NATCHITOCHES, La. (KSLA) - Dr. Jeffrey Mathews, band director at Northwestern State University, will step down effective May 3, the school announced Tuesday, April 27.
Dr. Mathews, an associate professor of music, will instead teach full-time and direct the NSU Wind Symphony and Chamber Winds for the 2021-22 school year. Meanwhile, Associate Director of Bands Dan McDonald has been named interim director while the university searches for a permanent replacement.
Dr. Mathews has served as the band director since 2013. During that time, he worked to build up the program by raising the profile of the concert band program, which includes the Wind Symphony. While director, the Wind Symphony was invited to play at the 2019 World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Convention in Spain. The group also performed at the 2020 College Band Directors Southern Division Conference, which NSU hosted.
“When I became director of bands in 2013, the NSU band program had long been a best kept secret or diamond in the rough that not a lot of people outside our region were familiar with,” said Dr. Mathews. “And more people saw us as a marching band school than a concert band school. My primary goal was to change that and develop a reputation for world class music making both on the field and off on the national and international stage. Thus, enhancing the image of the music department and the university. Our invitational performances at the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Conference in Spain, along with hosting and performing at the College Band Directors Southern Division Conference brought the national and international recognition I hoped to achieve.”
During Dr. Mathews’ time as director, NSU’s band had record-setting recruiting classes in 2016, with 111 freshmen and 210 in 2017. In 2019, the Spirit of Natchitoches became the state’s largest marching band.
“When I first arrived at NSU after being recruited by my dear friend and mentor Bill Brent there were about 100 of us in the band and we were a super tightknit group,” said Dr. Mathews. “I still communicate regularly with many of my bandmates from that era. During that time, I learned how to lead, build and maintain a band program from Bill. I will never repay that debt.”
Dr. Mathews says his favorite performance he participated in as a member of the band was at the State Fair Game in Shreveport.
“The game was played in the rain the two previous years, so the band did not march,” Dr. Mathews remembers. “The last time a state fair audience saw the band it had about 40 people in it. None of the state fair crowd had ever seen an NSU band as large as that 1985 version. Bill worked us super hard for that show and we were really hitting on all cylinders. The crowd of about 25,000 went absolutely crazy. I still watch that show every once in a while.”
In 1998, Dr. Mathews became the assistant band director. He also worked as the director of student activities and organizations from 2004 to 2008. He held the Magale Endowed Professorship multiple times.
Dr. Mathews graduated from NSU with a bachelor of music education, and earned a his master in music education from the University of North Texas; he earned his doctorate in musical arts at the University of Southern Mississippi.
McDonald, an assistance professor of music, has directed the Spirit of Northwestern Marching Band “Purple Haze” Basketball Band, Wind Ensemble, Magale Concert Band, and teaches courses in student leadership, music education, and conducting. He’s currently working to earn his doctorate in musical arts at the University of Washington. McDonald earned his bachelor in music at the University of Connecticut, as well a master in instrumental conducting.
“We have been incredibly fortunate to have Jeff Mathews at the helm for the NSU bands for a number of years,” said McDonald. “He has brought international attention to our program though performances at the 2019 WASBE Conference in Spain, as host of the 2020 CBDNA Southern Division Conference, and with multiple recording projects. Jeff is a phenomenal teacher, mentor, recruiter and musician. The accolades he has earned throughout his career are well deserved. The band program has benefitted greatly for over 20 years from Dr. Mathews’ talent, hard work, and dedication as a faculty member. I can’t thank him enough for his mentorship and leadership in my time here.”
The band has already started prepping for the fall semester with faculty and staff members at the university, including Dr. Oliver Molina, Dr. Estelle Murr, Jena Elfer, Reneé Oates, and Michael Lomeka.
“Preparations for the fall started long ago and it is completely a team effort between directors, choreographers, our music arranger and most importantly our students,” said McDonald. “Our students are some of the finest people and musicians out there. We have exciting shows planned for the fall and are looking to program great concerts to bring us back after a year of adjustments and unknowns. The members of the band are eager to step onto the field at Turpin Stadium and do what they do best.”
For more information about music programs at NSU, click here.