The Accidental Historian
When Guy Wilson came to Mary Hardin-Baylor in 1966, he never suspected that he would become part of 50 remarkable years of institutional growth and change.
In May, Associate Professor of Music Guy Wilson was recognized for 50 years of service at UMHB. During his teaching career, Wilson has witnessed firsthand the university’s progress over half a century. In a recent interview, UMHB Life asked him to share some of his observations.
What brought you to Mary Hardin-Baylor?
I came here fresh out of graduate school. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Central Arkansas, then earned my master’s degree in vocal performance at the University of Texas. When I finished graduate school, I worked with a job placement service. I’d never heard of Mary Hardin-Baylor, but it was one of the job openings that they sent to me. When I came here, it was an all-girls school with just over700 students on campus. We had a very small Department of Music, with only six faculty when I arrived. My starting date of employment at Mary Hardin-Baylor was September 7, 1966; I was 23 years old.
My primary area of concentration was vocal performance, opera, and music theater, so I taught voice. I was also given the job of teaching music history, since no one else on the faculty was teaching it then. When Mrs. Glenda Bundick joined the faculty around 1973, she took the music history courses and taught piano and organ, and I started teaching language diction courses and vocal pedagogy.
What was the campus like in those days?
When I came here in 1966, there were only a few buildings clustered around Vann Circle and the Quad. Ely Pepper Hall sat where Remschel Hall sits now. It was an old frame building that was painted white, and the bookstore was in the basement of that building. Alma Reeves Chapel was gone, but we didn’t have Walton Chapel yet; it was built the next year. The Mabee Student Union Building was built a few years after that.What areas of the campus have undergone the most change in the last 50 years?
There has been a great deal of change on the front side of campus, toward Main Street, and in back of the original campus, toward Loop 121. At the front, the Clements Center was constructed in 1980, and the Parker Academic Center in 2002. The Paul and Jane Meyer Christian Studies Center was added six years later, in 2008. The back of the campus has also really changed in the last five years with the construction of the Baugh Center for the Visual Arts, the Isabelle Rutherford Meyer Nursing Education Center, Crusader Stadium, and Bawcom Student Union.
There was a big influx of students in the mid-eighties, which made it necessary to add a lot more campus housing. Remschel Hall was added to the Quad in the early nineties, and McLane Hall was added to house the increasing number of men. Lots of apartments were added at the back of the campus in Independence Village, followed by two big apartment-style complexes, Garner Hall and Farris Hall. And we still have space to expand on property at the back of the campus, which is great.
Do you find the students to be different now than they were when you began?
Today’s students have grown up with iPhones and iPads; many of them are more apt to learn and absorb something and make it a part of them if they see it on a screen. Years ago, that was not the case. At the same time, the new technology offers exciting teaching aids that we did not have in the past. If I want to play an example of someone who’s a great singer, I can get on the computer and find it on YouTube. Many times I can find not just the piece itself being played or sung but also video footage of the singer singing it. There are some pretty good videos out there of great singers from the past, and the students find them really interesting. You can watch and hear the people who put the Metropolitan Opera on the map, for instance. There is so much available at our fingertips, and my students can find it all on their phones!
I encourage my students to listen to as many good singers as they can find. As an artist, a singer, a student of the game, you listen to sharpen your ears, and you learn to listen with a critical ear. What is it that makes this singer so great as op-posed to this one over there who wasn’t quite so good? And how do I get to that point, if I have professional aspirations? The technology gives them new ways to do this.
You’ve witnessed a lot of history at UMHB. What do you think has been the most significant occurance in the last fifty years?
Unequivocally, it was the decision to go co-educational in 1971. In the late 1960s the school went through a time when there was an emphasis on improving the finances of the college. Enrollment was still fairly small—about 700 students. When we became co-educational, it brought a lot of new students in, both men and women. There was some opposition to the change by some of the alumnae, and that’s understandable. But over time I think it proved to be the right thing; it laid the groundwork for the growth we continue to see today.
It definitely changed the face of athletics at Mary Hardin-Baylor. When I came here, it was only women’s basketball, volleyball, and tennis. There wasn’t much else going on except intramural athletics, and there again, it was all women. Gradually we got the other programs going,— baseball, basketball, soccer. Football was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind—but look at the success we have had there. It has brought tremendous notoriety to the university, and has brought in a lot of students—and not just football players!
In recent years you have been the voice announcing halftime activities at Crusader football games. When you started teaching here, did you ever think you would find yourself doing that in a football stadium in the middle of the campus?
No! Over the years I’ve produced and directed a lot of music theater and opera productions, but I never dreamed that I’d be in the announcer’s booth up there announcing a football halftime show for the band.
Having a performance hall with a full-sized stage, with fly space and a proscenium for scenery, has long been a dream of the music faculty. How does it feel to see the construction progressing on the new performing arts center?
It’s going to be great! The first productions I staged at Mary Hardin-Baylor were on the stage of Walton Chapel, right after it was built. We did the Christmas opera Amal and the Night Visitors and an oratorio called The Nativity According to Saint Luke. It was a challenge because Walton is such a big space; at that time it seated about 1,200 people. It has a lot of dead air space, and you can’t get much feedback on what your voice is doing out there in the hall.
We then tried doing shows in Presser Hall, on the stage of Hughes Recital Hall. The stage and the hall itself are very small, and there is no fly space, no wing space, no real dressing rooms. As our choir and instrumental programs grew, it became clear that we needed some concert space. It’s very difficult to put a 50-piece wind ensemble on the stage at Presser; in recent years, we have had to put them on the stage at Walton Chapel or, now, in the McLane Great Hall in Bawcom Student Union. And as our opera and music theater program continued to grow, we began staging the productions over in Temple at the Cultural Arts Center. We have been renting the theater there for our productions since 2004.
Over the last 25 years we have seen tremendous growth in our vocal performance area, in the quality of students and in the number of students. We now have four voice teachers in the department, and the success our students have had in vocal competitions has been phenomenal. All four of us are members of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and we take our students to that group’s competitions twice a year. We compete in Division I and II and III. We compete with Baylor, North Texas, SMU, Oklahoma University, Texas Tech—all of the major state schools.
Since 2000, we’ve had over 20 finalists in different divisions. There are state schools out there who never place students in the finals. It has helped put our Department of Music on the map and particularly our vocal performance program. This spring we took 37 students to the competition, and they competed against more than 350 students from other schools. We had 26 students who were selected as semifinalists, and 18 of them went on to be finalists. It’s a tribute to our students’ hard work and the hard work of the faculty.
What are your plans for the future?
People keep asking me, “When are you going to retire?” I’ve got to stay with it long enough to get a chance to be in that new building and see my students perform in there a little bit.
I guess I’m as proud of what our students have done as what I’ve done! I hope that some of them will accomplish more than I did in my lifetime. I hope that somehow I’ve left an impression upon my students, and that whatever I’ve passed on to them, they’re going to pass on and help someone else along the way. When I see a student with potential and put him or her on the right road to grow and succeed, that makes it all worthwhile.