August 23, 2010


David McKinney/University Relations

Robert Walzel, left, is dean of KU's new School of Music. He is pictured with, from left, Danny Anderson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little; Jeff Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor.

Campus closeup

Robert Walzel, dean, School of Music

What attracted you to this position at KU?

I had attended the Midwestern Music Camp for a couple of summers back in the early 1970s. My time as a camper at KU opened up a new world of musical possibilities for me that ultimately led me to a musical career. I have always had a special affinity for KU because of my experiences at camp. Also, after I had received a full-time university teaching appointment at Texas Tech, I became reacquainted with Larry Maxey. Maxey had taught me clarinet lessons at camp and became a wonderful mentor for me as a young professor. Although he is now retired, when the position was announced, I called him to talk about his perspective of the situation at KU and what he thought about future prospects for the new School of Music. His enthusiasm for the school and praise for the faculty were the icing on the cake and even though I wasn’t looking to leave Utah, I knew that KU was the kind of place where I wanted to be.

What do you hope to accomplish in your first year of leading the School of Music?

More than anything, I would like to create among the faculty, students, staff and patrons a true sense of community. To do this, we need to have a clearly defined mission and vision for what it is that we want to become. The School of Music is already a wonderful place to obtain a great education in music. We have a phenomenal legacy of producing top tier performers, educators, therapists, composers and scholars. However, our opportunity to impact and engage the greater musical community has been increased significantly with the restructuring that has established a “school” of music at KU. This year we need to focus on completing the transition into becoming a School of Music and develop consensus among the faculty on how best to maximize our opportunities for serving students and extending our reputation beyond where it has been in the recent past.

What challenges do you foresee arising in a school that is new, such as KU’s School of Music?

Change is never easy, and giving all stakeholders a role in crafting a new vision is something that I believe is necessary. How well we accomplish creating an effective structure for this to happen will set the foundation for the future. Certainly, the current budget situation is challenging for the entire institution, but especially for a new school. With one-on-one applied music instruction being a central component to most of the degree programs we offer, music is among the most faculty resource intensive academic programs on any university campus. Because such a hefty percentage of financial resources allocated to support the School of Music must go toward faculty salaries, other non personnel costs could be compromised to the point of adversely affecting our programs. The finances necessary to support the programmatic infrastructure for things like opera productions, printed music for ensembles, as well as equipment and musical instruments that will allow us to compete better with other top music schools must be a priority. Realizing that the institution cannot provide all that we need to reach our goals, we will have to look to outside sources of support to upgrade these things that are so critical to a top tier music school.

Conversely, what opportunities are there for such a new school?

We now have the chance to re create ways for music to integrate with other disciplines and programs on campus. Likewise, music can play an even greater role in connecting the institution to the state and nation. Because the School of Music has renowned performance, clinical and research programs, opportunities for potential engagement points are perhaps more diverse than for some other academic units on campus. Being reconstituted as a school gives us the opportunities to promote the great things already happening and to find new ways to broaden the sphere of influence of our music programs. In doing this, we give our students new opportunities for learning and career development. By raising the excellence quotient for all of our programs, we can position KU as an elite comprehensive music school.

What have you learned about KU so far in your time on the Hill?

People here are wonderful. The music faculty and staff have had four different deans in four years and are ready for stability in leadership. They are eager to do the work to move forward and pursue new heights of accomplishment. They want to challenge students by engaging them more in the national and international community of musicians and music scholars. The leadership team of the central administration and other schools and the college is truly remarkable. Although my experiences with them has been limited in the short time I have been on campus, I have gained an appreciation for their depth of experience and collegiality in working together for the best interest of everyone associated with KU. Alumni care deeply about their alma mater and stay connected in a variety of ways. The support I see and hear them express is nothing short of inspirational. This institution has a fabulous tradition of excellence. The role the institution plays within the state and region is much larger than I had first thought. KU is, indeed, the flagship institution for Kansas.

How has your past experience prepared you to lead KU’s School of Music?

My experience as a professional musician in a wide variety of musical mediums and opportunities I’ve had to make music with other creative artists of the first rank have given me an appreciation of the things that really matter in creating excellence in musical art. Experiences teaching dedicated students who were committed to achieving great things challenged me on a daily basis to keep their interests at the forefront of my priorities. Serving as department head under five different deans has given me a perspective of the importance for proactive leadership pursuing issues that make a difference in the relevance of a large and successful music school like the one at KU. Also, my work in professional organizations like the National Association of Schools of Music and the International Clarinet Association have given me the opportunity to learn about a variety of successful programmatic models and how an institution’s reputation can be developed over time.

What is one thing you’d like people outside of the school to know about it?

The School of Music has one of the finest music faculties in the nation. Few others can claim the number of performers and researchers that are at the very top of their specializations like we can. For students, this means they have the opportunity to learn from the very best. For patrons, this means they have the opportunity to have outstanding musical experiences right here in Lawrence. For the institution, the School of Music contributes mightily to campus life and the local community in a variety of ways. Whether it be in Allen Fieldhouse hearing our pep band, on the radio experiencing KU musicians performing in advertisements or on stage at the Lied Center, the influence of the School of Music can be felt by a large number of people. On behalf of our faculty and students, I hope we see you at a School of Music concert in the near future. No one will be disappointed.

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