A change in tempo: IWU's maestro steps down after 35 note-worthy years

2014-04-10T07:00:00Z 2014-04-10T07:03:20Z A change in tempo: IWU's maestro steps down after 35 note-worthy yearsDan Craft dcraft@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com
April 10, 2014 7:00 am  • 

BLOOMINGTON -- The founding father of not one, but two, key Bloomington-Normal music institutions can't come up with a theory on the genetic root of that impressive patriarchal coup.

“I'm from a family of orthodontists and physicians,” says Steven W. Eggleston, the man behind both the Illinois Wesleyan Civic Orchestra, which he founded 30 years ago, and the IWU Wind Ensemble, which he fathered several years before that.

“There is no music background there at all. My father was an orthodontist, grandfather was a dentist, and my step-grandmother was a physician,” he continues. “But my passion was to be a trumpet player in one of the great symphonies.”

To drill home the point, almost literally, a dentist friend of his father, who happened to be working on young Steven's teeth, chastised him thus: “You're breaking your father's heart, you know.”

With a drill aimed at your molars, who's going to argue the point?

“But it wasn't true … my parents were thrilled about my love of music,” says their good son on the eve of his departure from the IWU music faculty, where he has stood his podium ground for the past 35 years.

This child of medicine who pursued a life of music has decided it's time for a little diminuendo after a lifetime of crescendo.

But before he cedes the podium, he's bringing together both "kids" for a last hurrah at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

Just for the very special occasion, the IWU Civic Orchestra and Wind Ensemble will see their ranks doubled, and then some, by an army of Eggleston's past students, returning from points far and near to pay homage.

So much for that dire warning from his father's dental colleague.

And so much for that note from another colleague, this one his own, via the faculty of Albion College in Michigan, where he taught prior to IWU.

“Don't take it,” warned the note of the job opportunity in Bloomington, Ill.

An old hand at ignoring the warnings of others, Eggleston did take it, and has toiled happily here since.

“When I arrived in 1979, there was a band (Concert Band) and a marching band,” he recalls of IWU's main music organizations of the time.

Under Eggleston's shepherding, the Concert Band morphed into the Wind Symphony and, ultimately, the Wind Ensemble, whose name belies its size (45 members at full strength).

“I wanted a more serious band. But at the time they were putting all the music education students, both primary and secondary, into the parts,” Eggleston recalls. “I wanted a top-flight band comprised of primary students to play the best in music literature.”

Dedicated to the performance of contemporary music, the Wind Ensemble has flourished under the 35 years of Eggleston's direction.

Among the manifestations of that status has been the ensemble's annual Symposium of Contemporary Music, which has attracted such world-class composers as Arvo Part, Louis Andreissen and John Corigliano (composer of the score for the award-winning movie, “The Red Violin”).

Fatherhood – outside the one of his marriage to Mary Eggleston, a music teacher herself – beckoned again, circa 1984.

“The Bloomington-Normal Symphony had disbanded and joined up with the Springfield Symphony, and that left a lot of community players out of place to play,” Eggleston recall. “I wanted a big orchestra (at IWU), so I took the community members and put them together with the students.”

Hence, the christening as the IWU Civic Orchestra, which began life at a ratio of about 60 students to 40 community members.

Luckily, a lot of those out-of-work community members were string players, which Eggleston's new big orchestra sorely needed.

“The school was very supportive with funds,” he notes, with leadership undertaken by a board of directors, still in place 30 seasons later.

Through the board's efforts, the orchestra has been able to bring in a roster of notable guest collaborators over the years, including PDQ Bach's Peter Schickele, former British Prime Minister Edward Heath as guest conductor and world-class soprano Dawn Upshaw.

Over the decades, Eggleston's deepest satisfactions have come on the student front: “My greatest accomplishments are the successes of my students … as professional players, as educators, and, now, as the parents of some of my current students." 

Up on the podium, one of his triumphs was the Civic Orchestra's performance of Verdi's famously daunting Requiem, circa the 2008 season.

It came complete with full-blown choral accompaniment so demanding that Eggleston took a semester's sabbatical from his regular teaching to learn the ropes of choir conducting by directing IWU's choral students.

“It was a lifelong dream come true,” he says, but one that nearly turned into a nightmare when his key soprano soloist warned him right before the curtain rose that “I'm not feeling well …if I leave the stage, don't panic.”

Not quite true to her word, she didn't leave the stage; rather, she passed out on it.

Verdi's magnum opus came to a standstill for 30 minutes as the singer -- suffering from dehydration -- was revived offstage. She rallied and was able to pick up where she dropped off, literally ... albeit from a seated position this time.

As Eggleston prepares to leave this stage of his life behind — he and Mary are moving to Dallas to be near their two daughters (and “2½ grandchildren”) -- he knows he will be leaving two more of his grown kids in the hands of others.

“It's been a tough thing for me to think about, leaving the two orchestras and students,” he says. “But I know the school will bring in someone to keep them going. And I'm sure I'll eventually be on a podium in Dallas or teaching someone to play trumpet.”

Copyright 2015 pantagraph.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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