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MIT Concert Band salutes retiring director

"I love working with the students here. They are so sensitive and they stay with you in a way that really is unique to them. If I take a deep breath [while conducting] I feel the chord expand. Once in a concert I reached up to push my glasses back up my nose and got a crescendo... At MIT, I have felt it behooves me to do what I can to encourage that marvelous intellect, that music, not to hold it down."
-- John Corley, on the Concert Band's 40th anniversary in 1989

In John Corley's 50 years at the helm of the MIT Concert Band, he has overseen the commission of about 50 new works, developed a repertoire of more than 350 pieces and worked with more than 1,000 MIT students. Many of them will return to the Institute on Saturday, May 1 to honor the only director the group has ever had as he leads the band for the last time before retiring.

The free concert (at 8pm in Kresge Auditorium, to be followed by a reception) will include the world premieres of two 50th anniversary commissions: Funk and Circumstance by Jeff Morrow (SBG 1996) and Time Into Gold by Adrian Childs (SB 1994). Approximately 70 Concert Band alumni will join the current 65 members to perform Prelude and Happy Dance by Andrew Kazdin (SB 1963), Festive Music for Double Wind Orchestra by William J. Maloof and Corley's March by John Bavicchi (SB 1944), commissioned for the band by Mr. Corley in 1967. Before the final piece, there will be speeches and presentations, including one from MIT President Charles M. Vest.

"John Corley is part of the history of music at MIT," said Professor Peter Child, head of the music and theater arts section, who will also speak at the celebration. "In true MIT spirit, he always emphasized innovative and newly composed work alongside the tried and true. He gave student composers opportunities to hear and conduct their work with the band. John is also loved and respected by his colleagues and students for his personal charm and exceptional moral decency. We honor and thank him with whole hearts."

Mr. Corley said his tenure at MIT has been "exhilarating, because of [the annual influx of] new personnel, the energy of the students and the excitement of presenting new repertoire every year."


The MIT Concert Band was founded in 1948 when an excess of clarinet, horn and oboe players tried out for the MIT Symphony. In 1953, the Concert Band became one of the first ensembles to devote itself entirely to original works for band in the belief that the wind band is an important and unique means of musical expression and that its repertoire is deserving of performance.

"We weren't looking for waltzes or novelties," said Mr. Corley. "We were looking for important pieces."

In addition to performing and often presenting the Boston premiere of works by well-known 20th-century composers such as Hindemith, Copland and Schoenberg, the band has regularly commissioned new pieces. In 1986, the Oxford University Press began a project to publish many of these commissions.

Mr. Corley's retirement plans include a continuation of the uncompleted Oxford University Press project. "Right now the works composed for the Concert Band are mostly hand-written," he said, noting that when computer-notated editions become widely available, more bands will be able perform them. Mr. Corley also plans to remain active as conductor of his professional group, the Boston Brass Ensemble.

Under Mr. Corley's baton, the band performed five annual concerts at MIT including the highly-popular Halloween concert in Lobby 7, complete with costumed musicians. Concert Band tours included performances at Disney World in Florida, the Festival of Contemporary Music in New York, the Quebec Winter Carnival, the Pavilion at the Old Post Office in Washington, DC, and at many colleges and high schools throughout the eastern United States and Canada. In January 1993, to commemorate Mr. Corley's 50th year of conducting, the band toured Iceland, where he began his conducting career during World War II as the youngest band leader in the US Army.

In honor of Mr. Corley's many contributions to the Concert Band and to supplement the funding which the band receives from the music and theater arts section of the Department of Humanities, the John Corley-MIT Concert Band Fund was established at the band's 40th anniversary concert in May 1989. Alumni/ae who contribute to the annual MIT Alumni/ae Fund appeal may specifically earmark their contributions for the John Corley Fund.

For more information on the May 1 concert, call x3-2826 or see the Concert Band's web site.

A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 28).

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