The Beat Goes On: Music Professor Jack Taylor Retiring After 40 Years
This is the thirteenth in a series of stories heralding the many great people of the University of Findlay and the ways they support our mission of preparing students for meaningful lives and productive careers.
Adapted from the original story written by Joy Brown.
The evolving melody of University of Findlay music professor Jack Taylor’s professional life began to be composed when he was a child. A move to the suburbs landed him in an accelerated education program in which he struggled, but the district’s early music program, and its director, provided him with inspiration and a newfound musical talent. By the time he was in eighth grade, he was competing as a saxophonist in district and regional competitions.
Another primary career influence was Taylor’s Aunt “Gerry” Geraldine, an elementary school teacher whose home piano was always filled with gifts from her students.
“I can remember thinking from the time I was little how neat it would be to be loved like that,” said Taylor. “I knew from the time I was in sixth grade that I wanted to be a school teacher. That’s what I was going to do with my life. So, music and teaching found its way together.”
Now, after 40 years of University of Findlay teaching, along with community band directing, Taylor is planning to retire.
The rewards have been exceptional, but haven’t always come easily. Although he said he’s never had second thoughts about his chosen career, Taylor, during a recent interview that had him reflecting on his time at UF, said the University challenges from the get-go were substantial, and provided a template for leadership, collaborative efforts, and lifelong connections.
When Taylor arrived at UF in 1980, the college had eliminated the music major because of accreditation issues. “There was a lot of negativism. The alumni were mad, the community was mad, the faculty were angry, the students who stayed were angry,” he noted. But two administrators with music experience and appreciation wished to somewhat salvage things, which led to Taylor’s hire. As a jazz musician with plenty of performance experience, it was believed that Taylor could help turn the tide by organizing a jazz combo comprised of about 5 musicians. He had his work cut out for him: only seven students were enrolled in band, one of them strictly as a cymbal player.
“I realized if we were going to do anything, we had to run out to the community and strengthen that tie and bring in some help,” Taylor recalled.
Over the years, Taylor was charged with rebuilding UF’s music program to a greater extent. In 1996, former President Kenneth Zirkle asked him to create a marching band, and later, former President DeBow Freed requested that an orchestra be formed. Symphonic band and wind ensemble resulted too. Today’s music program enrollment is approximately 150.
Taylor said he has many favorite memories of his time at UF, thanks to student conundrums and kindnesses. On one occasion, he was involved in facilitating a surprise marriage proposal to one of the band members on the 50-yard line during halftime. Another occasion involved assisting with fundraising to buy a new flute for a financially-strapped band member who had accidentally left hers on top of a car. “She barely had enough money for tuition. She couldn’t even go out and get a pizza,” Taylor said of the flutist. When recounting the story to a band alumnus, she reached out to others with monetary means to get the ball rolling. “We had my former student who had this idea come out at the student recital and present her with the flute,” he explained. “That was one of those moments that you never forget.”
Personally, Taylor’s love for music derives from its performance attributes and their affect on others. “I like that feeling of freedom” when playing, he explained. “I’ve been a jazz player most of my life. I love that we get to improvise and make my own music. On any given night, if I feel great, I can put that joy into my playing. Or, if I’m feeling a little dark and blue, I can put that into my playing on the same tune the following night. Just that freedom of expression.”
“On the times when it’s working well, when all the neurons are firing and I can execute what I want to say as smoothly as I think it, there have been moments along the years where I’ve felt that the instrument has been part of my body, just an extension of me, and that I could communicate through it, which is kind of a cool feeling,” Taylor continued.
That talent then influences others. Taylor noted how couples have come up to him at gigs to request songs such as “Misty,” familiar favorites that helped them fall in love. “I would say we’d be happy to play it, and play it just the way that it was done back in the 30s, the way they would listen to it, with the big vibrato and all that kind of stuff. The years would erase off of their faces and they would turn into high school kids again.”
“Music does have that power,” Taylor emphasized. “It brings back memories, it brings back moments, and for me to be able to do that for people as a performer has always been just a thrill and a treat.”
Taylor admitted he initially never expected to stay at UF for long. An east coast native, he had graduated with a bachelor of science from West Chester University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and with a master of music from Yale University. His intention was to gain a few years of higher education teaching experience before heading back east. Instead, UF’s family-like atmosphere and midwestern courtesies have kept him and his wife, Pat, here for four decades; he met Pat when they were both middle school band members, and he credits her love and support as the reasons for his successes. The couple raised three sons in Findlay, where, at times, all five of them were on stage together for various band performances. “A few years turned into a few years more and before we knew it, we were putting our roots down here,” he said.
“Teaching music for 40 years, that’s just a small part of it,” said Taylor of his work. “it’s about giving students confidence in themselves, which they learn through playing music. Those are things that get them in a position to survive a job interview and to go out and accomplish anything they want.”
Taylor’s advice, particularly for students, that has been honed from extensive teaching and musical performing, is targeted and positive. Don’t extensively plan for your life to meet expectations. Otherwise, opportunities will be missed, he said. Also, find your gift. “We all have one. It’s a crime for those who don’t recognize it, don’t discover it, and don’t feed it and let it grow,” he said.
Taylor intends to direct the Findlay Civic Band through its summer 2020 performances, and then take at least a year-long break from direct music involvement. “I’ll probably do music at some point again, but I’m just going to let it go for a little while and see what happens.” Meanwhile, he plans to visit with family, which range in age from grandchildren to his parents, and help them in various ways. His beat will go on.
As a tribute to Taylor’s storied career at UF, you’re encouraged by him and the University to make a gift to the Jack and Patricia Taylor Instrumental Music Endowed Scholarship, which recognizes outstanding students and encourages the study of instrumental music. The scholarship is for any full-time student in the instrumental music program with sufficient financial need and a GPA of 3.4 or higher. More can be found here.