Yale Bulletin and Calendar

December 6-13, 1999Volume 28, Number 15

Keith Wilson (center), displays the Sanford Medal he was awarded on Nov. 17. He is flanked by School of Music Dean Robert Blocker (left) and composer Mitch Leigh, a former student of Wilson's whose works include "Man of La Mancha."

Keith Wilson earns high honors for his musical contributions

Clarinetist Keith L. Wilson, professor emeritus of music and one of the major figures in the development of music at the University over the past half-century, was honored by The Yale Concert Band and the Yale School of Music during the band's Nov. 17 concert in Woolsey Hall.

In a ceremony before the second portion of the musical program, Music School Dean Robert Blocker awarded Wilson the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal, the school's highest honor. In his presentation, Blocker described Wilson as "one of Yale's most outstanding professors" and "the embodiment of all the Yale School of Music stands for and hopes to be."

Wilson was also given the Gustav Stoeckel Award, which is named after the first music professor at Yale and honors faculty who have contributed to the life of the School of Music. Wilson is only the second recipient of the award, which was presented by one of his former students, Vincent Oneppo '73 M.M., who is now director of the Concert and Press Office at the School of Music.

Two of Wilson's other former students -- clarinetist Richard Stoltzman '67 M.M. and composer Mitch Leigh '52 M.M. -- joined Blocker and Oneppo on stage for the awards presentation. The two offered warm reflections on their years as students, and later as friends and colleagues, of Wilson.

Stoltzman, who has been hailed as one of the finest clarinetists in the world, said "it was through Mr. Wilson that I discovered the greatest mission of a musician: to communicate music with peers to the audience. He gave me that wisdom and that love."

The alumnus also praised Wilson's artistry as a clarinetist, recalling that, when he first witnessed Wilson perform the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, "I heard the clarinet as I had never heard it before, but as I always dreamed it could be -- not just as an instrument but as an expression of the deepest emotions of the music."

During the ceremony, the Yale Concert Band under Thomas C. Duffy performed "The Wilson Wail," which Leigh composed while a Yale student. Following the number, Leigh -- whose works include "Man of La Mancha" -- described the influence that Wilson and his wife, Rachel, had on his life and how important the professor's mentorship was to him. Then, turning to the members of the Yale Concert Band, Leigh said, "I give you this blessing for the next millennium: I wish for you a Keith Wilson."

As part of the tribute to the professor emeritus, the Yale Concert Band also performed Wilson's transcription of Paul Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, " which he produced at the request of the composer. Duffy's "Butterflies and Bees" and Joseph Turrin's "Chronicles," featuring School of Music professor Allan Dean on trumpet, rounded out the musical program.

Wilson taught at Yale for over 40 years before retiring in 1987. At the time of his appointment in 1946, he was the only wind professor at the School of Music. Within two years, the wind department had gained equal ranking with other areas of instruction at the school. He was also director of the Yale Bands, a position he held until 1972. Wilson later became associate dean of the School of Music and director of the Norfolk Summer School of Music.

A world-class clarinetist and teacher of the instrument, Wilson performed often in recital, chamber music, and concertos. He achieved national prominence both as a conductor and as a clarinetist, and received numerous honors at Yale and throughout the country. After his official retirement, he continued to coach chamber ensembles, serve on committees, and advise students.


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