ETHAN SHAWGO, TRUMPET GUEST WRITER
Dr. Craig Hancock will retire at the end of the year, the longtime Director of Bands said. He ends his tenure without taking the Wind Ensemble to Europe.
Hancock said that he had been working as a music professor and director since his graduation from the University of Iowa in 1979, and though his passion for music and the students persists he wants to have time for his family. Hancock has been married to his wife, Elizabeth, for 32 years. Together they have five sons.
“At one-time I thought I would work this job until the end, I couldn’t even conceive the word retirement, because that’s how dedicated I was to the students and the institution, not that I’m less so now, I’m just more dedicated to my family,” Hancock said.
Hancock said he has reservations about retiring as well, mainly that he has always been in education and doesn’t know what he’ll do without it.
“I started school in fifth grade, I went through all the schooling, and then I became a teacher, and I’ve taught every minute since then. So, since I was five years old all I’ve done, every day, all day was be an educator or been educated,” he said.
Hancock surprised students during the September 28 Wind Ensemble rehearsal when he announced his retirement from his position as director of bands at Wartburg. That put the Wind Ensemble into a somber mood, Chandler Njus, a third-year member and head of the apparel committee, said that he was “beside himself.”
Hancock’s news comes shortly after President Darrel Colson announced he would retire at the end of the year. Combined, Colson and Hancock have nearly three decades of leadership at Wartburg.
For Hancock, his most recent sabbatical eased his doubts about retirement. He used his semester to build Japanese Taiko drums in his home.
Hancock recalled that while working on the drums his wife might delightfully interrupt, asking if he would like to take a trip to Walmart and maybe stop somewhere for lunch.
“I discovered that there was a life outside of the college,” Hancock said.
Hancock lived the best of both worlds as he was able to work with his students and pursue music while getting time at home with his family.
Hancock knows he will step away from a full-time position after 20 years at Wartburg but is considering continuing to instruct instrument repair or low brass. But so far, he does not know exactly what stepping back will mean for him as far as time spent at Wartburg, he said.
Watching his pupils grow and learn is what he will miss most, he said. He understands that college is a vital time in his students’ lives where they are transitioning into adulthood.
“He’s been so influential in shaping and teaching musicians how to become the best people they can be,” said Malena Rumelhart, a third-year year member of the Wind Ensemble and percussion section leader.
In the closing minutes of the Wind Ensemble’s Homecoming concert on October 9th Dr. Brian Pfaltzgraff, the associate professor of voice at Wartburg, took time to honor Hancock and present him with some gifts. Pfaltzgraff shared a picture of a church window with a depiction of Saint Elizabeth giving her cloak to a beggar with the audience.
“I don’t know if I think of anything that represents Craig Hancock more than that, a man that would literally give you the coat off his back, if it meant he could lift you up,” he said. A standing ovation for the director rose up from the audience.
Jared Knapp, a fourth-year music education major and senior class representative in the Wind Ensemble, said some members felt retirement was coming soon.
“I think he chose a suitable time and I’m very happy for him. We’re all still disappointed but we know that this is about Doc and not us,” said Knapp.
Students said they were sad about Hancock’s departure, but they are also disappointed about not being able to tour internationally with him in his last year.
On Sept. 10 at the Wind Ensemble’s regular rehearsal, Hancock announced that their international tour to Europe was cancelled because of the continued threat of COVID-19.
Hancock compared the process of cancelling the Wind Ensemble’s May International tour to running into a brick wall and then being punched in the gut.
In January, Hancock said he began to plan for the tour as it seemed the global pandemic was lightening. Then the delta variant emerged this summer and fall, weakening prospects for international travel.
Hancock talked to the ensemble council and other music department members to assess the risk of travelling internationally and to introduce alternate travel plans.
The college was willing to compromise and allow the wind ensemble to travel to Germany alone.
COVID-19 would make travel increasingly difficult and if the tour were to be quarantined it would take up most of their 21 days or leave them stranded in Europe. “In a 21-day tour if we were quarantined for two weeks we’d be done,” said Hancock.
The Wind Ensemble will tour in the U.S. instead.
“Our professors place a high priority on student safety and can’t compromise that for travel. And they shouldn’t,” said Asher Schneider, the third-year class representative and council chair in the Wind Ensemble. “I think that some people are angry, but this is probably the best decision for everyone’s safety.”
For the current members, a national tour still fulfills educational requirements and allows them the opportunity to perform at venues like Carnegie Hall in New York City. “We will still get to travel and learn. It’s the same amount of value we might get somewhere else, we just don’t have to travel as far. We’re all still really excited to demonstrate what we can do,” said Schneider.
The tour will be a month long and encompass Wartburg’s May Term. This is also the first time the Wind Ensemble has taken a month-long domestic tour in their history.
The group toured Europe in 2001, 2004, 2010, and 2016, and traveled to Japan in 2007, 2013, and 2019. The Wind Ensemble tours each spring and schedules an international tour every third year during Wartburg’s one-month May Term.
The Wind Ensemble became the first Wartburg music group to perform in Japan and China, including a concert on the Great Wall of China.
“The experience of touring with the wind ensemble is more important than the location,” said Jared Knapp who toured as a first-year student in Japan. “I think that everyone is just ready to play. I’m not disappointed about not traveling internationally, I just hope we get to tour.”
The music department is still deciding where the Wind Ensemble will perform but Hancock feels said he is looking at the East Coast for its historic roots.