The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW oboist Marc Fink to retire in May and brass player John Stevens will step down as director of the University of Wisconsin School of Music this August, then retire as a composer and tuba professor in 2014. | October 28, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has learned that University of Wisconsin School of Music director John Stevens (below) will step down as director of the school next summer and retire completely from the university one year later.

Stevens is also a well-regarded composer and arranger. He is a tuba and euphonium player who performs with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in the middle of the photo by Katrin Talbot) which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this season.

Stevens, who joined the UW in 1985 and directed the School of Music 1991-1996 before doing so again last year, announced his decision in an email late last week:

Dear School of Music Faculty and Staff,

My apologies for the general email but, after a great deal of consideration I decided that it was best to communicate the following to everyone at the same time.

I am writing to inform all of you of my intention to retire from the university/School of Music following the 2013-14 year.

I have also decided that I wish to go out the way I came in – as a musician and teacher. Therefore, I will step down from my position as Director of the School of Music at the end of August, 2013 and spend my final year on the faculty in my position as Professor of Tuba and Euphonium. I have discussed this with Dean Sandefur and Associate Dean Zaeske, and they are supportive of these plans.

By the end of this year I will have spent 25% of my time on the faculty as the Director. It has been a pleasure to do so, and I continue to be honored to serve the School of Music in a leadership role. Of course I will continue to work as hard as possible on behalf of the school and will do everything I can to facilitate a smooth transition to the next Director.

Due to the high volume of emails I receive daily in my roles as administrator and professor, I would very much appreciate it if you could not respond to this with an email reply.  Thank you very much.

John Stevens, Director, UW School of Music

For a full biography and discography of this impressive musician – who is also a very congenial and amiable guy — visit his profile at the UW School of Music website. Here is a link:

My guess is that Stevens will continue to do guest appearances and especially to pursue composing (below, composing at him home). At bottom is  the Tuba  Quartet on YouTube playing his moving “Benediction,” which was played at the recent funeral for Paul Haugan, the late principal tubist for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Stevens’ retirement could also be part of the wave of retirements that will hit the UW School of Music – even with a new home for the school about to be built — as Baby Boomers age and as UW budgets become tighter and hiring freezes take curtail recruitment of new faculty. Many of the current UW faculty joined around 1985 and are approaching the 30-year mark.

This is the second retirement from the UW School of Music The Ear has earned of so far this year. Oboist Marc Fink (below), who performs with the Wingra Woodwind Quintet and in principal oboist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will retire at the end of this season. A non-tenure track, temporary instructor is slated to replace Fink.

The Ear worries what all this means for the quality of the teaching and performing at the UW School of Music, but time will tell.

John Stevens may not want an email reply, but you can leave a message for him or Marc Fink in the COMMENT section of this blog.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Best wishes as you move to retirement, John.
    Lynn Holfelder Mukavitz

    Comment by Lynn Holfelder Muakvitz — January 18, 2014 @ 10:19 am

  2. These soon-to-be retirees are all the legacy of the tenure of Bruce Benward as the Director of the School. He was quite obsessed by the idea of making UW into a paragon of New Music Studies.
    He was followed by Jay Gilbert, who took his own life while Director, as he was suffering from major depression.
    Arthur Becknell took over for Gilbert. I am not sure who was next as director.
    John Schaffer served an unprecedented three consecutive terms. He tried to transform the school out of training music teachers to training performers. I assume that trend will continue.
    Mr. Stevens has also suffered from psychological issues while in office. The job must be a real killa…all those competing notions of what makes good music, good teaching, and who gets to decide which one goes where, to say NOTHING of what role Jazz should have.
    My own training there was not very good, as many of the teachers I had were either very new to teaching, or very, VERY old. Hilmar Luckhardt had been teaching there since the 1940’s! Robert Monschein as well. Les Thimmig had been on faculty for two years, and had just begun the composition program I entered. I got more out of his Jazz composition class than I ever did from the regular program.
    Good luck UW- Music School, you’re gonna need it.

    Comment by Michael BB — November 1, 2012 @ 10:40 am

  3. “A non-tenure track, temporary instructor is slated to replace Fink.”

    I have tried to believe Marc Fink’s retirement from UW would never come. If word is as above I can only say “Word has got to be kidding.” School of Music may this be temporary if true. Surely there will be an ambitious search for the most complete oboe master out there. The result of anything less would be unimaginable. Abundant gratitude to Professor and Artist Fink from all who know and revere him.


    Comment by Anne — October 28, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

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