Season 5 - Episode 519
After nearly 40 years at the helm of the Baylor Symphony Orchestra and Waco Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Heyde is retiring. On this Baylor Connections, he looks back at decades of music and leadership. Learn the roots of his love of music, Heyde’s favorite moments working with students, the impact of his final concert and more.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and today we are visiting with Steven Heyde. Steven Heyde is an educator and conductor who is retiring after nearly 40 years at Baylor. Heyde has served as the Mary Franks Thompson professor of orchestral studies and conductor in residence at Baylor, conducting the Baylor Symphony Orchestra since 1984 and the Waco Symphony Orchestra since 1987. Under his leadership, the Baylor Symphony has toured internationally and earned numerous awards, including the coveted American Prize in Orchestral Performance, five of the last six years. Heyde recently conducted his final concert for Baylor and he is moving into a new phase of life and we're going to miss seeing you on campus conducting but I'm sure we'll be seeing you more. And I'm excited to hear more about this. Steven Heyde, thanks so much for joining us today.
Stephen Heyde:It's my pleasure, Derek. I'm delighted to be here.
Derek Smith:Well, we're glad to have you here and to talk about, I know a lot of people have enjoyed your work and your students' work and the symphony and I guess let's just start with the obvious question. As the semester winds down and retirement goes from being something in the future to something now, how are you feeling? What's that feeling like for you?
Stephen Heyde:Well, I would not be truthful if I didn't say there's a little bit of sadness with it because I love conducting orchestras and I especially love the students and they have been a blessing for 38 years and that's hard to walk away from. By the same token, there are things that my wife and I want to do while we still can. And I just don't feel like that I have the physical stamina and the eyesight, frankly, to give my very, very best to the students and they deserve that. I think this is the time to exit the stage and I'm okay with that.
Derek Smith:Well, we'll miss you but it's in good shape this program that you've built, that you've stewarded over the years. You recently conducted your final concert at Baylor. What stood out to you about that? And what were the emotions of that?
Stephen Heyde:Well, it was just an emotional concert, I think. For me, I think for the students and for many in the audience because it does represent a passing of the baton, literally, to a wonderful new conductor, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who for 20 years was the music director of the Fort Worth Symphony. And I'm thrilled that he wants to come to Baylor and start conducting the Baylor Symphony. We're really blessed with that.
Derek Smith:Big shoes to fill but that's a pretty great leader to get.
Stephen Heyde:He's terrific. But the feeling, first of all, the program, we started with a symphony, a brand new world premiere of a symphony by Baylor composer in residence Scott McAllister. And it was written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the School of Music, which because of COVID, we really weren't able to celebrate in the way we should have. I believe it was 1921 that we started granting degrees. It was a real joy to play that piece. And four movements that I think were really well written and the students liked it. I loved it. He dedicated it to the Baylor Symphony and to me and we were grateful for that. And then we played a Mozart piano concerto, number 23 in A major, which is K488, which is just a very, very special piece. And we did it with soloist Robert Blocker, who many years ago in 1984 had hired me. And in that first year had played a solo, a piano concerto with the orchestra. And I think he enjoyed the fact, to hear the growth of the orchestra in the meantime.
Derek Smith:That's great.
Stephen Heyde:And then we finished the program with the Strauss Death and Transfiguration, which is just a monumental work and the students embraced it and just played it beautifully. I was touched by all that but mostly proud of the students and the immense work they had done.
Derek Smith:I want to ask you about your students here in a bit but before I do, I want to go back to the beginning just a little bit for you. As you retire, I want to reminisce about some of the early stages of your love of music for a moment. Let's go back to the beginning. When do you remember music capturing your imagination?
Stephen Heyde:Well, I was a child of missionaries to India, so I was born in India and my parents had kind of a wind up record player, one of those old Victrola or something, I don't know. But my mother always said that whenever they would wind it up and they put a record, a classical piece on it, when it was done, I would cry so they would quickly put another one on. I think it was early in life. I was fortunate to come from a rather musical family. My father was a minister, of course but my mother had been a music major and my father was a composer actually and wrote 80 or 90 and published 80 or 90 church music anthems. And so I grew up in a musical household and it just resonated from very early age.
Derek Smith:How did you take that and begin to foster it into a career?
Stephen Heyde:Well, I think in high school I thought, oh, I'll be an architect. Then I discovered that the thing that I did the best was music and I wasn't sure I could handle all the various disciplines required to build beautiful buildings. It just was a natural progression. And I started immediately as a music major when I went to college.
Derek Smith:Were there musical pieces that were seminal to you in coming down this path? Were there musical pieces that even now, when you hear kind of take you back to those early days?
Stephen Heyde:Yeah. People frequently ask who's your favorite composer? And in all candor, it's usually the one I'm working on at the time. But I love Brahms and very early in my career at Baylor, Robert Shaw visited and was in residence for several weeks and prepared the orchestra and the combined choirs for a Brahms Requiem. And I would say that was definitely a seminal event to see Robert Shaw in action and to see the seriousness and the depth of his study. I remember one time I picked him up, I'd pick him up in the morning and take him to rehearsal. And he was all excited because he had discovered something new in the viola part, a little detail he'd never seen before. And this is a man who had conducted that piece thousands of times, probably more than any other conductor in the history of the Brahms Requiem and to see how excited he was to continue to study and find other things. And that's true of all the great scores. There's just unbelievable, the more you get to spend your life working on them, the more that you see the genius of these great composers.
Derek Smith:We're visiting with Steven Heyde, Mary Franks Thompson professor of orchestral studies and conductor in residence at Baylor, retiring after 38 years on the faculty, this year. Let's go back. You mentioned 1984 a couple times. What brought you to Baylor initially?
Stephen Heyde:Well, At West Virginia University, we had three children and I was, as I said, a violin professor there. I was the assistant orchestra director. Always loved conducting but at the time, in higher education, you need a terminal degree. And for an applied faculty member, which is somebody who teaches the instruments or voice, the terminal degree was a doctorate. And I knew I didn't have a doctorate obviously but I also knew that I couldn't just leave my family without any source of income for two years. The terminal degree at the time for conductors was a master's degree, which I had. And so I made the very purposeful, intentional switch from playing to conducting, which I loved anyway. And so I really applied for one conducting position and that was at Baylor and was fortunate enough to be hired by Robert Blocker. And Robert Blocker came back and my last concert and played the Mozart with me so that was really special.
Derek Smith:That's great. You came to Baylor in 1984 and began working with Baylor students, what stood out to you about Baylor's students then?
Stephen Heyde:Then and now, that they're honestly just wonderful people and they embrace the responsibility that we all have if you're going to participate in a team and in a ensemble, a musical team. There's a lot of individual responsibility and that's something that they understand and have always done. And also the fact that they're so affirming of each other and so supportive. Excuse me.
Derek Smith:If we were to visit one of your classrooms and watch you interacting or visit a room where students are working on different pieces, what are some of the things we would see? What would we witness? What would we see with you interacting with students? What were those like?
Stephen Heyde:Well, I think that you would see two sides of the equation, a conductor who's asking them to change or to do something slightly different but then students who embrace that change and trust in whoever's leading them and honestly do their best to try to bring out the vision that the conductor has and ultimately the vision that we believe the composer had for the piece. It's a very, kind of almost a sacred relationship. I think it's wonderful that Baylor students understand that and they understand their obligation. We talk about a three legged stool, it takes a conductor, it takes players and of course it takes an audience too, to bring these pieces to fruition. But the player's side of it is wonderful. They interact really with these great, great composers and work with integrity to try to bring them about. And that brought about the motto that we've had at the Baylor Symphony for the last 38 years. We try to play with integrity and humility because we know that all of our gifts and these great musical treasures too, are really from the creator. And when you accept that and you know that our talent was given to us by God, there's no reason for any false self pride. And so it is a joyful experience and it's one that's rooted in faith. And I'm very grateful to have been at Baylor, where I can be obviously a Christian and approach the act of leading music from a Christian perspective. That's meant a lot to me.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Steven Heyde and within the School of Music, there's been a lot of growth over the last, nearly 40 years. You mentioned recently celebrating the centennial. What are some of the ways that stand out to you that you've seen the School of Music grow in that time?
Stephen Heyde:Well, it's been really very special because I think, I remember the great professors of the past and I am so indebted to the Robert Youngs and the Elwin Wenots and the Daniel Sternberg. Daniel is a great friend. I don't know why I'm mispronouncing his name. Roger Keyes and Elwin Wenot and Harry Elsing and many more. But each of us add to that and bring our own unique gifts to that process. And along the way, the administration has supported the School of Music wonderfully. They've supported the orchestra and I'm very grateful for that support. We compete for students much as the athletic teams do and it takes resources to do that and then I'm grateful for the faculty who recruit these very talented students and nourish their talent. And then of course, the multiple donors and people for whom Baylor is important, who continue to provide the gifts that we use to bring the program to fruition. And the generosity of these people is just very humbling and appreciated. And then there's the students who I can't say enough about. Talented, hardworking, conscientious, affirming of one another, affirming of their faculty and with this attitude that is so beautiful. And you don't get that in every, every place. Musicians can be quite kind of feeling entitlement about things and that's not something that I've seen at Baylor. They're grateful for the opportunity they have to make music. And they're grateful to play in this musical team, the ensembles that we have. I tell them every fall before we play the first note, I say, "How exciting is this?" Because every orchestra is unique, it changes because that's the nature of academic music. People come in and they graduate and new ones take their place. And you think about all these multiple births all over the country, really 17, 18, 19 years ago, maybe 21 years ago and parents who then supported that gift, who bought them instruments, who paid for lessons and all that comes together and now we're standing or we're sitting here all together and it's a miracle and let's see what happens. And when we play that first chord, it's just, it's really awesome.
Derek Smith:That's very cool. That's a great way to think of it as we visit with Steven Heyde and Steven, you have both the town and gown side, if you will, with your work through the Waco Symphony Orchestra. How did you become involved in that? And what's been meaningful to you about being able to have that sort of external looking role here?
Stephen Heyde:Well, it's been another great blessing, to interact with the community in that way. And again, the number of patrons and the people who year after year have supported the orchestra and donors and also the board of directors who've volunteered their time and their gifts. And it's just wonderful. But I think it's the best of both worlds because I get some professional opportunities, maybe the greatest musical experience of my life. Well, I don't know, it's kind of a tie with the last concert I played, which was so wonderful with the students. But when Yo-Yo Ma came and that would not have been possible with a university orchestra but Renee Fleming and Itzhak Perlman and Emanuel Ax and many, many others and some great artists from the popular fields, too. Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach and Art Garfunkel and I could go on forever. But to have that opportunity has been a real blessing too. Plus the relationship that the WSO, Waco Symphony has with the Baylor School of Music. Many of the faculty participate and play and we're blessed by the great gifts they bring. But also the union, which has suggested that we provide student interns for our most talented students at Baylor or MCC. And so they get an opportunity to sit in a professional orchestra, sometimes accompanying these fabulous guest artists, frequently next to their teacher and to really develop and get paid for it. And to get this professional experience and the coaching that they will get from their teachers sitting next to them. And so it's been wonderful for our program and I think that's one of the things that really helped the orchestra develop over the years.
Derek Smith:That's great. And there as a search for your successor there as well going on now, correct?
Stephen Heyde:Yes. I don't think they've completely identified search committee but they're working on it. And I have not given them any due date because I want the process to be thorough and to make sure that we get the right person, who can then continue because Waco deserves a good orchestra. And I have to say, I think we have one now. And I know that that will continue but Waco has appreciated their orchestra and that support and that appreciation has been very gratifying.
Derek Smith:Well, there's been a lot of support and appreciation for you as you've made this announcement and transition. What stood out to you? What's been meaningful to you about the response as people found out that you were retiring?
Stephen Heyde:Derek, it's just, I never expected this kind of attention. It's a little uncomfortable but I'm very appreciative. But the emails and the texts and the personal notes and the folks who've spoken to me, it's been very heartwarming and humbling. And the reaction of the students, they've been so warm and so vocal in their thanks. And it's just been humbling and very, very significant. And I thank the School of Music too, for the way in which they've tried to celebrate my contributions over the years. I just am blessed in so many ways and it's a beautiful thing.
Derek Smith:Well, as we head into the final couple of minutes, I have a couple of closing questions for you, maybe one an obvious one. Where are we going to find you? What are you going to be doing now that you have extra time on your hands?
Stephen Heyde:Well, we intend to do a lot of traveling but we're going to stay in Waco and we love this community and my wife's grandchildren are here, so we're not going any place. Certainly I have some goals and people might be surprised by this but I want to try to learn to cook Indian food. And to go back to my childhood. But that food, we lived in Southern India. Most of the restaurants are of Northern Indian food, which is delicious but so is Southern. I'd like to learn to cook Indian. I have a whole lot of books I want to read. I want to do some traveling. I want to spend a lot of time with my grandchildren of whom there are eight.
Stephen Heyde:And with a ninth on the way.
Derek Smith:That's great.
Stephen Heyde:I look forward to spending a lot of time with them. And also we have a little boat that we go on Lake Waco and in five minutes we can be on the lake and watching the sunset. And that's always a very special, special time.
Derek Smith:Well, as we wind down, I want to ask you one final question, when you think of the students and you've described how much they mean to you, what do you hope when they think back about your impact on them as a teacher, as a mentor? What do you hope they say that you left with them?
Stephen Heyde:Well, I hope that they feel like I gave my best and I think they know that I did it. Wasn't always as good as it needed to be but that's the effort was always there. And I think so many of them have embraced the motto that I told you about. They understand what a blessing it is to play great music, to transform lives and to share their talent with their instrument or with others. And I think so that integrity and yet doing it with an attitude that is appropriate, that's celebratory of this great gift that God has given us. I've said frequently over the years that I think music and everybody can have their own opinion on this, but I think music is the second greatest gift that God gave us and to have the opportunity to do that is a real blessing.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, we will miss you and appreciate your work and congratulations on retirement. Thank you for taking the time to share with us today.
Stephen Heyde:Oh, it's my pleasure, Derek. And thank you.
Derek Smith:And sharing your gifts over these last 38 years here to Baylor and Waco communities. Stephen Heyde, educator and conductor, retiring after nearly 40 years at Baylor. He served as the Mary Franks Thompson professor of orchestral studies, conductor in residence at Baylor and has conducted the Baylor Symphony Orchestras and Waco Symphony Orchestras. I'm Derek Smith, reminding you, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.