Award-winning IU trombone professor keeps buzzing
By Beth Taylor
Dee Stewart’s career in music spans nearly six decades with time spent as a celebrated musician performing for the world-renowned Philadelphia Symphony and as a beloved teacher and mentor at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.
Stewart and his wife, Rozella, moved to Geist a year and a half ago to be closer to their family. Stewart, who will turn 80 on his next birthday later this year, redefines what it means to be an active senior. He makes the drive to Bloomington a couple times each week to teach his trombone students.
Growing up in Forest, Indiana, a tiny town near Russiaville in Clinton County, pastimes were sports and music for Stewart.
“My mother was a very good church pianist,” said Stewart. “She encouraged my brother and me to sing. We had a barber shop quartet.” In fourth grade, Stewart discovered the trombone and enjoyed entering solo contests.
“When it came time for college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do—I’d taken some math courses and thought about doing something like engineering, but my mom suggested music education,” he said.
Stewart headed Ball State Teachers College in 1953 planning to become a music teacher. The world opened up. “It was the first time I heard music of any quality. I just flipped out…jazz and symphony,” he said. “It really caught me, and I really practiced hard.”
A grad student told Stewart about his experiences taking lessons with Arnold Jacobs, a master performer and teacher of wind instruments in Chicago. Stewart found the courage to call Jacobs, who agreed to give him lessons.
“He turned my life around—took my enthusiasm and pointed it in the right direction,” said Stewart, who later wrote a book about his mentor entitled Arnold Jacobs: The Legacy of a Master. By the time Stewart was a senior, he was playing professionally.
“Jacobs had a very unique way of teaching. Up to that point, brass playing was very masculine—girls couldn’t play a brass instrument. Jacobs did it with skill. He researched anatomy and was considered a maverick at the time. He found out what made it all work. He did things in a totally different from everyone else,” said Stewart.
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Stewart spent a few years playing for the New Orleans Symphony, before joining the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1962. “It was called the World’s Greatest Orchestra,” said Stewart. Under the baton of Internationally-known conductor Eugene Ormandy, Stewart contributed to Grammy award-winning records. “We traveled all over the world. I’ve been to Japan, all over Europe, South America,” he said.
Being an orchestral working musician required a deep commitment. The orchestra performed its regular concert series from September through May on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. “This scheduled was superimposed on top of concerts up and down the East coast,” he said.
During the summer, successful tours abroad meant long stretches away from home. “We never played to less than a full house,” he said. Stewart always enjoyed the job of playing at a concert, but recalls that getting to the stage became as the strenuous part.
“When you’re young and vibrant, it’s great. We had a ball.” he said. “A lot of tomfoolery goes around, too to counter the stress.” Stewart spent 18 years with the Philadelphia Orchestra and taught at the Curtis Institute of Music. The long periods of time away were tough on his kids, and he and his wife wanted to be closer to family in Indiana. “I had a good salary, and everything was cool, but it just wasn’t quite right.”
In 1980, Indiana School of Music gave Stewart the right offer. “They gave me tenure and I decided to go. I had wrestled with the decision for a year and a half. And decided to take it,” he said. Stewart’s gift for teaching is appreciated by his students.
“My time as a student of his has been nothing short of phenomenal,” said Brennan Johns, a senior at IU. “Every lesson is an adventure, and a glimpse into his extraordinary life. Not only that, but a couple of words from his mouth can completely change the way you play music forever. I feel extremely privileged to have studied with him, and to know him as a teacher, mentor and friend.”
Stewart enjoys sharing what he’s learned with his students. “I do feel that I can bring a lot to it because I’ve played the best symphonic music there was,” he said. And he still enjoys performing. “I’m planning to give a recital in September at Butler University—I better start practicing.”
About M. Dee Stewart
Professor of Music (Trombone) at Jacobs School of Music
Education: Ball State University; M.M from Northwestern University
Plays: (Brass) Trombone and euphonium
Family: Wife, Rozella; daughter Amy; son Mark
Inventor: Invented tuba and euphonium stand, known as the Stewart Stand.