Here's another one for the timeless, never-ending list of things that guys have done to impress girls. When he was 9 years old, Wayne Erickson learned to play the clarinet. "I joined the band because my girlfriend was in the band," he said. "If you can have a girlfriend in the fourth grade."
Of course you can. You just can't expect that girl to be the one who eventually takes you home to meet her parents. The real passion to spring out of Erickson's gallant gesture is his love of music -- more than five decades later, it's defined his entire professional career.
That career is about to enter its final phase. Erickson, 62, will step down in June after 22 years of teaching music education and serving as director of bands at Utah Valley University. He isn't giving up teaching altogether: Full retirement beckons, but there's one more stop he'd like to make.
Erickson's first job after graduating from College of Eastern Utah and Utah State University was at Monticello High School in tiny Monticello, Utah (population 1,958 as of the 2000 census). So it's fitting, in a sense, that he'll teach there for another couple of years before setting down his baton for good. "I'm fading back to the south from whence I came," he said.
The high school kids may be a little less polished as performers, but that's not likely to be a problem for Erickson. "He relates to every age group," said his daughter, Elisa Jones. Jones taught the band students at Lehi's Willowcreek Middle School for three years and said that her father was an occasional and popular guest instructor.
"The junior high kids just loved him," Jones said.
With many of his nine children and nine grandchildren still living in the area, Erickson, who lives in Orem, said that he'll probably move back up to Utah Valley eventually. Or move back to wherever his children end up settling down. "I love to be with my grandkids," he said.
A personal touch
In a sense, Erickson has a much larger family than the one made up of his biological descendants. After teaching band at Monticello High School, Carbon High School, Emery High School, Provo High School, Snow College and UVU, he's interacted with a huge number of music students over the years, and considers all of them special.
"He's like this genius with his memory," Jones said. "He can tell you anyone who played in his bands, what their instrument was and what their final audition was like."
Jared Hearld, who is band director at Provo High School and took classes from Erickson at UVU from 2000 to 2004, said that his former instructor has always been more interested in his students as people than as musicians. Hearld said that Erickson always wanted his students to feel good about their experience, to feel like their teacher would still be a friend "20 or 30 years down the road."
The band students at UVU would tour at least once a year, Hearld said, and Erickson would go out of his way to make the experience special, doing things like organizing a steak fry, and cooking the steak and mushrooms himself. "He'd always show us historic spots in southern Utah," Hearld said. "He made it a point to have our experience be more than just music."
Some of his fondest memories, Erickson said, are of the successes he shared with his students. "I remember the Monticello band being named the American championship band up at the Calgary Stampede," he said. (The Stampede, held annually in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is a 10-day festival organized around the world's largest outdoor rodeo.) His high school bands won state championships in 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1984 and 1985.
One of the things Erickson is proudest of, however, is how many former students -- at least 15 or 16 of them, he said, including two of his own children -- have gone on to take jobs in music education.
"Schools do a lot of things," he said. "We train hands. We train students' minds, help them develop analytical and reasoning skills." Teaching music, however, has an equally important purpose.
"Music and the other arts train their spirits," Erickson said. "It helps them appreciate beauty. It enriches their lives."
It was his love of teaching, and a desire to pass that on to others, that helped Erickson to embrace a unique challenge after he began at UVU. Bryce Rytting, chairman of UVU's music department, said that there might not be a music department at the school in 2009 if not for Erickson's trailblazing efforts.
"When he started there was nothing," Rytting said. "As he's leaving, there's a concert band, pep band and jazz band, a percussion ensemble, two orchestras and two choirs."
Erickson started essentially from scratch at the school, which had just barely become Utah Valley State College when he arrived there in 1987. "There was no music department," Erickson said. "We had a little over 6,000 students. I was the first contract music employee."
It was up to Erickson, who'd recently completed his master's program at Brigham Young University, to put together facilities and equipment. "We had one classroom, no music stands and no music," Erickson said.
And you can't have a program without people. It took about five years for the department to get another full-time employee, though Erickson said that some very good adjunct teachers were critical to the early growth of the music department.
As for getting students into the program, Erickson lobbied the administration to get music scholarships, and put in lots of old-fashioned legwork. "I went out and recruited the high schools pretty hard," he said. He also started a series of music festivals so that student groups would visit the campus. That's still going on today: This spring, he said, UVU's festivals brought about 6,000 prospective music majors to campus.
Erickson deflects a lot of the credit for establishing a music program at UVU. He said that he's had great colleagues and a "supportive, visionary administration."
He's never had a problem staying busy away from school: He plays in the Provo Municipal Band every summer and is a frequent judge at band competitions.
When not engaged in musical pursuits, Erickson has a passion for "Jeeping," or getting in touch with remote, wild places from behind the wheel of his off-road vehicle. "I've owned a Jeep since I was 17," he said. Other interests include fly fishing, hunting and archery. When it is finally time to step away from teaching, he's not worried that he won't have anything to fill his time -- or his hands.
"I want to lay down the baton," Erickson said, "and pick up my fly rod."
• Cody Clark can be reached at email@example.com.