Donald McKinney has been planning from a distance, but that’s OK.
He felt a connection on his visit to LSU in February - a connection to the students, the faculty and staff and to the community.
The connection was so strong that it wasn’t difficult planning out his first semester as new director of the LSU Wind Ensemble while finishing his work with the summer music camp at the Michigan-based Interlochen Center for the Arts.
McKinney was director of band activities at the center. His duties included conducting the Interlochen Arts Academy Band, coaching chamber music and teaching courses in conducting.
He’ll continue teaching conducting at LSU. He’ll also succeed Frank Wickes as director of the Wind Ensemble. McKinney’s official title is director of Wind Ensembles and Conducting.
The only problem is, he really hadn’t had a chance to get settled at LSU until last week. That’s when he flew into Baton Rouge from Michigan.
“But I’ve been doing a lot of work from afar,” he said. “I feel I’ve developed a good connection with LSU, and I feel confident in planning through phone calls and emails.”
The LSU Wind Ensemble is the School of Music’s premier instrumental group. McKinney’s job duties not only will be conducting the Wind Ensemble but overseeing all of the ensembles in the LSU Department of Bands
LSU Tiger Marching Band Director Roy King, meantime, has been named director of Athletic Bands.
McKinney’s position originally was titled director of bands when he interviewed. That position also was held by Wickes, who retired in 2010 after 30 years at the university. However, as part of a reorganization within the Department of Bands, McKinney will not serve as director of the marching band.
“Dr. McKinney will be focused solely on the directorship of the LSU Wind Ensemble and the coordination and supervision of all academic matters in the band area,” said Willis Delony, interim director of the LSU School of Music. “In particular, he will be the major professor for all master’s and doctoral students majoring in wind conducting and will be teaching all graduate level wind conducting and wind literature courses.”
For several years, Delony said, the actual direction and coordination of all athletic band activity has been carried out by associate directors, as Wickes concentrated on the directorship of the Wind Ensemble and graduate level teaching. This past year, Roy King, previously the associate director of bands, assumed the directorship of the Tiger Band and all other athletic band activities.
“In recognition both of Roy’s huge success in this area, as well as the ever increasing workload of this position, we believed it appropriate to remove the word “associate” from his title and create a new one commensurate with his duties and responsibilities,” Delony said.
Laurence Kaptain, dean of the LSU College of Music and Dramatic Arts, said McKinney’s selection came after a two-year search where a committee comprised of LSU alumni, faculty and an undergraduate student offered the position to McKinney.
“Dr. McKinney will join Director of Athletic Bands Roy King and the other faculty in the LSU School of Music to advance the quality and traditions of excellence established over the years for the band program at LSU,” Kaptain said. “As dean of the College of Music and Dramatic Arts, I look forward to his arrival on campus and a new chapter of national leadership among elite band programs in the nation.”
LSU’s strong band tradition is one of the top reasons McKinney was attracted to the university.
“The university has a strong history of bands and a strong tradition of musical excellence,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of it. When I came to campus in February, I felt a connection with the students and faculty, and I felt we worked well together.”
McKinney spent a week rehearsing with the LSU Wind Ensemble while also being interviewed by faculty members. The entire process is considered an audition of sorts, but McKinney saw it differently.
“The interviews were the audition for me,” he said. “When I was working with the Wind Ensemble, that was the fun part. That’s where we were able to put everything else aside and work on nothing else but the music.”
“He obviously made a strong impression on the entire community at LSU,” Kaptain said.
Along with his duties as director of band activities at Interlochen, McKinney co-hosted a new music festival in 2011 that featured composer Steven Stucky. From 2004 to 2007, he was the associate conductor of ensembles at the Duquesne University Mary Pappert School of Music, where he assisted with the wind ensembles, orchestra and opera workshop. He was the assistant conductor to violinist and conductor Sidney Harth and was responsible for teaching courses in undergraduate conducting.
McKinney earned his bachelor of science degree in music education from Duquesne University, his master of music degree in conducting from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate of musical arts degree in conducting from the University of Michigan.
At LSU, McKinney will collaborate with King in the Department of Bands.
“We’ll work together,” he said. “It is my goal to respect the traditions at the university, and I look forward to working with Roy.”
As for his plans for the LSU Wind Ensemble, McKinney plans to commission original compositions for the group. This is a tradition already put into place by Wickes.
“I want to expand this tradition,” McKinney said. “And I’d like to install a new push for recording CDs. This will be very exciting, and it will help increase the visibility of LSU and the School of Music.”
McKinney commends the School of Music on its forward thinking.
“The School of Music has a vision,” he said. “It’s looking to the future, and I’m excited to be affiliated with it.”
McKinney’s also excited about the prospect of finally calling Baton Rouge home.
“I’ll finally be able to experience the community,” he said. “And the food. I’ve never lived in the South, so it’s going to be an adventure.”