Curtain recall: Max McKee has been an end-to-end musician for 60 years – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

American Band College founder Max McKee is leading the Virtual ABC’s online opening session in 2020 with 200 students from around 40 states and several overseas countries. In 2022, ABC will return to Ashland, live. Courtesy photo.

Max McKee could tell you that the success of his musical life was due in part to a string of luck: being raised by parents who were music teachers, married the right woman, and 40 years of great advice from his stepfather. .

A closer inspection would reveal that Max McKee did a lot of his own luck – listening and learning, willingly taking on challenges, and hard work.

McKee, 79, is the founder and executive director of American Band College (ABC), a three-year master’s program for group directors with an annual enrollment of more than 200 people from around the world. Prior to that, he was the group director at Southern Oregon College (now the University).

What about this good luck chain?

He was born in Aberdeen, Washington, where his father was the group director.

Her mother was a church organist and pianist who taught privately. Music is in its DNA.

McKee’s wife, Nell, has been integral to ABC’s success. It was his idea to create an endowment, the revenues of which allowed ABC to hire three full-time people and helped the organization survive a million dollar turnaround during the COVID financial blow.

The father-in-law, the late Randall Spicer, was a conductor at Washington State University, where McKee earned three degrees in music. When McKee entered a regional solo and ensemble competition, the judge was Spicer, who offered him a music scholarship to the WSU in clarinet performance. He took it.

It was a double chance, of course – meeting and marrying Spicer’s daughter, and winning another mentor in the family.

After McKee was hired at Ashland, Spicer visited a few times a year and attended rehearsals. McKee then asked him if he had any suggestions. Spicer would generally say, well, not really, starts to walk away, then shoots a “Columbo” after three steps.

“He would stop, turn around and say, ‘There is one thing.’ And it was still a five-word gem. Over the years, 42 in all, I have ingested hundreds of Randall Spicer’s life skills, ”McKee said. “I’m lucky!”

But, as stated before, it was McKee’s ambition, focus, and head-on challenges that made the difference.

“In eighth grade, I went to the regional solo and ensemble festival where I played a clarinet solo,” McKee recalls. “My father was a good friend of the contest judge, who asked him if his son could take a little heat.

“My dad said, yes, no problem. When I went to the judge’s table he said to me, “My son, this is the worst clarinet playing I have ever heard. I suggest you start taking classes or do something else.

Devastated – for about 10 seconds – McKee asked his father on leaving to take lessons.

“He lined me up with one of the best clarinet teachers in the state in a town about eight miles from where we lived.”

His father and mother later took him to a music camp in Colorado where McKee was placed in the last chair of the third group’s clarinet section.

In love with the experience, he focused on the lessons, and before the Christmas holidays he had challenged his way from the last to the first chair clarinet in the junior high school orchestra. It was the first step in his process of becoming a good musician.

While McKee was in Washington state, Spicer asked him what he was going to be as a musician. It was his version of “How are you going to support my daughter?” “

“I told him I was planning on becoming a professional clarinetist,” McKee said. “When he asked me how many hours a day I was practicing, I said two. He said, ‘Try seven hours, seven days a week and you will have a chance.’ “

So for the next three years he did this and became a very good clarinetist.

As he neared graduation, his stepfather asked him where he was thinking of applying for a job. It would probably be a symphony orchestra position, McKee told him.

Spicer then reminded McKee that there are only two clarinetists in a symphony orchestra and that the principal clarinetist of the Seattle Symphony had held that position for 50 years.

Points taken.

“At that point, I decided the odds weren’t good for raising her daughter’s family as a professional clarinetist,” McKee said.

Getting the post at the then Southern Oregon College was a fluke.

“During my master’s years (1965-67) at the WSU, I became the first master’s teaching assistant and director of the marching band,” he said. “On the day of my last outdoor rehearsal before the ‘Civil War’ soccer game with the University of Washington, the group director at Southern Oregon College,

Herb Cecil, was on the WSU campus for a meeting. He asked my stepfather if he knew of a WSU graduate who could come to SOC and create a marching band.

Still reminding him of his daughter’s husband, Spicer told Cecil to go to the field and attend the rehearsal, telling him that his son-in-law was in charge and he believed he would find exactly what he had. need.

“Later that day I was offered the job,” McKee said.

On the day the McKees arrived in Ashland, Cecil helped them move into the house they had rented and broke the news to them that he had been hired by Weber State in Ogden, Utah, leaving the post of director of SOC groups open.

When there was a problem with the number one candidate on the search committee, before he could call the number two candidate, McKee said he would like to try.

McKee got the job. He became director of harmony, director of the new brass band, and taught woodwinds and music appreciation. Over the next 27 years he taught almost all aspects of studies in the department

“I was also hired as a conductor of the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra, which I did for two years,” he said. “But I always went back to my roots: concert band, fanfare, jazz ensemble and pep band.

In 1983 he started a class called Band Director Prep.

“It grew like a weed and by 1988 I had structured a 12-course undergraduate program called American Band College,” he said. “In 1989, we started the ABC Summer Workshop for Group Directors, using my undergraduates as staff. In 1992 it became a master’s program which has grown from three applicants that year to over 200 since 2000. “

There are now over 1,200 ABC graduates from 49 states and 15 foreign countries.

When ABC’s depth of management and the regular schedule as a group leader began to overwhelm him, he approached the president of the university for relief.

“When he asked me what I wanted to do, I jokingly told him that I would love to come home and work full time to develop ABC,” McKee said. The president gave his blessing and McKee did just that, also completing the last three years of his 30-year term with the college, officially retiring in 1997.

Over the next three decades, McKee developed and developed ABC, launched Bandworld Magazine, and helped establish the Western International Band Clinic.

McKee’s son Scott joined the staff after graduating from high school in 1990 and learned the ins and outs of ABC, working alongside his father. He assumed the full-time role of CEO of ABC and Organizing Chairman of WIBC in 2002, and was appointed CEO of both entities and the magazine in 2015.

He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music education and has taught for many years in public schools in Oregon.

McKee found immense satisfaction in a career in which he had the freedom to be completely creative, and in a job where he had prepared hundreds of musicians “to be good human beings” as well as good musicians.

One of the many highlights of his college career was taking the band on tour doing children’s programs – raising money to support the effort, developing special content, and introducing children to the joys of music. group.

“I did children’s programs for 17 years and wish I could have done 17 more,” he said.

These days, he is not on the front lines at ABC but involved and united. He and Nell travel the world a lot. In the process, they often line up guest performers for ABC’s annual concerts in Ashland and Medford around July 4th.

Last week McKee and his wife flew to Chicago for an ABC reunion. You don’t easily give up a 60-year-old passion.

Contact Ashland writer Jim Flint at [email protected].