It continues to baffle me when I hear the question: "How are we ever going to guide a younger audience to classical music?" The fact is, they are already out there, primed for classical music and, in many cases, for careers in music. For all the grumbling about there being no music in our public schools, band, orchestra and choral programs are alive and mostly well. We should all wake up to the fantastic job so many of our music educators are doing and say "thank you."
"Oh, those band kids are all just geeks who don't fit in elsewhere." That's one statement I heard recently. Many will also cast aspersions upon the music these youngsters are learning, especially those "geeky" band kids. Truth is, there is a lot of great music they are learning to play, much of it as closely related to "classical music" as the looney tunes and movie music we often cite as gateways to classical music. Not all of these kids will stick with their music educations, and most won't pursue anything in music beyond high school; however, these band, chorus and orchestra geeks will come away with an appreciation for great music. They will also pick up problem solving skills and discipline which will serve them well in their later lives as doctors, lawyers, teachers, public servants and the myriad other careers they will follow throughout their adult lives. Some of these kids will even become supporters of public radio.
Texas is blessed with some of the greatest music educators in the country. But the Wadenpfuhl Family is exceptional even by Texas standards. Karl Wadenpfuhl was born in Louisiana and educated at LSU, where he played trumpet in the ROTC Cadet Band. He would later switch to French horn when he joined the U.S. Army Air Force Field Band. Karl's early career as a music educator took him through several posts before arriving in Kirbyville, Texas in 1949. There he put down roots, started a family, and began to produce a long string of award-winning bands. He and his wife, Lottie, also began producing a family of musicians; all four of their children became musicians and music educators. In 1997, Karl Wadenpfuhl was inducted into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.
While in high school, I had the good fortune of advancing in my senior year to All-State Band. On the first morning of the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) convention, 16 of the best high school French horn players in the state sat in a semi-circle within a huge conference room at the Rice Hotel in Houston. The final audition which would determine our overall ranking began. I knew I was somewhat out of my league when some of those kids began to play. In particular, there was a spectacular player from Beaumont who won the cherished first horn position. His name was Jay Wadenpfuhl, son of Karl and Lottie Wadenpfuhl. As the years rolled by and my music education took me to the University of Texas at Austin, I continued to see the name Wadenpfuhl at the All-State level. This was becoming a horn player dynasty.
In fact, both Jay and his brother Ken Wadenpfuhl went on to highly successful careers as orchestral players. Jay landed his "plum" job in 1981 when he won a position in the Boston Symphony. A recent inventory of the Wadenpfuhl family legacy reveals 10 horn players in just 3 generations. In addition, the family has produced 4 celebrated band directors.
My reasons for writing of the remarkable Wadenpfuhl Family are twofold. One is to demonstrate that there are indeed generations of music lovers flowing through our public schools, many touched by extraordinary teachers such as Karl Wadenpfuhl or, in my case, the Victoria High School band director Fred Junkin. These young people may not transition directly into San Antonio Symphony ticket holders, or members of KPAC, but many will eventually get there, thanks to their positive public school experience.
The second reason for introducing you to the Wadenpfuhls is somber. Although I never really knew Jay Wadenpfuhl beyond his bigger than life reputation (he called himself Tex on Facebook), I was nevertheless deeply saddened to learn of his passing this week, after an extended illness. He touched many with his gifts as a player, teacher and composer. May he Rest in Peace.
Frank Epstein, a longtime BSO colleague and chair of Brass and Percussion at the New England Conservatory, said this about Wadenpfuhl: “Jay, was a one of a kind personality, emotionally charged yet highly committed to all things musical. An unusual talent, he was a composer of brass music and loved to conduct pieces in the brass repertoire. His playing was elegant, stylistically fluent and secure, his tone beautifully centered at all times, while his playing was always musical with an extraordinary sense of good taste. He was also a committed teacher.”
Sadly, I must also report that within the past 6 months, both Karl and Lottie Wadenpfuhl also passed away. One is tempted to sum this up as the end of an era, except there are more Wadenpfuhl musicians just emerging from major music schools across the country. The spirit and the name live on.
Submitted by James Baker