Hans Pizka, because of his lifelong devotion to his art and his activities as ambassador through music, has been honored by the President of the Federal Republic of Austria with the honorary title of Professor. Hans is also associated with many performances of the Siegfried Long Call, and the photo was taken after one of his Long Call performances.
Hans was born in 1942 in Metz, Lorraine, France, the eldest son of horn professor Erich Pizka. His family roots go deep into Bavaria's Suebia province near Fuessen and Memmingen which was part of Austria then, and his mother's side goes back to the early 12th century in St. Hubert near Kempen, not far from Cologne and Duesseldorf, next to Cleve and Xanten. It is interesting to note that Xanten is the site of Wagner's Siegfried, and also there is a Maria Stich on his father's side of the family in Upper Austria, from central Bohemia in the early 18th century, the same century in which Johann Wenzel Stich (Giovanni Punto) was born.
Hans was educated at the Academic Gymnasium in Linz, Upper Austria, (a 450-year-old school) mainly by professors of the Jesuit tradition. A citizen of Austria, he speaks German, English, and Italian, understands and speaks other languages well enough to communicate (Spanish, some Japanese), and can read Greek and Thai (slowly). A scholar of history, he also can read the old-style Suetterlin German writings and the ancient French court writings of the 16th and 17th century. He began his musical education at age four on violin, and continued with viola and horn at age 9. His first horn teacher was his father, and later he continued his horn studies with Gottfried von Freiberg and Josef Veleba of the Vienna Philharmonic. His first public performance was at age 11, and he played his first horn concerto in front of a professional orchestra at 15.
His orchestral career led him from Linz (Bruckner Orchestra), to Duesseldorf as successor to Gerd Seifert, and to Munich as successor to Norbert Hauptmann. He held the "Franz Strauss Chair" as the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra's principal horn in Munich from 1967 to 2007, and is called as an extra player or to fill in as first horn with the Vienna Philharmonic. He has played under conductors Karajan, Boehm, Kleiber, Sawallisch, Mehta, Ozawa, Muti, Abbado, Kubelik, Bernstein, and many others, and he has been a frequent soloist in countries all over the world. Hans has been a concert soloist, author of several important horn-related books (Mozart and the Horn, Hornist Dictionary 1986, and Wagner and the Horn), lecturer, horn designer, horn collector, publisher of horn-related music, producer of compact discs, and an expert regarding nearly everything connected with the horn. He has published about 500 titles of music, most for or with horns. He has started a horn-making business under his own brand name, producing double horns and Viennese Pumpenhorns.
In 2002, Hans finished his sixth term on the Advisory Council (1982-95 and 1997-2002), having served the society in many capacities, including Vice President. He translated and published The Horn Call in German (Hornruf) from 1983-1994. Also in 2002, the IHS elected Hans an Honorary Member.
Valeriy Polekh (1918-2007)
Valeriy Vladimirovich Polekh was one of the leading Soviet horn players and teachers of his generation. He sang on his instrument, playing with lightness and mastery of technique. He led in the development of Soviet orchestral and solo wind playing and wrote magnificent pieces and exercises for the horn. He was known as an interpreter of the horn miniature.
Polekh was born in Moscow in 1918. Music was an important part of his family's life; he attended the Bolshoi as a child and played a balalaika at home. Polekh studied at the October Revolution Musical Technical School with Vasily Nickolaevich Solodyev and Anton Aleksandrovich Shetnikov, both members of the Bolshoi. In 1936 he played in the chamber theatre and gave his solo debut; the next year he studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Ferdinand Eckert, a Czech who had studied at the Prague Conservatory and settled in Moscow after a tour with an Austrian orchestra. The following year Polekh auditioned for the radio orchestra and became assistant principal. However, being drawn to opera, the next year he auditioned for the Bolshoi Theater and was accepted. The following year (1939), he began his compulsory service in the Red Army, playing in the Moscow army headquarters orchestra.
Polekh won the All-Soviet Union wind instrument solo competition in 1941 (while still in the army and on a borrowed horn), and in 1949 he won first prize at an international solo competition in Budapest when at a Festival of Youth and Students in Hungary with a Youth Symphonic Orchestra from Moscow.
Polekh was the inspiration for Gliere to write his concerto for horn, and Polekh gave the first performance in Leningrad in 1951 with Gliere conducting the Leningrad Radio Symphony Orchestra. The concerto is dedicated to Polekh, and Polekh wrote a cadenza that is in the style of the concerto and most often performed today.
Polekh toured with the Bolshoi to Covent Garden in London. He made the acquaintance of the horn players of the theater, who presented him with the music for the Britten Serenade. Polekh gave the first Russian performance of the Serenade in 1965 at the Moscow Conservatory.
Polekh played principal horn at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow for 34 years and taught at the Moscow Conservatory beginning in 1981. He published a horn method and edited the Mozart horn concertos.
Polekh was elected an Honorary Member in 2002. Through the intercession of James Decker, his detailed autobiography (Your Valeriy Polekh, translated by David Gladen) is serialized in The Horn Call beginning in the February 2007 issue.
Verne Reynolds (1926-2011)
Verne Reynolds is famous for his technical proficiency, his many publications (including technically difficult etudes), and his inspiring teaching that has promoted technical development. His students play in orchestras around the world and teach in major universities, and his teaching has influenced professional horn playing as few others have.
Reynolds was born in 1926 in Lyons KS and moved when young to Lindsborg, where Bethany College made its faculty available to the townspeople. He began the study of piano at age eight with Arvid Wallin, who Reynolds considers to be his most influential teacher, and also sang in a church choir, directed by Wallin, through college. He started the horn at age 13 when the high school band director handed him an instrument and gave him private lessons.
Reynolds went into the Navy after high school, playing piano in a dance band and sometimes horn in a military band. In 1946 he went to the Cincinnati Conservatory, studying horn with Gustav Albrecht, who was in his last year with the Cincinnati Symphony. Albrecht prepared Reynolds for an audition for the symphony, and Reynolds got the job, at age 20. He switched his major from piano to composition.
Reynolds completed his degree in composition from the Cincinnati Conservatory in 1950 and a master's at the University of Wisconsin in 1951. He attended the Royal College of Music in London on a Fulbright grant in 1953-54, where he studied with Frank Probyn in a horn class. Dennis Brain occasionally sat in on the class and sometimes made comments and suggestions. "One of my prized possessions is a copy of Mozart's fourth concerto with Dennis Brain's markings on it after he coached me during one of Frank Probyn's classes," says Reynolds.
Reynolds performed as a member of the Cincinnati Symphony (1947-50), in the American Woodwind Quintet, and as principal horn of the Rochester Philharmonic (1959-68).
Reynolds was horn professor at the Eastman School of Music for 36 years (until 1995) and previously taught at the Cincinnati Conservatory (1949-50), University of Wisconsin (1950-53), and Indiana University (1954-59). A founding member of the Eastman Brass Quintet, he recorded and traveled extensively with that group with a mission to raise the artistic level of the brass quintet. "We try to get an integrity and an artistic level that would come as close as we can to the finest string quartets that you can imagine."
Reynolds started composing in college, and his first published work, Theme and Variations for brass choir, won the 1950 Thor Johnson Brass Award. He has published over 60 works (compositions, transcriptions, etudes, methods) and has received many awards and commissions. His compositional style falls into three periods: (1) influenced by Hindemith (50s and early 60s); (2) twelve-tone (late 60s and early 70s); and (3) from the mid-70s, freely using every technique he knows.
At the 1994 IHS symposium at Kansas City, former students honored Reynolds by performing a number of his works, with Reynolds providing commentary. In 2005, John Clark oversaw the recording of all 48 Etudes at the Northeast Horn Workshop, also a tribute to his former teacher. Reynolds comments, "I think if you'll take a careful look at the etudes, you'll find that each one has a kind of central purpose. It's been very satisfying to see the attitude about the book change over the years. I think they are beginning to serve their purpose."
His book The Horn Handbook, published by Amadeus Press in 1996, stresses many of the themes of his teaching - memorizing, methodical practice to overcome limitations, and thorough preparation, including score study. He was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1994.
William C. Robinson (1919-2019)
William (Bill) Robinson is responsible, more than anyone else, for starting the International Horn Workshops and the International Horn Society. His mission in life has been as a music educator.
Bill was born in Oklahoma in 1919. He earned his degree in Instrumental Music Education at the University of Oklahoma in 1942 and became band director at Norman High School before going into the Army that same year. He played baritone and trombone in the army band in El Paso and started horn instruction with Leonard Hale, who was also a member of the band. He played in the El Paso Symphony until the band was sent to the Pacific in 1945.
After being discharged from the Army in 1946, he returned to Norman, earned a master's degree from the University of Oklahoma, and resumed his position as band director at Norman High School. He studied horn with George Yeager and played in the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra for seven years.
In 1958, after hearing the Chicago Symphony Woodwind Quintet and becoming acquainted with Philip Farkas, he went to Chicago during the summer to study with Phil. They became good friends - a friendship that lasted for the rest of Phil's life.
In 1959, the Robinsons moved to El Paso TX, where Bill taught in the public schools and played first horn in the El Paso Symphony for seven years.
During his years in secondary band programs, Bill developed what was called the "Breath Impulse System," which promoted breath support, tone production, and good rhythmic body feeling. With his colleague in Norman, James Middleton, and his colleagues at Baylor University, Richard Shanley, Larry Vanlandingham, and Gene Smith, he wrote a book, the Complete School Band Program for the benefit of school band directors. He later published two horn method books that were edited by Phil Farkas.
Bill was the horn professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee FL from 1966-71. He was a member of the Faculty Chamber Orchestra, Faculty Woodwind Quintet, and Brass Trio. While there, he hosted the first three International Horn Workshops (1969, 1970, 1971) and was instrumental in forming the International Horn Society in 1970. He served as vice president of the IHS for five years (1971-76).
In 1971, he moved to Baylor University in Waco TX, where he taught horn and later became Chairman of the Instrumental Music Division, which grew from 19 to over 125 instrumental music education students during the years from 1971 to 1986, when he retired. While at Baylor, he also played in the faculty woodwind quintet and brass quintet, the Waco Symphony, and the San Angelo Symphony.
Bill was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1978, elected to the Oklahoma Band Director's Hall of Fame in 1988, and received the Edwin Franko Goldman Award from the American School Band Directors Association in 1995. He was a charter member of the last organization in 1953. In 1999, he was honored at Baylor University as the founder of the Chamber Music Society in Waco.
Bill studied horn with George Yaeger, Philip Farkas, Dale Clevenger, and Arnold Jacobs and also had help on the horn from Frøydis Ree Wekre and Hermann Baumann. He taught horn students of all ages from schools in Orlando FL and surrounding areas in his retirement until shortly before his death.
Gunther Schuller (1925-2015)
"Scholar, composer, conductor, teacher, author, music publisher, indefatigable advocate − Gunther Schuller isn't merely a musician, he's a monopoly." This description by Alan Rich in New York Magazine summarizes the multi-faceted career of this Pulitzer Prize-winning practitioner of the 28-hour day. Schuller coined the term "third stream" to describe the union of jazz and classical music − a clue as to how he straddled and combined the two genres.
The son of German immigrants, Gunther Alexander Schuller was born in New York in 1925, appropriately enough on St. Cecelia Day, patron saint of musicians, November 22nd. After attending a private school in Germany, where an accident resulted in the loss of one eye, he returned to New York and enrolled at the St. Thomas Church Choir School, where he studied music and sang as a boy soprano. He also began to study flute and horn, and was engaged by the New York Philharmonic as a substitute hornist when he was 15. During his high school years, he also studied music theory and counterpoint at the Manhattan School of Music. He joined the Cincinnati Symphony as principal horn at age 17 and the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera at age 19, where he played for 15 years. Although he was mostly hired as principal horn, Schuller later said that he loved playing fourth horn. He balanced his performing and composing careers by composing all night after playing opera performances. But by 1959 his schedule had become too arduous, and he decided to give up performing to devote himself more fully to composition.
At the age of 25, Schuller taught horn at the Manhattan School of Music, beginning a distinguished teaching career; his positions have included Professor of Composition at the School of Music at Yale (1964-67), President of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston (1967-77), Artistic Director of the Tanglewood Berkshire Music Center (1970-1984), the Spokane Bach Festival, and The Festival at Sandpoint (Idaho), and Co-Director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. His love of a wide range of American music guided the activities of his publishing and recording companies, Margun Music (now part of G. Schirmer) and GM Recordings.
Schuller is acknowledged as father of the Third Stream movement. He became interested in jazz in Cincinnati, primarily through the music of Duke Ellington, which he transcribed from recordings and arranged for the Cincinnati Pops. He was actively involved in the New York bebop scene, performing and recording with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and pianist John Lewis. He wrote a series of works to perform with Lewis, with both the Modern Jazz Quartet and a larger ensemble, the Modern Jazz Society. Typically, in these collaborations, Lewis would lead a jazz ensemble augmented by strings or woodwinds, which Schuller conducted. Schuller worked with Arturo Toscanini, Miles Davis, Aaron Copland, Ornette Coleman, Leonard Bernstein, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, John Updike (librettist for Schuller's opera The Fisherman and His Wife), Joe Lovano, Elvis Costello, Wynton Marsalis, Frank Zappa, and others. “The Third Stream movement,” he once said, “inspires composers, improvisers and players to work together toward the goal of a marriage of musics, whether ethnic or otherwise, that have been kept apart by the tastemakers − fusing them in a profound way. And I think it’s appropriate that this has happened in this country, because America is the original cultural melting pot.”
Schuller created original compositions in virtually every musical genre, including commissions from the Baltimore Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Boston Musica Viva, Chicago Symphony, Minneapolis Symphony, National Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. Commissions include his 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning work Of Reminiscences and Reflections for the Louisville Orchestra; An Arc Ascending for the American Symphony Orchestra League and the Cincinnati Symphony; The Past is in the Present, also for the Cincinnati Symphony; a Sextet for Leon Fleisher and the Kennedy Center Chamber Players; Brass Quintet No. 2 for the American Brass Quintet; an Organ Concerto for the 1994 Calgary International Organ Festival; and Ritmica-Melodica-Armonica for the Newton Symphony Orchestra. In 2010 the Boston Symphony commissioned a large work, Where the Word Ends, and in 2014 performed his earlier Dreamscape in Boston and New York. He composed to the end of his life.
Schuller was self-taught as a composer. He was partial to the 12-tone methods of the Second Viennese School, but he was not inextricably bound to them. Arnold Schoenberg and Duke Ellington were both musical lodestars. Schuller used serial technique in most of his compositions, and in fact used the same tone row in a number of diverse works. He wrote for unusual instrumental combinations, such as a Symphony for Brass and Percussion, quartets of four double basses and four cellos, more than 20 concertos, including for double bass, contrabassoon, alto saxophone, and a Grand Concerto for Percussion and Keyboards.
Schuller gathered together a lifetime of observations on conducting in his book The Compleat Conductor (Oxford University Press). His extensive writings, on a variety of subjects ranging from jazz through music performance, contemporary music, music aesthetics, and education, have been issued in Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. His monumental jazz history, The Swing Era, was published in 1989. In 2011 he published an autobiography, Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty. He wrote an article on the Brahms Horn Trio weeks before his death.
Among Schuller's many awards are: a MacArthur Foundation “genius” Award (1991); the Pulitzer Prize (1994); inaugural Member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame; DownBeat Lifetime Achievement Award; the Gold Medal for Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1997); the BMI Lifetime Achievement Award (1994); the William Schuman Award (1988) given by Columbia University for "lifetime achievement in American music composition"; and several Grammy Awards. Though a high school drop-out, Schuller also received twelve honorary degrees from various colleges and universities. “As a composer and teacher,” composer Augusta Read Thomas, the chairwoman of the selection committee for the MacDowell award, said at the time, “he has inspired generations of students, setting an example of discovery and experimentation.”In 2000, the IHS elected Schuller an Honorary Member for his lifelong contributions to music and the horn. When contacted about the award, he said, "This is a special honor for me because I haven't played the horn since 1963. I am very grateful to be so honored in the company of many other great horn colleagues."
While his numerous contributions to the larger music world are widely known, perhaps Schuller's best known contribution to the horn world is his book Horn Technique, first published in 1962 and later re-issued by Oxford University Press. His compositions, covering a full range of musical genres, have included or featured the horn in almost every one. In addition to his challenging large ensemble works, he composed numerous chamber works including horns in traditional settings (e.g., brass quintets) and innovative combinations, and as featured instrument: two horn concertos, a horn sonata (commissioned by the IHS), Lines and Contrasts for 16 horns, Five Pieces for Five Horns (recorded by Barry Tuckwell and the NFB Horn Quartet), and the Quintet for horn and strings (co-commissioned by the IHS, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, and the La Jolla Music Society and premiered by Julie Landsman and the Miró Quartet in 2009).
In the final pages of his memoir, Schuller wrote: “All I can say for myself is that I at least have tried hard to use my all too brief time on this planet as fruitfully as possible, as productively as I could imagine…. The only thing about the prospect of dying that upsets me – that I grieve over – is that I will never again hear all that beautiful music that I have come to know and love. But then some people tell me that I will, in fact, hear all that music – and more – in the afterlife.”
Material from The Boston Globe and New York Times obituaries is included here.
Norman Schweikert (1937-2018)
Norman Schweikert was one of the founding members of the IHS and its first Secretary-Treasurer. “Without Norman Schweikert,” stated first IHS President Barry Tuckwell, “there would be no International Horn Society.” Norm was a member of the Chicago Symphony for 26 years and on the faculty of Northwestern University for 25 years.
Norm was born in 1937 in Los Angeles. His parents were both amateur musicians (mother a pianist and father a violinist). He started on piano at age 6, then gravitated to the violin in order to play in orchestras. He studied first with his father, then with Joseph Kessler, whom he credits with giving him a good musical foundation.
Norm played violin in the Pioneer Orchestra under Joseph Oroop (working his way up to concertmaster) and the California Junior Symphony under Peter Meremblum. He switched to horn and played with the California Junior Symphony until he got his first job at age 18. He credits his experience playing the standard symphonic literature in the youth orchestra with preparing him for his first audition. He studied with Odolindo Perissi (father of Richard) and Sinclair Lott in Los Angeles and with Joseph Eger on scholarship at Aspen. While studying with Lott and still in high school, he played eighth horn in Rite of Spring and Wagner tuba in Bruckner 7th with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was also a member of the Horn Club of Los Angeles in its first years.
In 1955 Norm auditioned for the Rochester Philharmonic at Music Director Erich Leinsdorf's hotel room in Los Angeles and won the fourth horn position. He remained with the orchestra until 1966, playing fourth horn (1955-59), second horn (1959-61 and December 1964-65), and third horn (1961-January 1962 and 1965-66), with three years out for military service with the US Military Academy Band at West Point (1962-64). He earned a bachelor's degree and Performer's Certificate in 1961 at the Eastman School of Music while playing in the Philharmonic, studying with Morris Secon and Verne Reynolds. Reynolds wrote his Partita for Norm's senior recital, and the two had been close friends until Reynolds’s death in 2011. Norm played second horn to Reynolds for two years. Norm also enjoyed playing in the Eastman Wind Ensemble with Frederick Fennell (1957-61), including taking part in more than a dozen recordings.
Norm then spent five years as Instructor of Horn at the Interlochen Arts Academy and a member of the Interlochen Arts Quintet (woodwind). During that time, he also played in the Moravian Music Festival (1966), the Chicago Little Symphony (tours of 1967 and 1968), and the Peninsula Music Festival (1968-70),l and was soloist with the last two. He has been curator of the Leland B. Greenleaf Collection of Musical Instruments housed at Interlochen (1970-71).
In June 1971 he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as assistant principal horn, taking part in the orchestra's first European tour at the end of the summer. He moved to second horn in 1975, where he remained until retiring in 1997. He continued to play as a substitute or extra until June of 2006. In 1977 he and Dale Clevenger, Richard Oldberg, and Tom Howell performed and recorded the Schumann Konzertstück in Chicago, then, while on an orchestra tour in June, played the first professional performance of it in Japan with Seiji Ozawa and the New Japan Philharmonic. He taught horn at Northwestern University from 1973 to 1998.
In his retirement, Norm continued research into the lives of US orchestra musicians, a project which he started when he was studying at Eastman. His collection of material on this subject was probably the largest private collection anywhere. He answered letters and emails from all over the world.
Norm’s contributions to the IHS were considerable. He chaired the IHS organizing committee in 1970 and was the first Secretary-Treasurer, handling most of the organizing work. He wrote the first several newsletters on a typewriter, folding, stuffing, and stamping them. He continued on the Advisory Council for six years (1970-76), and contributed many articles to The Horn Call, notably ten articles in the first two years of publication. He was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1996.
Willie Ruff has been one of the pioneers of the horn in jazz, as a duo has performed at thousands of schools and colleges, and has been an international ambassador of music, from Africa to Russia and China.
Willie was born in 1931 in Sheffield AL, which is in the area known as Muscle Shoals, famous for freshwater mussels, W.C. Handy, Helen Keller, and music recording studios. Willie was one of eight children, and his father left the family before Willie was a year old. His mother died from tuberculosis when Willie was 13.
The schools were segregated at this time, and Willie attended a poor school for blacks, but the teachers valued music. Willie remembers a visit by W.C. Handy, who played a trumpet and explained his music to the students, and later the school had a part-time band director. Willie started singing as a child and learned drumming from a neighbor and piano at church. He also learned to play the "hambone" - using hands against parts of the body such as chest and thighs, a technique developed by slaves when their traditional drums where outlawed.
After his mother died, Willie went to live with his father and attend high school in Evansville IN. The next year, in 1946, at age 14, he lied about his age, forged his father's signature, and joined the Army on the expectation of developing a career as a drummer. When the band had too many percussionists and the horns (playing mellophones - "peck horns") were the weakest section, Willie volunteered to learn to play the horn. He learned on his own from an Oscar Franz method book, practicing in the boiler room.
When Willie was 16 years old and playing in the band at segregated Lockbourne Air force Base near Columbus OH, he started taking lessons from Abe Kniaz, first horn in the Columbus Philharmonic Orchestra. He discovered that he had been using incorrect fingerings and soon improved his technique, musical knowledge, and other knowledge under Kniaz's guidance. It was while stationed at Lockbourne that Willie met his future duo partner, Dwike Mitchell. Willie also learned to play bass at Dwike's urging and earned his high school equivalency diploma.
Willie left the service to attend Yale University, from which he holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Upon receiving his master's degree in 1954, he tried to win a position with an American symphony orchestra, but found that black musicians were not yet welcome in those ranks. Instead, he accepted a position with the Tel Aviv Symphony. Not long before he was to leave, he happened to watch The Ed Sullivan Show and saw not only Lionel Hampton's band but, to his surprise, friend Dwike Mitchell at the piano. After contacting his old friend, Willie was invited to join the Hampton band and so he never went to Israel. In 1955, the two friends left Hampton to form the Mitchell-Ruff Duo, with Willie on horn and bass.
Since 1955, the Duo has recorded, performed, and lectured on jazz extensively in the United States, Asia, Africa, and Europe. It had the advantage, Willie recalls, of being the least expensive group in jazz, and it was therefore booked as the second act with the best and most expensive bands of the day - Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie - in Birdland, the Embers, the Village Vanguard, Basin Street East and other leading nightclubs. They were all riding the crest of one of the most popular eras of jazz - an era that would soon end with the advent of rock and the dominance of television.
In the late 1950s they toured widely for a group called Young Audiences, playing and demonstrating jazz for students in elementary schools and high schools, and since the mid-1960s their main format has been and still is the college concert. They give 60 or 70 a year on college campuses. It was the Mitchell-Ruff Duo that introduced jazz to the Soviet Union, in 1959, playing and teaching at conservatories in Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev, Yalta, Sochi, and Riga; and it was the Mitchell-Ruff Duo that took jazz to China, in 1981, playing and teaching at conservatories in Shanghai and Peking. Before the first trip Willie taught himself Russian, his seventh language, and before the second trip he learned Mandarin Chinese, thereby enabling himself to explain to his listeners, in their own language, the roots and lineage of American jazz, with Dwike demonstrating on the piano.
Willie joined the faculty at Yale in 1971, and has taught Music History, courses on Ethnomusicology, an interdisciplinary Seminar on Rhythm, and a course on Instrumental Arranging. He is founding Director of the Duke Ellington Fellowship Program at Yale, a community-based organization sponsoring world-class artists mentoring and performing with Yale students and young musicians from the New Haven Public School System. The program brings the giants of black American music to New Haven throughout the year to teach at Yale and in the city's predominantly black public schools: singers like Odetta and Bessie Jones, arrangers like Benny Carter, tap dancers like Honi Coles, and instrumentalists like Charlie Mingus and Dizzy Gillespie.
Willie's 1992 memoir, A Call to Assembly, was awarded the Deems Taylor ASCAP award. He has also written widely on Paul Hindemith, one of his teachers at Yale, and on his professional association with the American composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn wrote a suite for horn and piano for Willie and Dwike. His collaborations with Yale geologist John Rodgers on the musical astronomy of the 17th-century scientist, Johannes Kepler, resulted in an important "planetarium for the ear" recording and published widely in international astronomy journals. Willie has also written on music and dance in Russia, and on the introduction of American Jazz in China. Film is also an important teaching tool to him, and he has visited the pygmies of the Central African Republic, the master drummers of Bali, the tribesmen of Senegal, and various other remote societies to make films about their drum music and language.
Willie was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 2001. In 2005 he and Dwike performed a rousing concert at the Northeast Horn Workshop in Purchase NY with Ruff's former teacher, Abe Kniaz, in the audience. Willie said, "How many people perform a concert at age 73 and have their teacher in the audience?" Willie remembers being told that music doesn't mean a thing unless it tells a story, and that's still the way he plays it.