Four music professors wrap up Whitman College careers

Four Whitman professors will bid farewell to the school this year and next, marking a watershed for the school's music program.

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WALLA WALLA -- Almost a century of cumulative Whitman College music teaching will come to an end this year and next, as four key music professors, each with at least two decades of teaching at the campus, will end their careers at Whitman.

The first to officially leave is choral director and voice instructor for the last 24 years, Robert Bode, 52, who is on sabbatical for what is now his final semester with Whitman.

"Well, we loved Whitman and we loved Walla Walla. It has been our home for 24 years. And I had no intention of leaving," Bode said in an interview last week.

But he also recalled how he recently got a call from the music department dean of the University of Missouri Kansas City asking him to apply for a position with their conservatory.

The offer was "too good to pass up."

"I am not going to have any smarter students than I had at Whitman or any more supportive administration. It is a terrific place and I am going to miss it a great deal," he added. But what will be different is that Bode will be teaching at the university's Conservatory of Music and Dance, which means he will teach masters and doctorate students.

"I will miss working with non-majors ... Because undergrads and non-majors are interested in learning as much as they can about everything, rather than those students who have already made a decision about their major," Bode said.

Also leaving this semester is low strings instructor and campus symphony conductor Edward Dixon, 58. But the locally renowned cellist won't be going far from Walla Walla.

"I figure I have about 10 really good years that I can play at my top level. And those go by quickly. So I am just seeking out opportunities to perform throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as a concert tour in Florida for next year," Dixon said.

The principal cellist for the Walla Walla Symphony will still keep his first chair with that company. And with more time on his hands, Dixon said he will also play cello for the Oregon East Symphony of Pendleton and the Mid Columbia Symphony of the Tri-Cities. But teaching and conducting will be second fiddle, and a passion that has had to simmer all these years will have the heat turned up on it.

"It is just a chance to be able to play all the pieces I have learned over the years and put them on stage again. And while I have been conducting at Whitman so much, I have had to put the cello on the back burner ... but I love the conducting so it is a trade-off," Dixon said.

As for next year, two more music department faculty members -- each with more than two decades at Whitman -- will leave their posts. They are Music Department Chairman David Glenn, who could not be reached for this story, and Lee Thompson, professor of music and head of piano and accompanying studies, remembered by many students as the music teacher who accompanied them on piano.

"I certainly will miss accompanying the students. I have loved doing that, coaching them and getting them ready for recitals," Thompson said.

But the main piano accompanist also noted that having four veteran faculty members leaving in the course of one year is bound to have a noticeable effect on the department.

"It may be a little rocky, but I think that the school is so committed to bringing in first-rate folks that it will be good ... It is going to have a strong effect primarily because when you have a program that has been intact and running smoothly as well as ours has, there hasn't been a change in 20 years," he said.

But Thompson also noted that change is good.

"Someone new will bring something new to the position," he said.

"All of us leaving in two years I don't think is ideal," Dixon said, then later added, "I think the quality of education will continue right along; I am not too concerned about that. But it does give the college the opportunity and the chance to reshape the teaching assignments of the four faculty that are leaving."

"It will look younger," Bode said. And like his colleagues, he agreed this is not a loss but an opportunity.

"Whitman is a terrific place with really outstanding faculty, and that is not going to change. And I expect they will hire faculty members better than the ones that are leaving; I think with each generation it just gets better and better," Bode said.

The first of the four going-away parties will take place Tuesday, as the department says good-bye to Bode from 3-5 p.m. in the foyer of the Hall of Music; 137 S. Park St.

Then on May 12 from 3-5 p.m., also at the foyer of the Hall of Music, they will bid adieu to Dixon.

People with memories and pictures they would like to share are asked to e-mail them to waggonbi@whitman.edu.

The general public, especially past students, are encouraged to come and say good-bye.

As for Thompson and Glen, their good-bye ceremonies will take place next year.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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