Music Program undergoes large-scale changes

William Witwer

Following this year’s upcoming final performances, Whitman College’s music department will undergo several major changes. In the past two years, four tenured professors have retired, are set to retire or have left for another job. Combined with last year’s shift to a 3-2 teaching load, the department has been forced to make some cuts, though many will be temporary.

“It’d been a long time since there had been any change in the music faculty at large,” said Professor of Music Lee Thompson, who is retiring at the end of the year after 25 years at Whitman. “We’re all pretty much the same age, so we’re eligible for retirement or salary continuation programs. That’s why all the change at once. Couple that with the move to a 3-2 and it was just sort of a perfect storm.”

Whitman Chamber Singers have been cut (at least for next year) because, as Thompson explained, the faculty must maintain certain courses to maintain the music major, while other courses are more expendable. In an e-mail, Catharine Gould Chism Chair of Music Susan Pickett called the absence “a big loss for our students, our department and our community.”

Other cuts to course offerings include but are not limited to Diction for Singers, Cello Choir and Jazz Bass. Many classes will now be offered in alternating years. The second jazz band was cut as a consequence of 3-2, but Professor of Music David Glenn organized another non-performance class called Jazz Workshop to make up for it. Glenn, who is retiring at the end of this school year, will remain in Walla Walla with his wife and focus on his work as a musician and composer.

“It’s not really like I’m retiring … I’m only retiring from teaching full-time,” said Glenn. “You don’t retire as a musician. [Music] is something you just do the same way that you breathe and eat … the more you do it the more you realize you don’t know, so it’s a lifelong journey without a real end to it.”

The search committee has picked three finalists for Glenn’s position who will come to campus within the next few weeks. As for actually leaving the school, Glenn says he will miss the students but remains confident that Whitman will not neglect its music program.

“I’m very grateful for the gig, but it’s time to move on,” said Glenn. “The school benefits [from] this too : it’s good for the students to get somebody younger, new … and have them develop the program the way they want to develop it.”

Another search is underway to fill Associate Professor of Music History Ed Dixon’s position following his retirement. Thompson’s position will be filled by Melissa Loehnig, graduate teaching assistant at the Dean’s Office of College of Music at Florida State University, with a tenure-track search occurring sometime in the next two years. Pickett, however, stated that there is no guarantee that his tenure track line will stay with the music department.

Thompson, for his part, is convinced that Whitman’s music program will remain an important part of campus, though he himself is not entirely happy about leaving.

“I think, by and large, the music program has been such an integral part of the Whitman experience and the Whitman education, so I think there is certainly a lot of support from students and alums. I just hope that the administration will be likewise supportive,” said Thompson. “[Retiring] is quite bittersweet, actually. I am through and through a teacher, you know, that is what I really love to do, but it’s time for a change.”