Monday, March 20, 2017

The Last Lecture by Dr. William K. Wakefield

Editors note: The concept of the "Last Lecture" was made famous by Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University on September 18, 2007. This talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk", i.e., "what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?" Since Dr. Wakefield will be retiring from the University of Oklahoma after 32 years, I asked him to share some thoughts.

Approaching retirement after almost 45 years of teaching, I am more and more aware of how often I continue rely on teaching principles of sound that were passed to me earlier in my career by applied teachers and conductors. On one hand it is gratifying to be of value in continuing some of these important concepts, but also troubling in asking, "If this information was so important, why is it necessary to continue teaching it?" Shouldn't knowledge in our field be progressively more advanced? John Adams' quote comes to mind:

I must study war and politics so that my children shall be free to study commerce, agriculture and other practicalities, so that their children can study painting, poetry and other fine things.

If I had really been successful instilling important principles a couple of generations ago, why do students still need this knowledge? Dr. Steven Paul, one of my best friends and former faculty colleague used to drive home this quest for getting knowledge to "stick" by remarking to me on my way to the band room, "Have a good "hearsal," which jokingly meant if you were really effective the first time, you would not need to "RE-hearse." Another memorable quote from him reminded that our jobs as teachers was not to "COVER" knowledge, but "UNCOVER" subjects!

At any rate, I don't think I really want to answer the deeper question of why important information is so difficult to retain and use, but just accept that there are dynamic aspects to learning cycles that are complex. I would rather spend time developing teaching strategies to improve retention and awareness. I am happy to continue delivering information in a compelling way that results in enough staying power to exist beyond my life. To that end, I recently started humorously urging students to remember, or otherwise I would be forced to engrave it on my tombstone at my gravesite...and further, it will be expensive to bury me if you forget to use this information! Perhaps the method is a bit morbid, but so far, it does receive attention!

Below are just a few of the multiple pages I have accumulated of short quips and mottos that bear repeating over and over. Please steal (as I have) in developing future generations of music students!

  • Notes followed by rest are played LONGER than written...
  • Tall skips require firm foundations...
  • A group of slurred notes means to emphasize the first note and de-emphasize the last note...
  • A crescendo means...BE SOFTER to set up the crescendo...
  • A decrescendo means...BE LOUDER to set up the decrescendo...
  • FERMATA definition? It's written length PLUS an additional time appropriate for the drama of the moment...
  • BIRTH...MATURITY...DEATH equals < > equals MUSIC!

Dr. William K. Wakefield, is Professor of Music, Director of Bands and Coordinator of Instrumental Ensembles at the University of Oklahoma School of Music. His School of Music teaching responsibilities include conducting the Wind Symphony and guiding doctoral and masters wind conducting students. Since his appointment in 1985, OU Wind Symphony students have earned performance invitations for 18 national, regional, and state professional conferences. Dr. Wakefield has guest conducted over 100 all-state and collegiate honor bands, university ensembles, professional and military bands. Wakefield's honors include the recipient of Phi Mu Alpha’s Orpheus Award for significant contributions to Music in America. He was also the recipient of the Blue Key Honor Society Teaching Excellence Award. In 1997, he received the Outstanding Faculty Member Award from the University of Oklahoma College of Fine Arts and in 1998 was inducted into the American Bandmasters Association. In 2001, Kappa Kappa Psi National Band Fraternity awarded him the Silver Baton Award for a record of excellence and quality of service to bands, band members, and instrumental music education. The Oklahoma Bandmasters Association inducted Wakefield into the OBA Hall of Fame in the summer of 2008. Wakefield was elected and completed the 2007-2009 term as President of the College Band Directors National Association and for 12 years served on the CBDNA Board of Directors. He was President of the five-state Southwestern Division of CBDNA from 2002-2004. In 2010, he was awarded the Irene and Julian J. Rothbaum Presidential Professor for Excellence in the Arts by the University of Oklahoma Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts. In 2013, he was awarded Kappa Kappa Psi's highest national award, the Distinguished Service to Music Medal.


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