no money at all. There
was money to buy music, and there was money to buy the things that we
needed. Of course, if you talk to the department chairmen, they will give
you another story, that we could have moved much faster. But I did not
feel that money was a problem at all. My problem was to make the choir
sing better and to make the orchestra play better. That was the problem.
D: In 1957 what did a choir director make?
K: I cannot remember. I remember I got big money at the time I moved to
North Carolina. I got $5,000, and that was big money. I decided that from
the time of 1946 to 1950 [to now] if you just use a multiple of ten you are
about right. In other words, $3,000 is now $30,000. If you paid $1 for
something then you pay $10 for it now. That pretty much works out.
$5,000 then was the equivalent of basically $50,000, which is a large sum
of money. $3,000 was a pretty good salary. I think probably my salary
here was around $8,000 or $10,000, something like that, which was good.
I remember our apartment. We had a fine apartment in Iowa in those
years for $50 a month. That was a good apartment. Dandy. For $75 you
could get a wizard. It all depends on how much money is floating around,
D: When the department money was divvied up, which section ended up
getting the most? The band? The choral groups? The orchestra?
K: The band usually got most of it. They had a secretary because they had a
lot to do. They had the business of the football games and the football
bands, so they had their own [secretary]. We always were a little envious
that they had a full-time secretary. I do not know what we would have
done with a full-time secretary if we had had one in choral. We griped, of
course, because we did not have one, but we really did not need one.
Band, of course, got most of the money, but the orchestra was supported,
too. They got instruments, and there was always plenty of staffing.
We were not overburdened. I think in the backs of their minds, the people
in the department realized that we had one advantage here, that we were
not overworked. At some of the private schools and many of the state
schools, music teachers have to carry a tremendous hourly load because
their FTEs are so low. One voice teacher may have to teach thirty or forty
students in a week, like I did at Iowa. I thought nothing of it. I had thirty-
five or forty voice students, I had the choir, and I may have taught another
group. This was the typical load. But at the University of Florida that
never happened. I do not know whether that was because of Beecher or
Bryan, but the load at the University of Florida in general was less. And it
was restricted. My friends at Stetson University [in Deland, Florida] teach
fifty to sixty hours a week. It is just horrible. But we did not have that
overload problem, and it was always that way. We felt fortunate in not
D: What was a typical teaching week like?
K: My teaching week with the University Choir was every day at noon I
rehearsed the choir on the stage of the University Auditorium. It was a
good place to rehearse. I played in the orchestra and in a string quartet. I
taught voice students; I may have had ten or fifteen voice students a
week. That was about it. Sometimes I taught a course in choral methods
and materials and that sort of thing. It was a nice, comfortable schedule. I
cannot say that my choir did not sing well because I was overworked. We
were never overworked in the department.
D: How many voice students did you have in a typical week?
K: Well, as I said, about fifteen or twenty. It varied, but that is about what it
D: How, in your opinion, during your time at the University of Florida, did the
University of Florida music department compare with the likes of Florida
K: You really cannot compare because it is not comparing apples and
apples. As you know, back in the early days [the University of] Florida
was a men's school. Tallahassee--Florida State--was a girls' school. We
still call it a girls' school. [Laughter] But when they merged, they made
some deals. The University of Florida made a deal that we would have
the medical center, we would have engineering--we would have the
sciences, primarily--and Florida State would have basic education, which
means teacher training, and they would have the arts, which includes
music. There were a lot of other deals that went on, but basically arts and
music were to be at Florida State.
This was terrible. These people ought to have been ashamed at that time.
I do not think they can look back on this very proudly at Florida State
University. Down through the years they insisted that we not have music.
They would not let us have a training program. Our music education was
kept very low. They would not let us have the things that we needed in
order to provide just a reasonable artistic atmosphere on the campus.
They would not let us have the degrees. Whenever we wanted another
degree program or to add courses, the music department chairman at
Florida State would go absolutely livid and would refuse absolutely to let
us have these degrees. So we could not grow.
Our usefulness on the campus was pretty much restricted to service, as I
said before. We provided service groups not only for students to sing and
play, but also to provide cultural activities on the campus. We were
restricted to that up until around 1965. We were under very high
restriction. We had the one basic degree. In the beginning we did not
even have a degree. Music students had to go over to the [College of]
Education to get their degree. They did not get it in music; they got it in
education. But we finally did get the music education degree, and we now
we have a master's degree. But even now, I think the Ph.D. has to be
done through the College of Education.
D: Yes, I believe so.
K: Our restrictions were so severe in those days it was impossible for us to
grow. To restrict us like that was very bad. It was bad judgment, and
those people over there that did it will now have to suffer the
consequences of depriving our people. There was room for them, and
there was room for us, but they in their "wisdom" said, "Only we can have
music over here. There is not room in the state for both of us." That is
ridiculous. Music can flourish and should flourish everywhere. That is one
black spot that I find in the music picture in Florida, that Florida State
University provided that sort of atmosphere in which music in any other
state institution [was restricted by them]. It was not just us. They did not
want it to happen in Miami or any other institution. They wanted music
there and only there, which is ridiculous.
D: By the time you left the University of Florida, how do you think the Gator
program compared with Florida State's?
K: I always thought that our faculty compared very well. I knew their faculty,
and I knew the people that directed their choral organizations. Of course,
with the large number of music majors they had they were able to attract
outstanding teachers--outstanding voice teachers, outstanding violin
teachers, and directors. But I still felt that our people compared very
favorably with their faculty. The only difference that I felt was that over
here we had to make do with students that were not music majors, people
that walked in. Over there they had the luxury of students in their groups
that were perhaps more highly trained and had more background because
they were planning to make music their careers. But I must say in all
honesty that many times I felt bad about this, because I felt the students in
the groups were not receiving enough from the directors. They [Florida
State] had this tremendous group of singers, for instance, in a group, all of
them with all this background, but [they were] not being utilized as they
could have been or should have been. But, in general, that was the
picture. They had the music majors, and we did not.
D: Were the University of Florida music professors ever intimidated by the
music program at Florida State?
K: They tried to intimidate us in all possible ways, to make us look small and
stay small and be small. And we were intimidated. It was just terrible.
How can you attract any students when you do not have the degrees, you
cannot put in the programs, you cannot offer the courses? There is just
no way that you can compete.
D: Is that the main way they intimidated you?
K: Sure. They restricted the degree programs and the course offerings. We
just went ahead with our choirs and went touring. We did these things to
make our choir look as good as we could in comparison with theirs, and I
think we did very well. The difference in ability between music majors and
non-majors was not all that much. As I said, many of our best students
were not music majors. They were going to be a doctor or something
else, but they could still sing!
D: Since the programs and degrees were restricted, how did the University of
Florida ever get a master's degree?
K: I am not sure how all of those restrictions eventually broke down. All
those restrictions were broken. Perhaps some of the other people that
you interview can give you a better idea of how that happened. I think it
came about by law, that eventually all those restrictions on the growth
music at Florida [were lifted]. Perhaps we had some growth restrictions
on them regarding engineering and other things that were broken, also.
The state legislature, in their vast wisdom, said, "Whatever you can make
be, will be. If you can make a program in engineering go here, fine. If you
can make music go here, fine. We will not restrict it." But I am not sure of
the mechanics of how that took place. We still have the restrictions,
however. There are still some there.
D: In what area?
K: I think degree programs, primarily. But I think the restrictions are of our
own doing. For instance, in order to get a Ph.D. you have to have the
faculty and the resources before the University would agree that it is
viable. Early on they made many mistakes in this department by not hiring
doctoral faculty. All through the years they clung to the idea [that having
faculty with terminal degrees was not essential to offering a doctorate
degree]. I am not saying this because I was one of the few that had a
doctorate, but I could see the handwriting on the wall. They just did not
see it at all. How are you ever going to have a doctoral program if you do
not have any doctors on your faculty? They kept hiring all these people
[without doctorates]. They would say, "He plays as well as if he had a
doctorate. It would not make a bit of difference if he had a doctorate."
That showed a complete lack of understanding of the academic process.
First of all, you get somebody with a doctorate that is as good as the other
guy. Then when the time comes, you will have the staff to support an
advanced degree. [Robert] Bryan, I think, said this down through the
years when we went to him. "Well, it would be fine if we had these
programs, but we do not have the teachers. You do not have any doctors
over there." In the last few years they have changed that. I do not think
you can be hired now without a doctorate.
D: How high a percentage of master's degree people did you have teaching?
K: I think everybody had a master's.
D: I mean only a master's.
K: At the time I came Del Sterrett had a doctorate. I had one. I think in the
music department that was it, out of the fifteen or so that we had. They
pretty much felt that they were above this doctorate business. When they
hired they hired the person that looked to them like the best performer, the
best person, without the doctorate. I thought that was deadly in those
days, and I still think it kept us needlessly crippled, because we did not
have the resources. When it came time to ask for a doctorate program,
Tigert [Hall] said, "Who do you have that is going to teach it? A master's
[degree faculty member] cannot chair a Ph.D. committee. You have to
have a Ph.D."
D: That is right. How far away, do you think, are they from granting their own
K: I really do not know. I am just not acquainted with the progress they have
been making in that area.
D: What do you consider the greatest success and also the greatest failure of
the music department?
K: I think our biggest success was holding that department together with our
bare hands during those very lean years. Boy, we had some really lean
years, and I must say there was a group of dedicated faculty there that
pulled together in that dingy old building we had. We kept our morale
going. We kept the groups, I think, at a very high level. The band was
always good, the orchestra was good, and I like to think the choirs were
D: Were they lean because of the facilities or from lack of funding?
K: Well, we felt they were lean because we did not have music students.
Here we were dealing with something that is very complicated [with non-
majors]. Music is a very specialized art, and it takes people to do it that
are specialized and that devote their lives to it. So we were interested in
having people that would devote their lives to it. Of course, we were not
seeing that. I think it probably needlessly concerned us, because, as I
have said several times, my best people many times were those [non-
majors]. Maybe singing was different.
As a violinist I know it is different with a violin. You have to bring a lot to
the instrument in order to just sit in a chair and play in an orchestra. It
takes five years of study behind that. But with a singer many times
singers sing in high school, and the voice develops. They have a nice
voice, and it is immediately usable. So maybe we were a little better off
than the instrumental groups were. I think that was the restriction we did
Of course, the facility was just terrible. I do not think it hurt us as much as
we thought it did at the time, because there was a nice cordial
atmosphere. Even though it was a noisy old box, we enjoyed it there. We
kind of missed it when it was gone. We were scattered in this big building
and did not see each other nearly as much.
D: Are there any experiences from that old building that stick out in your
K: Oh, lots of them. We just could not have a rehearsal or teach a voice
lesson when the band played, because they just wiped out everything. It
was so loud in there. Of course, there was no air conditioning, and in the
summer it was just [unbearable] to have a rehearsal in that building or
have a voice lesson. The studios were always a hundred degrees. There
were some fans blowing hot air on you. That was probably our biggest
I think our biggest capability and biggest success was going on in the face
of all of that and producing an atmosphere of culture on the campus, of
putting music in front of the students on the campus and in the community
and providing a place for students who loved music to sing and play. In
the face of all these restrictions that we had, [that was remarkable]. All in
all, it was not that bad. [Laughter]
D: What do you see as your personal greatest contribution to the department
or legacy that you left behind from your years at the University of Florida?
K: I think now the choral program and the voice program are very well
established and are very good. Fortunately I had a person work with me
several years at the last, John Grigsby, who is the choral director now,
who took over. He is a very capable person. He has continued the
tradition of the University Choir, and it is an excellent choir. He also
directs the voice program, and they have several good teachers now. I
think he directs it very well.
It has done exactly what I hoped it would do: it has continued to go. This
was not true at Iowa or at North Carolina. When I left North Carolina the
program just collapsed in six months. They went through about four or
five directors before they found one that could get it back going again. So
my big worry here was is this going to happen again? Is everything I
worked for going to fall apart when I leave? It did not because of Jack.
You can go Friday night and Saturday night and hear the University Choir
and the orchestra doing a big comic opera or a concert version of an
opera. You hear the choir, the orchestra, and the soloists. Most of the
soloists, I think, are from the faculty. You will hear a very professional
performance of a very difficult opera, which is pleasing to me to know that
we can do that sort of thing.
D: Is there any particular performance that the University Choir did that was
especially memorable or important?
K: Well, we had so many. Our tours were really wonderful. The students got
into colleges and a lot of high schools and churches, and we sang at
conventions. Many of the concerts were just wonderful experiences for
them, things I am sure they may not have realized at the time but now
realize were something they will never forget.
I suppose some of the big concerts [were special]. We had a lot of big
concerts where we would have four or five hundred people singing in the
choir, and a big orchestra and big soloists. We performed in the old gym.
It was not too bad. The acoustics were pretty live, not too bad at all. It
was probably better than performing now in the O'Connell Center,
because it is too big and is not as live. But we put up with the gym-shoe
smell, sitting on the risers, and that sort of thing. We had some wonderful
performances there, as well as in the University Auditorium when we did
the large works, like the Verdi Requiem. During the President's Festival
they would bring in a conductor for the choir, and many times those
performances were marvelous, just wonderful.
D: Is there any particular piece of music that the choral groups are known for
here at the University of Florida?
K: Other than "Dixie?" [Laughter]
D: Other than "Dixie," yes.
K: I cannot think of any. Of course, everybody relates to "We are the Boys"
and the alma mater. We always sang the alma mater--even in the
churches--for the last piece. They knew we were from Florida, because
we sang the alma mater. I think the band [students], too, tend to relate
themselves to those piece they always do.
D: You left the department in what year?
D: What brought about your decision to leave?
K: Well, I had been teaching for about thirty-five years, I guess, and I felt that
was enough. I wanted to retire before I felt that things might slide the
other way. I also had some other things I wanted to do that I felt I could
financially do. [One in particular is] I wanted to see if I could make it in the
professional world of flying. That is another career entirely. It is a skill just
like music is. It is a highly technical skill in which if you make a mistake,
you do not play out of tune, you crash and burn. [Laughter] The results of
a mistake in a concert might be a little embarrassment, but a mistake in
flying can ruin your whole day, if you crash and burn.
D: Tell me a little about that second career of flying.
K: It was not easy. The professionals that you work with, of course, wonder
what an old guy who is a musician and teaching at a university is doing
out there flying, but you earn the respect there just like you earn respect
anywhere else, by what you do and the way that you do it. I have enjoyed
it. I have done charter work--charter sales and regular charter. For the
last two years I have been flying a corporate twin-engine aircraft for a
company here in town, and I have enjoyed that very much. It is a
wonderful airplane. I have had my own airplane for practically all the time.
I have a Beechcraft Bonanza, and I fly it around here and there. I just
My wife and I both enjoy working in the yard. Retirement does not mean
that you stop doing things. It just means that you do other things that you
like to do and that you want to do when you want to do it. There is a kind
of freedom that you do not have when you are working for somebody else.
I always felt privileged to work in music and get paid for something I really
enjoy. I feel the same way about flying. I feel very privileged to be doing
something that I truly enjoy and getting paid for it.
D: When did you start flying?
K: I started flying way back, in 1946. After I got out of the army I was waiting
to go to Eastman to graduate school. I was in Cleveland, Ohio, playing in
one of those society orchestras in a hotel ballroom. I saw a little sign in a
window that said learn to fly on the GI Bill, so for six weeks I flew every
day. I got my license. I guess flying hooks you like music hooks you.
There is a chemistry there. An airplane is just like a big musical
instrument that you input, and the airplane responds by outputting, just like
a violin or a voice does. So there are many similarities, although, as I
said, if you make a mistake it would be a little different.
D: I guess. Have you remained involved in music since your retirement from
K: No. I decided when I retired that I would make a clean break and would
not piecemeal it. My wife and I directed the music at the First Methodist
Church downtown for about twelve or thirteen years. She was the
organist, and I directed the music. We thoroughly enjoyed that. But I felt
that if I wanted to fly, I just could not hang on to [all the music activities].
Scheduling would not permit it, because you fly when they want to fly. I
decided that if I wanted to stay in music, I would stay in music, but if I
wanted to leave, I would leave completely. So I just cut the line
completely. I think that is the best way to go.
D: Were there any other extracurricular activities that you were involved in
while you were teaching at the University of Florida? Did you lead a choir
at church? Were you involved in other things?
K: I always had a church choir--most choral directors do--and I enjoyed them.
The only other contribution that I made that I think was really significant
was back in 1957. Before I came to the University of Florida I was
concerned that the choral directors of the United States did not have an
organization of their own. Everybody else had one. Bands had them,
orchestras had them, even the organists had a national association. So I
communicated with other directors around the country, saying, "What the
heck is wrong with us? We do not have our own organization of choral
directors?" Finally in 1958 or 1959 about half a dozen of us got together
out in Kansas City and started an organization called the American Choral
Directors Association [ACDA].
Its development has been spectacular, to say the least. They [the ACDA]
now have fourteen thousand members. Divisions have their own units,
states all have their units, and it is just a wonderful organization. We just
had our national convention at San Antonio, and there were probably five
or six thousand people there. There is not a concert hall big enough now
to hold everybody. You go in the morning at 9:00 and start hearing choirs,
and at 10:00 at night you are still hearing choirs. It really was a wonderful
contribution. They have a good journal called Choral Journal, and they
have summer workshops. Each state has its own workshops and
meetings throughout the year that provide a way for choral directors to
exchange information and to get help, to find a way to improve themselves
and their choirs. So that has been very satisfying to me, that over the
years it has had such tremendous growth.
All I take credit for is recognizing in the beginning that we needed
something like that and getting it going. I was the first secretary-treasurer,
the second vice-president, and the second president of the organization.
It was pretty simple in those days. The only thing that was not simple was
we did not have any money. Now they have lots of money to operate
these conventions. So that has been very satisfying, that I had a small
part in getting that going.
D: Have you ever written any books on any subject or arranged or written any
K: My Ph.D. dissertation was a book on choral music.
D: What is the title of that?
K: I just called it Choral Techniques. It was just a book on choral techniques.
I have written articles. I have never written any music; that is not my
There was something I became very interested in here at Florida. I do not
know whether you know it or not, but the University (the speech
department) has a very fine laboratory for doing research on the human
voice, the Institute for the Study of the Communication Processes, they
call it. The institute does pure research on how the voice works.
Surprisingly, we know very little about how the voice works. It is such an
important part of all of us. We would be tremendously crippled [without it].
If you do not believe me, put a piece of tape on your mouth for a day or
so, and you will find out how important it is. We know very little about it,
and I got interested and worked for about five years in conjunction with the
lab. One year I worked full time with them doing research in about ten
different ways, electronics and other ways, studying the human voice.
High-speed photography was important in those early years. Now it is
sound, electromyography, and all kinds of things. But we are learning a
little more about the human voice. We have a long way to go.
I enjoyed working in that laboratory, and I had learned a lot, too, about the
things I was so glibly saying in voice lessons about how the voice works. I
really did not know what I was talking about, and most voice teachers do
not either, because very few people really understand the voice. It is a
tremendously complex mechanism.
K: Have you ever had any students that have become famous as musicians
or have done well in their careers?
K: I have had some of them, of course, that are choral directors. I like to
think they are famous, because they are very good choral directors. I
never had a famous student that made it at the Metropolitan Opera. We
do have graduates of the department that are in important positions as
teachers, organists, pianists, chairmen of music departments, and that
sort of thing. I think our share would be less than Florida State's because
they had more students as music majors.
I think my contribution was that I provided the experiences for a great
number of people that were not music majors but who now, through the
rest of their lives, are enjoying music and enjoying singing as a result of
those experiences that were pleasant, I hope. I get Christmas cards every
year [from former students]. They will go to a concert at the high school or
somewhere, and they will hear something that we sang. Then they will
write a note saying how they remembered that and how pleased they
were. That is about the only notoriety that we have. That is good enough.
D: You mentioned Toscanini before. Were there any other famous musicians
that you had a chance to work with or be associated with?
K: Robert Shaw has been the greatest choral conductor for two or three
generations. He is now the director and has been for many years of the
Atlanta Symphony. He was by far and away the most outstanding choral
director of our generation. He is marvelous. I had a chance to watch him
for a year. I think that was the most important thing. Toscanini was too
quick, but if you stayed with Shaw for a long period of time you began to
get the idea of what he was trying to do.
D: Are there any other experiences from your years on campus that are
K: I was just thinking this the other day. I went to a Friends of Music
meeting. We have a very good Friends of Music [organization] now that
provides scholarships and money and support for music activities at the
department level. I was remembering how difficult it was in those early
years even to get the newspaper to print anything about what we were
doing, such as a concert by the University Choir. There was just no way
to communicate, even on campus. We had the Alligator in those days,
and I remember how difficult it was. At times I used to buy out of my own
pocket a little ad in the paper advertising the fact that [we were going to be
giving a concert]. We used all the kids as advertisers, too, to bring their
friends to the concert. Our audiences were not nearly what they are
today. Today you just announce through the media that you are going to
have a concert at the University Auditorium, and you can expect a good
That was not true in those days. I am not sure whether it all had to do with
lack of communication through the media or if people were just not
responsive in those early years to students' presenting concerts.
But today it is different. Today's concerts I consider to be acceptable
musically. They are not any more acceptable than ours; ours were just as
good or better. But we just did not have the audiences in those days.
One of our big problems when we had a concert was to have an audience.
We sort of kept score by who got the big audiences. We made a big point
out of it with the University Choir. Each student had go around and wave
the flag and bring some people to [the concert]. The concert is a dual
affair. It is the affair of those that perform and those that listen. If you do
not have performers you are kind of out of luck, and if you do not have
listeners you are out of luck.
But today the atmosphere on the campus, I think, is much better in all of
the arts. Dance, drama, music, even lectures are much better attended,
and I think people have a more positive attitude toward the arts than they
did in those days. I do not know why that is so, but that was one of our big
problems that seems to have been solved. That is another thing that I am
so happy about. Concerts on Friday and Saturday nights will be jammed
full both nights. It will be crowded full, which is great.
D: One more thing. Was the emphasis in the music department mostly on
the classics--traditional music--or was there ever any emphasis on jazz or
K: Music departments traditionally are classical in nature. We feel that the
way to learn the skills is through the classical approach. Once you gain
the skills necessary to play an instrument or to sing, those skills can be
applied across the board, whether it is Bach or boogie. They can be
applied in a different way. So I think you will find that music departments
generally all [are classically oriented].
The amount of time that they give to jazz and the other arts is dependent
certainly on the groups that are sponsored by the department and the
faculty. We have always had a jazz program in the department. Gary
Langford does a superb job with the jazz program. We did not have a jazz
choir, but now Ron Burrichter has a little jazz choir that he takes around
town, and they sing more popular-type things. Ron directs the Men's Glee
Club, too. But certainly we did not ignore popular types of music, because
on all the band programs there would be popular-type music at the end,
the dessert. And the University Choir would always sing, especially in the
high schools, songs that had some kind of popular connotation that would
appeal to the students. We always felt that no matter what you sang or
what you played it had to be at a certain level. Certainly popular music
was not done at a different level than classical music. You try to hold the
level high in either case.
D: Is there anything you can remember or that you would like to tell about the
department or about yourself?
K: No. I think we have been blessed all the way along, basically, with good
administration in the department. Because the department is bigger there
is less of that feeling than there used to be. First of all, you must get along
if you are going to make a contribution. To get anything done, first of all
you have to have a certain inherent feeling within the department. I think
that is still true here to a certain extent. It was true all the way along.
I was grateful to be in the department, because that first department I was
in [in Iowa] there was strife within the department, and it was not pleasant.
You burned up so much of your energy fighting that you did not have any
left over to work. I think that is what Beecher was talking about when he
told me that first of all we must get along and see together what it is we
are trying to do. Then maybe we can get something done. I have always
been grateful for that and for being in this University. It is a great
University. While we had great problems during the years, I think as long
as you can see progress you feel good. And I feel good.
D: Tell me more about Del Sterrett.
K: He is still in town. There are a couple of the "pioneers" that you should
talk to. Del was one of the first ones recruited by [Alvah A.] "Pat" Beecher.
[Beecher was the first chairman of the music department. Ed.]
D: I think somebody has done an interview with him. He was one of the
people on the list.
K: And Arnold Wirtala was one of the first. Arnold was one of the original
group that came, and he is still in town.
D: Thank you very much for the interview. It is going to be very helpful.
K: You are a good interviewer. I think on interviews like this one tends to talk
too much, so I tried not to overextend myself. But your questions helped
me a great deal.
D: Thank you very much.