Dr. Jeffrey C. Mathews will step down as director of bands at Northwestern State University effective May 3. Mathews, an associate professor of music, will teach full-time and direct the NSU Wind Symphony and Chamber Winds in the 2021-22 academic year. Associate Director of Bands Dan McDonald has been named interim director of bands while a search for a permanent director takes place.
Mathews has served as director since 2013, enhancing the reputation of the program built by his predecessor Bill Brent. In that time, Mathews worked to build the overall band program by raising the profile of the concert band program which includes the NSU Wind Symphony. Under his direction, the Wind Symphony was invited to perform at the 2019 World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Convention in Buñol, Spain. Northwestern State hosted the 2020 College Band Directors Southern Division Conference at which the Wind Symphony performed.
“When I became director of bands in 2013, the NSU band program had long been a best kept secret or diamond in the rough that not a lot of people outside our region were familiar with,” said Mathews. “And more people saw us as a marching band school than a concert band school. My primary goal was to change that and develop a reputation for world class music making both on the field and off on the national and international stage. Thus, enhancing the image of the music department and the university. Our invitational performances at the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Conference in Spain, along with hosting and performing at the College Band Directors Southern Division Conference brought the national and international recognition I hoped to achieve.”
NSU’s band had record setting recruiting classes in 2016 with 111 freshmen and in 120 in 2017. That led to the Spirit of Northwestern becoming the state’s largest marching band in 2019.
Mathews, a 1990 graduate of Northwestern State, was among the students recruited by Brent as he began increasing the size of the band.
“When I first arrived at NSU after being recruited by my dear friend and mentor Bill Brent there were about 100 of us in the band and we were a super tightknit group,” said Mathews. “I still communicate regularly with many of my bandmates from that era. During that time, I learned how to lead, build and maintain a band program from Bill. I will never repay that debt.”
His favorite performance as a band member was at the State Fair Game in Shreveport.
“The game was played in the rain the two previous years, so the band did not march,” Mathews remembers. “The last time a state fair audience saw the band it had about 40 people in it. None of the state fair crowd had ever seen an NSU band as large as that 1985 version. Bill worked us super hard for that show and we were really hitting on all cylinders. The crowd of about 25,000 went absolutely crazy. I still watch that show every once in a while.”
Mathews returned to NSU as assistant director of bands in 1998.
“Getting hired as the assistant here fulfilled a dream of mine,” he said. “I began to really hone my craft and prepare myself for what might come next. It was an extremely fulfilling time as not only was I conducting bands but also preparing future band directors through teaching music education courses. Being the primary instructor for the Spirit of Northwestern was an awesome experience and I look back on it with pride.”
Mathews was also director of student activities and organizations from 2004-08. He held the Magale Endowed Professorship on multiple occasions.
Mathews earned a Bachelor of Music Education at Northwestern State, a Master of Music Education at the University of North Texas and a Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting pedagogy at the University of Southern Mississippi
McDonald, an assistant professor of music, has directed the Spirit of Northwestern Marching Band, “Purple Haze” Basketball Band, Wind Ensemble, Magale Concert Band and teaches courses in student leadership, music education and conducting. He is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in instrumental conducting at the University of Washington with Timothy Salzman. He earned a B.A. in Music (Saxophone) and a M.M. in Instrumental Conducting from the University of Connecticut. McDonald has conducted and directed ensembles that have performed at the 2019 WASBE Conference (Buñol, Spain), 2020 CBDNA Southern Division Conference and around the world. He serves on the national Athletic Bands Committee and is chair of the Louisiana chapter of College Band Directors National Association.
“We have been incredibly fortunate to have Jeff Mathews at the helm for the NSU bands for a number of years,” said McDonald. “He has brought international attention to our program though performances at the 2019 WASBE Conference in Spain, as host of the 2020 CBDNA Southern Division Conference, and with multiple recording projects. Jeff is a phenomenal teacher, mentor, recruiter and musician. The accolades he has earned throughout his career are well deserved. The band program has benefitted greatly for over 20 years from Dr. Mathews’ talent, hard work, and dedication as a faculty member. I can’t thank him enough for his mentorship and leadership in my time here.”
McDonald said the band has begun preparing for the fall semester with faculty and staff members Dr. Oliver Molina, Dr. Estelle Murr, Jena Elfer, Reneé Oates and Michael Lomeka and members of the band.
“Preparations for the fall started long ago and it is completely a team effort between directors, choreographers, our music arranger and most importantly our students,” said McDonald. “Our students are some of the finest people and musicians out there. We have exciting shows planned for the fall and are looking to program great concerts to bring us back after a year of adjustments and unknowns. The members of the band are eager to step onto the field at Turpin Stadium and do what they do best.”
For more information on band programs at Northwestern State, go to https://capa.nsula.edu/music/spirit-of-northwestern.