Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Barry Ellis

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Pioneer Spotlight
Barry Ellis
March 13, 2015

Dr. Barry Ellis, professor of music and director of bands at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, has been teaching at UW-Platteville since 1991. He received degrees from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., and his doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Ellis teaches Beginning and Advanced Instrumental Conducting, Instrumental Music Methods, Wind Literature and Single Reed Woodwind Techniques. He conducts the UW-Platteville Symphonic Wind Ensemble and is the director of the UW-Platteville Pioneer Summer Music Camp; founder and director of the UW-Platteville Tri-State Honors Band Festival, the Wisconsin College and University Faculty Woodwind Ensemble and the Rountree Wind Symphony. Besides playing golf, Ellis considers himself an audiophile, someone who reads about and listens to true, high fidelity sound on compact disc or vinyl recordings in an upscale home stereo. 

What is the mission of UW-Platteville’s music program?

The majority of the students in the music program are music education majors. Some of our students lean toward performance and some pursue music minors. UW-Platteville’s music program’s mission is for our students to be well equipped to take on different roles, such as teaching, performing or attending graduate school. Our program is a welcoming environment for all musicians. There’s a place for everyone here.

What makes UW-Platteville’s music program so unique?

We have a fantastic faculty, and I feel like we are a diamond in the ruff. In my 20 plus years at UW-Platteville, this is the strongest and most talented faculty we’ve had. Unlike larger schools with a graduate program, all of our students study with faculty, not graduate teaching assistants. This is so important for a young music student in the applied studio. Each student has a one-to-one connection with a faculty specialist in his or her area of performance.

Why do you think the music education provided to students at UW-Platteville is superior to other programs?

The faculty is outstanding. Our students are getting hired for teaching positions and are flourishing in those positions.

Can you share your thoughts about why cultural-aesthetic enrichment is a vital part of university life?

It’s important to produce art, music and theater performances and to share that with students. UW-Platteville’s Center for the Arts is the cultural center for Southwest Wisconsin and our UW-Platteville students, and it’s a great place for enrichment of the arts for students and the community.

What is your favorite instrument? Why?

As a bassoonist, I’d have to say that the bassoon is my favorite instrument. I also play the saxophone, so that comes in a close second. Most instrumentalists would say that the instrument they studied throughout their musical training would be their favorite.

What was your favorite performance and why was it your favorite?

I’ve experienced so many favorite and outstanding performances, both as a player and listener, but I would have to say the three-day process of recording the Rountree Wind Symphony is at, or near the top of, my most favorite musical experiences. The opportunity to work with our professional faculty players, other professionals in the area, selected students and Bob Demaree and the Singing Pioneers was extraordinary.

Is there something you are currently working on that is especially exciting or rewarding?

I am always working on different projects with my students, and that is rewarding because there is always something new that we are doing. Our last Symphonic Wind Ensemble featured a wind band work by Aaron Copland, which was very difficult because of its complexity. It was especially rewarding for me, as well as the students in the ensemble, to learn this important, historical work.

In 2012, you released a musical collection, “The Music and Art of J. Clifton Williams: Classics and Newly Discovered Gems.” Can you give a brief summary of this project and explain why it was so important and meaningful to you?

This recording was the capstone of my sabbatical work. My dad had introduced me to the music of Clifton Williams when he was a college band director, and listening to Williams’ “The Sinfonians” and “Symphonic Dance No. 3” was a defining moment for me.

I’ve wanted to record Williams’ works for a long time, but I wouldn’t have known about him if it weren’t for my dad. I was fortunate to collaborate with Michelle Williams-Hanzlik, one of Williams’ daughters. In my visit with her, I discovered some unpublished works that were most likely heard by very few people. I wanted to record these unpublished pieces and some selected published works so band directors, music students and wind band enthusiasts could hear them and know that all of his music is now available. The recording was on the 2014 Grammy Entry List Appearance and was Grammy Nomination eligible.

Are you working on any other musical collections at this time?

I have been thinking of recording a follow-up CD that includes more of Williams’ music, as well as the music of his students. He was a theory professor at the University of Texas and Miami, and of the many musicians who have worked with him, two have become award winning composers of wind band music.

In addition to your work at UW-Platteville, you are involved with many music-related groups and organizations. Which of these is most rewarding to you and why?

I am the principal bassoonist in the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. I enjoy playing with our faculty who are symphony members and the other musicians in the orchestra. I also conduct the pit orchestra for the Heartland Festival. It’s a great opportunity to collaborate with our voice and theatre faculty. During the week of Pioneer Summer Band Camp, I coordinate and conduct the Platteville City Band concert in the city park. I play with a few jazz big bands in the area, most notably Hunter Fuerste’s American Vintage Orchestra. This allows me to continue playing the saxophone and clarinet.

Interview conducted by Connie Spyropoulos, College of LAE. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact


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