Stephen H. McCardell

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Stephen H. McCardell, a longtime faculty member in Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music, is being remembered by colleagues and former students for his devotion to music and love of teaching.

He passed away on July 29. He was 61.

A native of Houston, McCardell was a lifelong musician, composer, and teacher. He joined the Lawrence faculty in 1999, teaching music theory.

Through the years, he played in multiple bands, explored both classical and nonclassical music, worked closely with youth groups, and shared his love of music with anyone who would listen, all in partnership with his wife, Susan Lawrence McCardell ’80, whom he met while they were students at Lawrence in the 1970s.

McCardell would later earn Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees in composition from Mannes School of Music-The New School in New York City before returning to teach at Lawrence. He taught music theory for 20 years and taught various tutorials and independent studies on a wide range of music topics. His improvisational skills on the electric guitar were legendary, and his home recording studio often drew up-and-coming bands looking for his expertise.

Julie McQuinn, an associate professor of music in the Conservatory, was a colleague and friend to McCardell. She said his work with and respect for his students and fellow musicians was “transformative” for all those he shared time with, in and out of the classroom.

“Stephen respected and valued his students,” McQuinn said. “He laughed with his students. He supported his students in a multitude of ways, within and beyond the music theory classroom.”

His deep passion for music drew people to him, she said. They wanted to listen to him, to learn from him.

“He was interested in everything and anything related to music that anyone brought to him,” McQuinn said. “He was always willing to listen and think and talk, always willing to help.”

Pianist Ann Boeckman, an instructor of music in the Conservatory, said of McCardell: “He was many things — soft-spoken, humorous, concerned, an excellent listener and thoughtful colleague. Team teaching with him at Bjorklunden was a special joy; from his sharing of knowledge I learned right along with the students.”

McCardell was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and again in 2007. He returned to teaching in 2008 and remained cancer free until a recurrence in 2019.

“Stephen showed how to face both the good times and the bad with grace and equanimity,” said colleague and friend Gene Biringer, associate professor of music in the Conservatory.

Students affectionately referred to their professor by just his last name. He instilled in them not only a deep love of music but also an enduring belief in compassion, humor, hard work, and empathy.

“McCardell was whip-smart, funny, and above all, a kind and patient teacher,” said Carl Johnson ’19. “I remember so clearly going to his house for dinner and just being struck by how rare and special that was. He showed me, proudly, his guitars and his Fender Bassman with that mischievous look.”

Milou de Meij ’19, also a former student, said: “He was the kindest person and a truly wonderful teacher. I have to admit theory was one of the hardest and most frustrating subjects for me. … Finally getting an A in my last theory class was one of the proudest moments of my life, and I could never have done it without him.”

Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl said it is important to remember and celebrate all that McCardell brought to Lawrence over the past 21 years.

“Stephen didn’t just teach theory; he taught his students how to believe in themselves,” Pertl said.

Editor’s Note: Stephen McCardell’s music and mentorship live on even after his death in July 2020. The Lawrence community invites you to a musical celebration of his life and work at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. The celebration will take place in Memorial Chapel with members of the Lawrence community invited to be part of the in-person celebration. Others and those who are not in Appleton are invited to join via a livestream Zoom link.  The link is https://lawrence.zoom.us/j/92001519589?pwd=YnRzbVM2L2xIVkZyYzF0c0loWTBVQT09 

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu