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The Blessings of Snail Mail

I need to write more letters! Emails and positive social media posts are good, but there’s still a need for words written on paper.

When the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated in-person visits, I wrote a few letters. One was to Wendell Evanson, who had been my teacher through college and beyond. I knew his health was declining and did not expect him to be in any condition to respond. What I didn’t anticipate was the satisfaction I felt in knowing that I’d said to him very clearly how much his influence meant to me, musically and personally. Mr. Evanson died on November 3, so I’m thankful I shared my thoughts in June.

Mr. Wendell Evanson, retired band director at Henderson State University. One of those lasting relationships built around music. I treasure this photo taken with him a few years ago when he was judging region contest in Alma.

Another person I wrote to was Dr. Wes Branstine, who taught low brass and jazz band at Henderson State University. These guys, and others, invested themselves in their students and the relationships they built didn’t end at graduation. In the letter to Dr. Branstine, I shared one example of the continued learning I experienced through his generous giving of time. He wouldn’t accept payment for the extra instruction that made a big difference in my teaching.

Some might know that I think of blogging as an online scrapbook. So, what follows is my letter to Dr. Branstine and a portion of his response. It was a thrill to reconnect with someone who made a positive difference in my teaching and my overall approach to life.

A few years ago, I posted about the influence of several music teachers on my learning. We can probably all point to teachers who made a difference. Is there someone you need to thank? I definitely need to write more snail mail!

A Doorway to Learning

My Teacher, Wendell Evanson

Wendell Evanson next to his wife, Lydia, at an awards banquet in his honor

My teacher, Wendell O. Evanson, died this morning. My eyes teared up when I typed that sentence because of the weight of the words “my teacher.” He was my teacher from 1974 to the present, and his influence continues.

Like most great musicians, Wendell O. Evanson was passionate, committed to the art, complex in his thinking, and driven to do great work. As his student, I learned he also had a soft and compassionate side that revealed itself when you were down or disappointed. I was the recipient of his encouragement several times while in college and later as a music teacher. 

The first time I saw his compassionate and encouraging side was while playing in the pit orchestra at HSU for a musical that included community members. I noticed the delight on his face as a young child, who had struggled earlier, was singing his part. You could read Mr. Evanson’s lips as he said, “That-a-boy! You’ve got it!,” and several times he laughed with joy because he was so proud of that young man’s singing.

I’m thankful for Mr. Evanson’s life and his immeasurable influence on his students.

What follows is just one small example of Mr. Evanson’s conducting. Lawrence Hamilton, a wonderful singer, invited Mr. Evanson to conduct one of his performances.

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