Final Flourish

May 9, 2014

When Dr. Will May returned to Baylor in 2000 to become dean of the School of Music, he found himself overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. “I had college-age children at the time, and so did many of my Baylor classmates,” said May, a 1969 Baylor graduate. “My classmates’ children who were Baylor students would ask me things like, ‘So you were in school with my mother?’ It brought back so many fond memories of this place and the profound effect that Baylor had on me.”

Today, looking back over his 14-year tenure as the School of Music’s dean, May summed up his overall ambition as an administrator by drawing a parallel between his transformation as a young Mississippian at Baylor and the experience that hundreds of music students have had under his leadership. “I have tried my level best to give today’s students the opportunity to be similarly transformed,” he said.


A distinguished career

May will step down as dean following the commencement ceremonies in May, when his signature will appear on diplomas for a final time and he’ll lead the audience in singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “That Good Old Baylor Line.”

It will be a fitting swan song to a career marked with accomplishment as a musician, professor of music, and music school administrator.

After graduating from Baylor, May earned a master’s degree from the University of North Texas in 1975 and a PhD in music education from the University of Kansas in 1983. 

In 1981, May joined the music faculty of the University of North Texas (UNT), subsequently serving as chair of UNT’s Division of Music Education from 1987 to 1993, associate dean from 1993 to 1999, and interim dean (1996-97, 1999-2000).

When he arrived back at Baylor in 2000, May inherited an academic unit whose strengths had been gradually and carefully built up by his predecessors. He found himself standing “on the broad shoulders of many generations of students, faculty and administrators,” he said.


Making an impact

However, May knew the School of Music needed to make a strong case for its importance on campus. “The school was, and still is, an expensive operation because of the way that we deliver instruction,” May said. “It became a goal of mine to demonstrate what the music school meant to the university, both as a source of culture on campus and as a window to the university for those in our local community and beyond. And so we focused on very public displays of musical prowess that would demonstrate the great things going on in the music school and reflect the quality and character of Baylor students.”

May said he had two strategies for improving the School of Music’s performance – both on the stage and in the classroom. The first was to enhance the quality of the faculty. The second was to attract outstanding student musicians. 

“Dean May shepherded us through a period of unprecedented growth,” said Stephen Heyde, The Mary Franks Thompson Professor of Orchestral Studies and Conductor-in-Residence at Baylor. “This is reflected in the excellence of the faculty, most of whom were hired during his tenure, and the exceptional musicianship and scholarship of our student body.”


Coming full circle

A past president of the Texas Music Educators Association, the Texas Coalition for Music Education, and the Texas Association of Music Schools, May will be making a very fitting career move upon his retirement as dean – back to the classroom at his alma mater.

“Teaching really is my first love,” he said. “When I began thinking about how I wanted to spend the last years of my career before I fully retire, it soon became clear to me that I wanted to spend my time directly nurturing students in a way that I have been unable to do as an administrator.”

A dedication to students has been the hallmark of May’s career, Heyde noted. “I think the single most prominent characteristic of Dean May’s leadership has been his love of the students and his genuine pride and joy in their accomplishments,” he said. “Dean May has always advocated tirelessly for what is in the students’ best interest. I don’t think any dean could ask for a finer legacy than that.”
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