The highlights from a career spanning a quarter of a century in the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music are too numerous for retiring Professor of Music Robert Levy to narrow down to just a precious few.
But the award-winning trumpet performer, conductor, teacher, composer and recording artist admits to at least one soft spot in his heart.
“I still get goose bumps when a brand new work arrives and I’m opening that package for the first time knowing that pretty shortly I’ll be exploring new musical ground,” said Levy, known to many as Lawrence’s “new music man” for his passion for original and innovative works.
Levy will be honored Sunday (6/13) with professor emeritus status and awarded an honorary master of arts degree, ad eundem, during Lawrence’s 155th commencement.
Since joining the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty in 1979 as director of bands — he originally led just the wind ensemble, but shortly thereafter added a symphonic band to the conservatory’s ensemble line-up — Levy has conducted more than 130 concerts and worked with more than 900 student musicians. He has premiered more than 100 works during his career, many written expressly for him. In 1986, Downbeat magazine honored his ensemble with its “best symphonic band performance” award.
“I appreciate all the efforts and hard work of the students with the music-making we shared in together,” said Levy. “That’s what I’ll miss the most.”
“When Bob isn’t thinking about his beloved baseball Giants — he even had a dog named ‘Willie’ — he’s composing, commissioning, conducting, performing, practicing, teaching, eating, sleeping and drinking music,” said Fred Sturm, director of jazz and improvisational music at Lawrence, who was in his second year as a conservatory faculty member when Levy joined the college.
“He’s a non-stop juggler with plates forever in the air, performing one program, rehearsing another to be played next month, booking a third that’s six months away and commissioning or composing yet another to be premiered next year. He’s an advocate for new music and the composers creating it, tirelessly carrying the same torch that his wind ensemble predecessor Fred Schroeder passed to him 25 years ago. He is a loyal and dedicated teacher who truly loves his students.”
As a trumpet soloist, chamber musician, clinician or guest conductor, Levy has performed throughout the United States, including Carnegie Hall five times, as well as at concerts in Australia, Canada, China, Haiti, Jamaica and Portugal. He’s released 30 recordings on 10 labels, including 1994’s “Blackberry Winter: Songs by Alex Wilder.”
Wilder was one of Levy’s favorite composers and he considered him a personal friend and mentor. In addition to conducting several concerts of Wilder’s music, Levy is completing work on a documentary about Wilder, who died in 1980, featuring colleagues who knew and worked with him.
A native of New York City, Levy began his teaching and conducting career at Henderson State College in Arkansas. He spent eight years as director of wind ensemble and trumpet instructor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland before joining the Lawrence faculty. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music from Ithaca College and holds a master’s degree in music education from North Texas State University. In addition, he has completed all the course work toward a doctor of musical arts degree at the University of Iowa.