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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Ross Giving Farewell Recital After 37-Year Career

Stewart Ross came to Minnesota State Mankato in 1977.

2014-04-11
Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, 3-23-2014

At age 27, despite not being finished with his doctorate, Stewart Ross took the risk of accepting a temporary teaching position at Minnesota State University, Mankato, with the hope that it would perhaps to lead to something more permanent.

The fill-in position in the music department was meant to last nine weeks in the spring of 1977. “It turned out to last 37 years instead,” said Ross, who moved from Mankato to Eagan last year and is officially retiring from Minnesota State Mankato this spring.

Ross’ career is filled with those kinds of connective opportunities that have led him from one interesting position to another, ranging from teaching, to serving as director of bands for 21 years, to playing trombone in numerous bands and orchestras, to being the founding director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Minnesota State Mankato.

And it all began when Ross was working on his doctorate at Northwestern University and a music professor at Minnesota State Mankato became ill and needed to take leave. Ross learned of the temporary opening and decided to take a gamble. When the professor was unable to return, Ross was hired for a longer term.

“I was hired for another year, and then there was a national search, and I was already directing one of the bands, and they already (knew me),” Ross said.

Ross was hired permanently without having finished his doctorate, and every summer he had the intention of going back to finish. But the department always needed him to teach.

Had Ross not come to Mankato, he would have finished his doctorate in 1978; instead, he finally finished in 1985.

“But I didn’t care. I had a wonderful job here,” Ross said.

Ross had been a gifted trombonist since childhood, which made it difficult to teach trombone when he started at Minnesota State Mankato. It was hard for him to understand and remedy the students’ problems.

“I was a natural. I moved very fast, so when I came here, I had a lot of trouble teaching trombone. The first year I spent practicing badly to try and identify the problems, to really try and help these kids,” he said.

Over time — in addition to other duties, including becoming graduate coordinator, where he was advisor for most master of music degrees — Ross became director of bands, which was a job he thoroughly enjoyed. He also met his wife, Liz, who was in the concert band during her senior year.

Ross expected to be director of bands his whole career, but in 2000 he learned he had significant hearing loss due to performing in jazz bands, and the loud sounds from the marching and pep band at rehearsals and games for so many years. He remembers during one particular band rehearsal, it sounded like he was under water.

“It was the scariest rehearsal of my life. It was like I was conducting in Grand Central Station. I knew the jig was up,” Ross said. “That was sad. During the last concert, I had tears in my eyes.”

The opportunity arose for a position with the new Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Ross became the center’s founding director.

In the meantime, he stayed busy with numerous other commitments. An accomplished trombone player, he gave numerous recitals and played with various bands. He also held many different positions with Kiwanis, even serving as a trustee of Kiwanis International for several years.

Ross also became involved in Dee Fink & Associates, which is a small company of experienced workshop leaders who have expertise in Integrated Course Design. The company leads workshops and online courses for college instructors on how to design courses that lead to increased student engagement and learning.

Ross has given more than 100 such workshops at colleges and universities around the world.

For the past three years, Ross has been on phased retirement from Minnesota State Mankato, partly because he wanted to do more workshops. This spring is his last semester at the university, but before he leaves officially, he wanted to give one last recital as a farewell to the community on April 3.

Ross admits that up until starting to heavily rehearse for the recital, he was out of practice. A more than hourlong performance is a lot different than playing with the occasional band. And traveling for workshops makes it even more difficult because he can’t bring his trombone with him.

“To play a full recital at the university level, you’ve got to practice a lot,” he said.

Although, as Ross has traveled recently, he said many places he’s visited have had horns for him to use.

“Back in February I spent six days in Beirut, Lebanon, and they found a student Yamaha trombone for me to practice each night. They did tell me I could not play until after 7 p.m. so I would not bother anyone in the music building!” he wrote in his program notes.

Ross said every piece in his program was carefully selected, including an unaccompanied piece by Frigyes Hidas called “Fantasia for Solo Trombone.”

“I think the trombone is very interesting by itself,” he said.

Other pieces include “Morceau Symphonique (Opus 88),” by Alexandre Guilmant; “Diversions for Flute and Trombone,” by Howard J. Buss, with James DeVoll on flute; “Reflective Mood,” by Sammy Nestico; “Blue Bells of Scotland,” by Arthur Pryor; “Songs of the Sun” (2011), by Eric Ewazen; Ewazen’s “Eaglehawk,” with Sarah Houle on trombone and Gerard Aloisio on bass trombone; and “West Side Story,” by Leonard Bernstein and arranged by Jack Gale, with the Minnesota Valley Brass Quintet, which Ross joined soon after coming to Mankato.

“I can’t remember how many times we have played Minnesota State Mankato graduations together,” Ross wrote about the quintet in his recital program notes. “I have played trombone with the group for about 35 years now. Four great gentlemen and wonderful players too.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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