Cardinals in Clemson
In the Department of Performing Arts at Clemson, there are four Ball State University alumni in the music and audio technology concentration areas. Paul Buyer, Andrew Levin, Mark Spede, and Bruce Whisler are all Cardinals who found their way to Clemson.
Dr. Paul Buyer
Degree at Ball State: Bachelor of Science in Music Education
Dr. Paul Buyer, Director of Percussion and Director of Music, received his undergraduate education at Ball State. He said he was drawn to the school because of its reputation for personal attention to students. “I wanted to find a teacher who would really mentor me and show me what I needed to learn,” he said. He found that in Erwin Mueller, his mentor, who would later inspire him to pursue his doctorate.
The smaller campus in Muncie, Indiana, was a good fit for Buyer, who himself is a native of Munster, Indiana. During his freshman year, he practiced six hours each day in pursuit of excellence, and became friends with another future Clemson professor. “When I was a freshman,” he said, “[Director of Bands] Mark Spede was pursuing his master’s and he taught the drumline when I was a freshman cymbal player.” Spede also taught the jazz band in which Buyer performed.
During his time at Ball State, Buyer played drum set with the school’s popular show choir, The University Singers, as well as with the pep band. He performed with the Muncie Symphony Orchestra at the same time that Andrew Levin, conductor of the Clemson University Symphony Orchestra, was a violist in the ensemble. During his senior year, he taught the drumline and was president of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity before pursuing a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Arizona, where he taught the drumline as a graduate teaching assistant and majored in percussion performance.
Buyer was teaching high school band in Garland, Texas when he began applying for university positions. He was in charge of the symphonic band, jazz band, brass ensemble, and the percussion program at the time, but always knew he wanted to teach at the college level.
“This one was a great fit,” he said of Clemson. “I loved my time here. I sat by the reflection pond and just looked out there and said, ‘Man, it would be awesome to work here.’”
He was hired by Chip Egan, who was chair of the department at the time, and came to work at Clemson in 1998. In his first year, Buyer was still finishing his doctorate, so he would teach during the day and study from 7 to 11 p.m. each night. He also led the drumline that same season and started building the drumline. In 2002, ten years after graduating from Ball State, Buyer would reunite with an old friend when he served as committee chair to hire a new Director of Bands.
Dr. Mark Spede
Degrees at Ball State: Master of Music in Instrumental Conducting
Director of Bands Dr. Mark Spede began his journey to Ball State in Florida. While a student at the University of Michigan, he auditioned for and made the All-American Marching Band at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. There he met Joe Scagnoli, who directed the band at Epcot and helmed the band program at Western Carolina University during the school year.
A few years later, in 1986, Spede was working at Cedar Point, an amusement park in Ohio, and was on the road performing as a musician. He made a trip to Ball State on an off-weekend and was walking through campus when he came upon the band office. That’s when he spotted a familiar name on the office door: Joe Scagnoli.
Now the Director of Bands at Ball State, Scagnoli encouraged Spede to pursue a master’s degree in Muncie. Spede’s contract with Cedar Point would be up in the fall, and he had no intention of returning to the road, so he took Scagnoli up on the offer and enrolled in the fall of 1986. As a graduate assistant, he assumed the title of Assistant Director of Bands.
In his new position, Spede took on a number of duties: he became the drumline instructor, wrote music for the drumline, performed in the top jazz band while conducting the third-level band, played in the wind ensemble, directed the Ball State show choir band, studied conducting, and wrote his first marching band arrangement.
Amidst his busy schedule, Spede made two key connections. He met his wife, Jani, in the drumline and jazz band, as well as Paul Buyer in those same ensembles.
Spede credits Scagnoli with teaching him how a college band program runs. Ball State has a large band program, Spede said, and he had the opportunity to take on many duties related to the program as a graduate student. From his jazz band conductor, Larry McWilliams, he learned much about rehearsal technique. And from Leonard Atherton, who also heavily influenced Andrew Levin, he learned about conducting.
Spede graduated the program in 1989 and left for the University of Florida, where he worked with the band program for six years. He then traveled to the University of Texas at Austin for three years to complete his doctorate while his wife joined a start-up company that saw massive growth in its first few years. The Spedes relocated to New York City so Jani could open a new office with the company. But, a few years later, they were both looking for a change.
Out of the blue, Spede got a call from Paul Buyer, now a faculty member at Clemson. Buyer suggested Spede apply for an opening for the Director of Bands position in Tiger Town. Spede interviewed, received the position, and began working at Clemson in 2002. Over the last 16 years, Tiger Band has grown to its largest size ever, and has, to date, accompanied the Tigers to two football national championship games.
“The performing arts students ask me, ‘What’s your best advice?’” Spede said. “And I always tell them, ‘Do the best job you can, no matter what anybody asks you to do, and be positive about it because you never know down the line, somebody may notice you and think of you for a job, and you just never know when that call’s going to come.’”
He also notes the seeming improbability of so many Cardinals on the faculty of Clemson’s music department. “It probably seems odd to people that four of our faculty here went to Ball State, and it is a little weird,” Spede said, but notes that it may not be as unlikely as it sounds. “Ball State had 550 music majors at the time, which is pretty big. It was a vibrant community of musicians.”
Dr. Andrew Levin
Degree at Ball State: Doctor of Arts in Conducting
At the time that Paul Buyer was pursuing his bachelor’s degree, Andrew Levin, conductor of the CU Symphony Orchestra, was also on campus working on his doctorate.
After receiving his master’s degree from Rice University, the Los Angeles native had been teaching piano and strings and conducting a community orchestra in Houston when he decided to pursue a doctorate.
Ball State University offered Levin a doctoral assistantship that focused on his viola playing: he sat principal viola in the university’s orchestra and played in the graduate string quartet, which performed every Wednesday morning for school children. In addition to his duties with the University, Levin performed in the Muncie and Anderson Symphony Orchestras, and the Marion Philharmonic Orchestra. While with the Muncie Symphony, he performed with Paul Buyer and Bruce Whisler (the current Director of Audio Technology). Whisler even performed in Levin’s final doctoral conducting recital.
Levin earned a Doctor of Arts degree, a specialized program that prepares its graduates for college teaching in music. The orchestral conducting program provided lots of guided instruction time on the podium. These many rehearsals and concerts were a big part of Levin’s program, and they would prove helpful when he conducted his concerts at Clemson. He says the program also included classes on how to teach music appreciation and music theory, both of which are courses he now regularly instructs. One of his most influential professors, the recently retired Dr. Leonard Atherton, conducted the Ball State Symphony Orchestra and Muncie Symphony Orchestra, and his tutelage still helps guide Levin’s thinking when it comes to programming orchestra concerts and preparing his musicians for concerts.
When the job for conductor of the Clemson University Symphony Orchestra (CUSO) opened up, Levin had neither heard of Clemson nor been to South Carolina. His background working with community orchestras in Indiana and Houston was valuable, however, as CUSO was only a few years old and included members from both the Clemson student body and the City of Clemson community. Since Levin was hired in 1993, CUSO has grown tremendously from the string orchestra of 17 musicians that Levin conducted at his audition here, to the full orchestra of 65 to 70 talented musicians that performs today. He brought his Ball State viola professor to solo with the orchestra in 1995, and, ten years after that, he invited Paul Everett, Ball State’s trumpet professor, to join Whisler in playing a concerto with the orchestra.
Levin received the Ball State University School of Music Alumni Achievement Citation in 2009.
Dr. Bruce Whisler
Degrees at Ball State: Bachelor’s (music education), master’s and doctorate (music theory/technology and music performance)
Bruce Whisler’s journey with Ball State began with his undergraduate education. A music education major specializing in trumpet, Whisler attended Ball State just as its audio technology program was beginning. He took a few courses in the burgeoning field, but it was not his primary area of study.
After five years of public school teaching, Whisler returned to Ball State to pursue both a master’s and doctorate in music and audio technology. Whisler was a graduate assistant, and his primary duties were to supervise all of the recording for the School of Music. The music school at Ball State had a full complement of artist faculty, including a faculty brass quintet, woodwind quintet, and string quartet. As part of his duties, Whisler made numerous recordings of the professional ensembles, and many were aired on Indiana Public Radio and on National Public Radio’s “Performance Today.” He found time to remain an active trumpet player, serving in the Muncie Symphony Orchestra, the Marion Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. He often worked with Andrew Levin in various capacities and the two even had a few classes together.
Whisler’s dissertation was an acoustical analysis of whether there was any benefit from cryogenically freezing brass instruments. Several trumpets were acoustically tested, then cryogenically frozen in Decatur, Illinois, and tested again. Since human players cannot reliably repeat tones with exactly the same air flow and pressure, Whisler had to design and construct a machine that could play pitches on the trumpet. This machine cannot play music, but it can reliably repeat pitches and sustain them indefinitely. The tones were analyzed by a computer-based program.
Looking back on his time at Ball State, Whisler said he enjoyed being part of such a broad music department with so many opportunities. He, too, appreciated the support and enthusiasm of Dr. Erwin Mueller and Larry McWilliams, as well as the guidance of trumpet instructor Paul Everett and music technology instructor Dr. Cleve Scott.
After Whisler finished his coursework, he stayed on as a faculty lecturer at Ball State until 1997. His wife was hired as a music librarian at Furman University in Greenville, where Whisler himself served as an adjunct faculty member until being contacted by Levin about a music technology position. In 2002, Whisler was hired as a faculty member and has helped lead the audio technology program since then.