RACHEL GREEN, GUEST WRITER
Walking through the hallway of the Bachman Fine Arts Center at Wartburg College, students can find an open door. Inside a man leans back in his desk chair, deep in thought.
He and the student in his office might be discussing the troubles of the world, yet neither would remember the exact words spoken once the conversation ends.
The man behind the desk is Dr. Craig Hancock, director of bands, and this is what a “Doc Talk” looks like.
“Doc Talks” refer to the term of endearment students gave Hancock, or “Doc,” and happen just as often today as when he started working at the college 26 years ago. What makes these conversations stand out is how little band or music is discussed.
“I don’t think I teach music,” Hancock said. “You’ll discover that what I’m teaching you is about life, not about music.”
Trina McPeake, a 1997 Wartburg music education graduate and current sixth through eighth grade band director at Cherokee Heights Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin, was in her third year when Hancock arrived at Wartburg. McPeake said she agrees that the lessons she learned from Hancock were larger than the music.
When Hancock arrived halfway through her college journey, McPeake was less than pleased as the previous director of bands, Dr. Robert E. Lee, was the reason she chose to study at Wartburg. In their interactions over her following two years as a student and beyond, she learned a lesson that she now uses with her students.
“Love first, and they will come along,” McPeake said. “He did that for me, and I am eternally grateful that he didn’t give up on me. He is a faithful friend, and unmatched advisor and mentor in my life.”
Hancock takes his roles as advisor and mentor seriously. He said he prefers to question people about what they know on any particular subject.
“I very much hate lecturing,” Hancock said. “I’d much rather ask questions because innately most of us know a whole lot more than we really think we know. If somebody would just ask the right question, we’d put two and two together and come up with an answer.”
Questioning has not only been a key teaching method for Hancock, but also key in learning.
Growing up his father would see a task and learn how to complete it himself, he said. Hancock and his two brothers gained many skills by following this example set by their father. In learning by doing, Hancock realized how many skills were innate and just waiting to be discovered. As an educator, he uses this knowledge to teach his students the same lessons, he said.
McPeake said that this method of teaching held a large impact on her as a student.
“Instead of giving me an answer, he questions me to find the answer myself,” McPeake said. “This is both annoying and a gift.”
Hancock has applied the art of questioning beyond the classroom as a Boy Scout troop leader, Lions Club member, pastor, husband to his wife Elizabeth, father to his sons Joshua, Jeremy, Andrew and Mathew and grandfather.
One question stands out among the rest for Hancock, however.
“How can I help you?”
The question is not only asked but fulfilled to the best of his abilities, he said. Hancock has been known to track students down at work to deliver important messages to them and be on moving crews for those relocating.
“The Lord gave me a servant’s heart,” Hancock said. “When I see I service opportunities, I swarm to them.”
It is a goal of Hancock’s to be of service to every person he meets in a day.
“I’d like to believe that even if I pass them in the hall with a smile, which is hard these days because you can’t see a smile,” he said, “I hope that their journey and their burdens are somehow, if even infinitesimally, lighter.”
The impact of Hancock looking to serve has been felt by many of his students, including Megan Bywater, second-year music therapy major. When Bywater found herself facing obstacles in her first year, such as chair placement auditions or going through personal challenges, Hancock was there to talk with her and help pinpoint stressors and how to lighten her burdens.
“He has had faith in me when I had trouble having faith in myself,” Bywater said.
Faith is what brought Hancock to Wartburg College.
After graduating from Simpson College with degrees in music education and music performance, he attended the University of Iowa to obtain a master’s degree in trombone performance. During his studies at Iowa, Hancock became friends with two Wartburg graduates.
In their two years of friendship, Hancock learned of the impact that Wartburg College, specifically Dr. Lee and the band program, had on those two.
“They talked non-stop about Wartburg College,” Hancock said.
Hancock fell in love with the idea of a place like Wartburg College, he said. He said he believed that they exhibited qualities that colleges were meant to teach their students.
When they all graduated from Iowa in the spring of 1979, Hancock said a prayer to be placed somewhere that produced people like the Wartburg alumni.
In the spring of 1995, after serving a two-year sabbatical term at Wayne State in Wayne, Nebraska, Hancock applied for 48 band and low brass jobs all around the United States. One of them was the position he now holds.
“The Lord answered a prayer, but made me wait 18 years,” Hancock said. “That’s a long time.”
Although he is currently on sabbatical for Fall Term, Hancock can still be found from time to time roaming the Bachman Fine Arts Center. He is eager to be back to spend more time with students, such as those “Doc Talks.”
“The skill that God gave me is to be a servant,” Hancock said. “I’m not to be self-serving. I’m to be others serving.”
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