NEWBERRY — Growing up in Western South Dakota, and spending a good bit of his adult life in Montana, Bill Long did not always know his path would take him to directing music.
“I always thought I would coach basketball or baseball,” he said, “that is, until I realized I liked band better.”
Following his passion, Long is finishing his 48th year of band directing, and his 21st year as director of the Newberry College band, and will be retiring after completing the academic year. After working as a public school band director in Montana, as well as South Dakota, Long fully retired. He then applied for open college directing jobs, which is what led him to Newberry.
Overall, Long estimated that he has directed 750 concerts, including marching band performances.
Long’s passion, he said, began when he heard a drum and bugle corps, The Troopers, and he wanted to pursue their sound.
“I like exciting music, and I like to excite audiences,” Long said.
Overall, Long said he has enjoyed teaching and likes the process of showing people what to do and new ways to approach things. While at Newberry College, Long has taught various classes including music education, marching band, jazz big band, symphonic band, and other method courses throughout his 21 years.
Long said he wants his students to take away that making music is fun.
“I expect us to have fun at concerts, as well as in rehearsal. If it isn’t fun, I don’t quite see the point in doing it,” he said.
A student in the band program, Alisa Dunovant said she has enjoyed working and learning under the direction of Long and will miss the life he brought into the music building.
“Every day he encouraged, inspired and taught me,” Dunovant said. “He served as a role model and mentor to all. All of his students were important to him as he was important to us. He’s a magnificent, one-of-a-kind man and is the most passionate musician I know.”
Tuesday night, the college’s symphonic band put on its last concert under the direction of Long. The group performed pieces such as “With Quiet Courage,” which was played in memory of Dr. Sally Cherrington-Beggs, the former music department chair.
“The concert came pretty close to my idea of the perfect performance,” Long said.
Long’s students even arranged to bring in his sister and daughter from Casper, Wyo., as a surprise for the final performance. A large crowd of former band students from Newberry College was also in attendance.
Although now in his 48th year, Long said he never wanted to teach too long.
“This year has been very good, and I wanted to end on a good note,” he said.
As to the future, Long said he hasn’t decided what that will hold, but that he might help out in the public school system or teach lessons.
Associate Dean Dale Brown said Long has been an asset to Newberry College for the past 21 years.
“It’s been rewarding to watch him grow the symphonic and jazz bands over the years. I’ve hardly missed a performance,” Brown said.
The Jazz Big Band will perform its graduation concert under Long’s direction at 2 p.m. May 3 in the Alumni Music Center.