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Kevin Eisensmith '78

Kevin Eisensmith '78

Kevin attended IUP from 1974 to 1978 and earned a B.S. in Music Education. Following graduation, he was hired as a trumpeter with the U.S. Army Ground Forces Band in Atlanta, Ga. Kevin performed with the band for six years before moving on to a successful freelance career that saw him playing with such stars as Carol Channing, the Osmond Brothers, Bob Hope, Bernadette Peters, Julio Iglesias, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Aaron Neville, the Moody Blues, and Natalie Cole.

He went on to earn a master’s degree in musical performance and a doctorate of musical arts in performance. He was invited to return to IUP to teach in 1998, prior to which he was an instructor at Eastern Kentucky University. Kevin currently serves as president of the International Trumpet Guild.

Kevin lives in Indiana with his wife of thirty-one years, Kathy (class of ’78 in Health and Physical Education). They have two sons. Christopher, the oldest, is a 2006 graduate of IUP in the field of Computer Science. Their son, Nicholas, attended IUP briefly for Hotel and Restaurant Management before transferring to the Culinary Arts Institute in Pittsburgh. Kevin and Kathy plan to retire in Indiana following his teaching career.

Where did you grow up and what led you to attend IUP?

I grew up in York, Pa., started playing the trumpet in fourth grade, and attended William Penn Sr. High School. The superintendent of Music in the York City School District at that time—Dr. Ronald Toomey—was an IUP graduate. He convinced me that IUP was where I needed to go for my music education degree.

Tell me a little bit about your time at IUP as a student. How involved were you in and out of class?

I was a music geek. I played in almost every ensemble offered through the Music Department. I practiced late into the night. In those days, if someone bought a new album of Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, or another jazz artist, it was an excuse to have a party! We’d listen to the album over and over, and by the end of the night, we could all sing the solos for each of the pieces.

What is your fondest memory of your time as an undergraduate?

During finals week in Fall 1977, Dr. Gary Bird, who was tuba professor for over thirty-five years at IUP before his retirement in 2007, stopped by the student lounge and recruited a group of us to grab our instruments and follow him. He walked us over to John Sutton Hall, which was condemned at that time, and bribed one of the campus police officers with two six-packs of beer to allow us inside. We climbed a ladder to the bell tower, where for the next hour we played Christmas carols. It started to snow, and the view was breathtaking! Students began exiting their evening finals and looked all around trying to figure out where the music was coming from.

Talk a little about your career trajectory since graduating IUP. What ultimately brought you back?

I was hired out of college by the U.S. Army Ground Forces Band in Atlanta, Ga., and after completing my basic training and their School of Music, I spent six years performing with them all over the country.

I eventually left the Army band to see how I could do as a freelance performer, and I complemented that by teaching part-time in the Atlanta area. Then I went back to earn my doctorate and focus on teaching.

I was really flattered at the invitation to apply for the position at IUP. I had such fond memories of my time here and knew that I owed my own success to the quality education I had received here. I hoped to be the kind of inspiration and influence on a new generation of students as my instructors at IUP had been for me.

Talk specifically about your involvement with the Alumni Association. You help to organize a reunion for the Jazz Ensemble. How did that come about?

Not long after I started teaching at IUP in 1998, many alumni contacted me and asked if I would consider resurrecting the Alumni Jazz Weekends that Dan DiCicco had hosted during the ’80s and early ’90s.

Kevin Eisensmith and Dan DiCicco

We held the first reunion in 2002, and forty alumni returned, representing six decades of graduates (from the 1950s through the 2000s). We had a great time and have continued to hold reunion weekends every other year since; Fall 2010 will be the next scheduled alumni jazz reunion.

What does your Jazz Reunion Weekend entail? And what is the main reason you choose to serve IUP in this way, over and above your teaching duties?

We get together Friday evening for a reception in Breezedale, which is usually attended by members of the administration as well as our alumni. Then we spend most of the weekend preparing for a Jazz Ensemble performance that we hold on Sunday. In between, there is a lot of mingling between current students and graduates, and fostering these interactions is a big reason why I do it.

Each alumni weekend, I choose a graduate to serve as a guest soloist with our university Jazz Band and Jazz Ensemble. Our music students give tours of the renovated Cogswell Music Building and Fisher Auditorium (now part of the Performing Arts Center) to our alumni. The various generations of graduates work together to create a complete lineup of music for a concert in less than a weekend. It’s very satisfying.

Do you have a favorite moment or memory related to your service in these positions?

Following our first performance in 2002, Olive Fornear, a retired music faculty who recently passed away at age 97, came up on stage. Olive was retired before 1974 when I first came to IUP! However, graduates from the 1960s had Ms. Fornear for music education classes. A recently retired band director, who himself had an illustrious career, broke into tears when he saw Ms. Fornear (he hadn’t known that she was still alive at that time). He thanked her for being such a positive influence in his life. Organizing these reunions is very time consuming, but that scene made up for all of the work I had put into that first reunion!

Profile published on 3/16/10

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