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Pulling the Strings 

For more than two decades, Tribute to the Classical Arts Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dean Angeles' work has been music to Loyola's ears.

Even a bout with influenza, realized and diagnosed through feverish chills on a cross-country flight from Las Vegas to New Orleans, is not enough to slow down Dean Angeles.

Angeles remains busy enough with his duties at Loyola University as coordinator of the string education program and conductor of the school's Chamber and Symphony Orchestras. Between these roles he manages to find time to work as a consultant for the orchestra program in Clark County Schools in Las Vegas, as well as hold clinics and workshops for students and educators across the country, in 33 states to date. But even while fighting the flu, Angeles managed to return to New Orleans, hold several rehearsals for upcoming concerts and prepare for a recruiting trip to Costa Rica to find scholarship-worthy musicians the next week.

"I'm not a thoroughbred," Angeles, 59, explains over coffee on a recent Saturday morning, his big, powerful hands gesturing as if in concert to animate his many stories. "I don't consider myself a great conductor, or a great cellist. But I do love music, and what I do is out of love of music."

Angeles' lifelong passion for music and its myriad manifestations as educator, performer, conductor and recruiter have earned him the Tribute to the Classical Arts' Lifetime Achievement Award. Despite a successful career that has taken him around the globe and left his imprint on thousands of students nationwide, complacency is not a concern. "In music, no matter how old you are, you still have the capacity to learn; if you want to learn, you are going to learn," Angeles says. "Wherever I am at 59, when I'm 69, I just hope to be that much better."

That drive has served Loyola well. "Dean essentially built the string program," says Dr. Edward Kvet, dean of Loyola's School of Music. "When he came in, there were only two or three string players here. Now we have a full, 100-percent student orchestra, which is unique in the nation. It was his vision, guidance and hard work that recruited and built this program."

Kvet also credits Angeles' ability to create music educators out of his program, having produced 50 future teachers since his arrival at Loyola in 1980 -- a figure that will rise to 55 at the end of this semester. Kvet calls those numbers "a monumental achievement."

Angeles' own music education followed a more circuitous route. Growing up in a western Kansas home with a mother working and raising children by herself, he was a self-described "street kid," running in a rough-and-tumble group that hardly profiled him for the school orchestra. His talent was realized in the seemingly universal introduction to music, the ubiquitous third-grade recorders. Soon, Angeles found himself playing the cello, and except for multiple stints in rock bands, it would be his instrument for life.

Music camps led to a more formal education when Angeles earned a bachelor's degree in music education from Southwestern (Kan.) College and then a master's in music education from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan. It was there that Angeles started his career as orchestra director and teacher for the local school district. Educators anxious to build an orchestra program in Spartanburg, S.C.'s schools recruited Angeles there in 1973, and he quickly developed a solid reputation that eventually led to Loyola hiring him in 1980.

Angeles admits he was intimidated at first by the jump to higher education, unusual for anyone lacking a doctorate and coming from public high schools. But a 23-year-plus tenure has inspired students such as Terry Shade, coordinator of the orchestra program for Las Vegas' Clark County schools. Angeles recruited Shade to come to Loyola from Memphis, and Shade graduated in 1987.

"He offered me a nice scholarship and said he would take care of me, which he did," Shade says. "He's the most influential person in my life. He totally turned me around. I went to Loyola with no direction, but with Dean's high expectations for me, I turned out a winner."

Angeles' work with Loyola still stirs his passion. He cites colleagues in the music school -- Paulette Valerie, Allen Nisbet and Bruce Owen -- as critical in developing the program's success. He also looks to Loyola as serving a vital function in boosting his life's mission: the teaching of music. Angeles says his biggest response to winning the Lifetime Achievement Award was gratitude for recognition of Loyola's efforts in music education.

"How can we afford not to have music education in our schools?" Angeles wonders. "Music gives everyone a sense of belonging. It's the universal language. The music education programs locally are a crying shame.

"You want better test scores?" Angeles continues. "Give them something to come to school for. New Orleans needs a hero in this cause, and Loyola is one. I'm glad to be a part of it. Music can be somebody's one special thing, like it is for me."

click to enlarge "Wherever I am at 59, when I'm 69, I just hope to be that much better," says Classical Arts Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dean Angeles, who is the coordinator of Loyola's string education program. - ADRIANA VALDEZ
  • Adriana Valdez
  • "Wherever I am at 59, when I'm 69, I just hope to be that much better," says Classical Arts Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dean Angeles, who is the coordinator of Loyola's string education program.
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