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Published September 25, 2018
Bob Belser’s request for this story is simple.
“I don’t want it to be about me,” he says. “It needs to be about the kids.”
That statement pretty much sums up the University of Wyoming’s director of bands. The small, unassuming man has a kind face and even kinder words. He has been helping students and fellow faculty members since 1995 and now starts his 24th year by conducting the UW Department of Music’s first spotlight series event of the season. The UW Wind Symphony will present its fall pops concert, titled “To the Stars, Moon and Beyond!,” Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts concert hall.
But the performance, the bands and their success are very much about Belser. He arrived in Laramie as the lone band director on a one-year contract, tasked with one band of 60 students -- a tall task for the Missouri native in his first director position.
“I remember going home that first night and telling my wife, ‘I’m looking for a job next year,’” he says. “It was a tough situation. I had a group of kids that really stuck with me to be leaders, though, and it kind of grew from there.”
Belser credits those students for making his position better by even the end of his first year.
“I think the world of them,” he says. “Some of the most successful teachers and leaders in the state were in that first class. Some work now on campus, and others come back for Homecoming and events. I guess they liked what I did, because (administration) made sure it was no longer a one-year position.”
The next fall, the band went up to 111 students. It hasn’t looked back since. Today, the group numbers nearly 500 strong and includes three concert bands, a marching band, two pep bands and numerous ensembles. UW’s band program is nationally acclaimed, and so is Belser. Awards for his bands and himself, and time as a clinician and guest conductor, have led to interest from large universities, but he always has chosen to stay in Laramie.
“There always seemed to be possibilities here,” he says. “The great thing throughout all the years, and including now, is these kids have the greatest work ethic of any band in the country that I’ve worked with. That’s quite a swath. I will always take kids that have a great work ethic, because we can get a lot done and a lot done the right way.”
Belser also credits the faculty in the Department of Music for keeping him around.
“I think I’m one of the few people who gets to say I go to work with my best friends every day,” he says. “A lot of music departments have a lot of enemies within their own building. We don’t have that. This is a faculty that we work really well together.”
His affinity for his students and co-workers is reflected by them. Department Head Scott Turpen points out Belser is not only an ambassador for UW, but also for the state of Wyoming.
“He is a tremendous asset to UW’s Department of Music,” Turpen says. “Students and faculty alike enjoy his excellent conducting and willingness to take time to help someone. People from all around the state know him for his thorough knowledge of everything related to bands and his kind and generous personality.”
Mikayla Peterson, a senior music education major from Reliance and a member of the UW Wind Symphony, says Belser truly cares about the success of all of his students.
“He’s always willing to help students when they need it, inside and outside of the classes he teaches,” she says. “I like that Dr. Belser challenges the Wind Symphony with extremely difficult pieces. He never loses sight of our potential.”
So, now at UW for over two decades, where do Belser and the bands go from here?
“In anything, you can build a program, but you have to continue it,” he says. “That continuation means you have to get better in all aspects more and more over time. I think people, whether they really know music or not, know quality. They know the band is good, but they may not know why it’s good. We’re trying to keep pushing that level, going from good to great.”
For now, Belser is focused on his students and the first concert of the year. He describes the Wind Symphony as UW’s premier concert band, after it has performed twice for the prestigious College Band Directors National Association. Composed of UW’s finest wind and percussion musicians, the Wind Symphony will feature popular music from fanfare to folk, with a lot of variety in between, for its first concert. Fellow UW music faculty member Scott Meredith also will be featured in a concertino.
“It’s always fun to start off our year with a pops concert,” Belser says. “A couple of the works, pieces from ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Star Trek’ movies, are from student suggestions, because they are just plain fun to perform. The music is a wide variety and is not just easy repertory. I designed the program much like what audiences expect when they attend a concert by one of our great military service bands -- an enjoyable mix of popular to serious selections, featuring soloists, sections and the entire band.”
Tickets cost $12 for the public, $8 for senior citizens and $6 for students. Tickets are available at the Performing Arts box office and the Wyoming Union information desk, by calling (307) 766-6666 or going online at www.uwyo.edu/finearts.