The man behind the music: Jack Delaney shares love of music, work, Meadows

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By Miranda Zsigmond

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Jack Delaney conducts the Meadows Wind Ensemble at a performance. Photo credit: SMU

It seems as if Jack Delaney (Doc) always has somewhere to be, and as the head conductor of the Meadows Wind Ensemble (MWE) and graduate conducting professor, he does.

But if students can catch him for a moment between his hummingbird-like mannerisms, they’re met with an overly gracious, “goofy” character of a man whom they’ll never forget.

“I just remember him having more energy and charisma than I had ever seen from anyone else on the podium,” senior bassoonist Chris Pawlowski said. “It was kind of magical, I was only in ninth grade but I could tell that Doc really knew what he was talking about and cared greatly about the details of the music we were creating.”

His office is a a wall-to-wall cubic display of his life in pictures, drawings, concert posters and quirky clock apparatuses. Each item shows the better half of his 26 years at SMU. Before SMU, Doc was the wind ensemble director at Emory University, but by an unexpected twist of chance, he took an interview at SMU and has been here since.

“I remember going to visit the Cotton Bowl and buying post cards for everyone back home,” Delaney said. “I didn’t think I was going to stay in Dallas, let alone get the job.”

At a first glance, Delaney appears approachable, eager and even a bit unassuming. One might never know that he earned a doctorate of musical arts from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, conducted numerous professional and student ensembles all over the world and commissioned more than 50 works by major composers.

Younger students tend to call him Dr. Delaney out of respect, but he simply refers to himself and encourages others to call him “Doc.” After a couple of months, it sticks. Delaney’s students describe him as humble and hard working.

“The effort that Doc puts into building a comfortable teaching atmosphere really pays off and ultimately leads to more productive rehearsals,” Pawlowski said. “Over the semesters, camaraderie is developed between Doc and the ensemble members, which adds to the distinctive vibe that the Meadows Wind Ensemble rotations have.”

And the audience notices. Under Doc’s unique guidance, the Meadows Wind Ensemble has made a name for itself as one of the leading ensembles of its kind. It has performed at major regional, national and international music festivals and conferences throughout the U.S. and Europe. The self-proclaimed “blue-collar ensemble” compares with some of the best college wind ensembles across the country, a reminder that high standards are met with hard work.

“I have a rule that when I think I’m done studying [a music score], I’ll put on another pot of coffee and go an hour more,” Doc said. “And I’ll tell the kids that if they’re not busting it, somebody else is putting in the time and they’ll beat you whether it be in an audition or life.”

Small life lessons like these are taught through spoken metaphors at nearly every MWE rehearsal.

“Doc always reminds us that it’s important to be fully invested in the pieces we are learning and from being invested that you can learn from anything, whether it be a small opener or large Bernstein piece,” senior oboist Bethany Ham said. “He is incredible at spreading his enthusiasm for music and sharing the joys of playing together as a group.”

Unlike larger universities with one director running multiple bands and ensembles, SMU’s music program has the luxury of making each performance a memorable statement. The upcoming MWE concert titled “Elvis Has Left the Building” is no different.

“This concert is about a period in time when high culture and pop culture merge, and they honestly never have separated since,” Doc said. “Meadows is a different kind of school, we are a school of the arts. If our programs don’t have intellectual content, then there’s no reason to do them.”

The concert is scheduled to feature an Elvis “Vegas” medley of pieces, such as Eric Whitacre’s “Godzilla Eats Las Vegas,” Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story” and a medley of Frank Zappa’s compositions. The concert boasts an appearance from the world’s leading Elvis tribute artist, Kraig Parker.

It’s this type of passionate energy that Doc puts in every concert to create unforgettable programs that have been known to require set changes, dancers, audio-visual elements, narrators and other collaborations with many different kinds of musicians — things most directors wouldn’t attempt.

“My life goes into every single program,” Doc said. “These kids are incredible and this program is special and they deserve my full attention.”

Doc’s performances at concerts are equally as memorable as the concert itself. While on the podium he becomes immersed in the music and the moment that’s unfolding before him. It’s not uncommon to see him waving his arms around, stomping his feet and shouting “yeah!” during concerts, sharing with the audience a glimpse of his raw excitement for what he’s doing.

“Each performance manages to demonstrate who Doc is as a musician and what the Meadows Wind Ensemble is capable of producing,” senior French horn player Scott Leger said. “You can’t always predict what you’re going to hear or experience, but you can guarantee that it will be entertaining, special, and always something new and interesting.”

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