Dave Wacyk ready to conduct change as UMSL’s new director of instrumental music

Dave Wacyk stands, wearing a blue shirt looking into the camera against a dark background.

Dave Wacyk joins the UMSL music department as the director of instrumental ensembles and assistant teaching professor after previously serving as the director of instrumental music at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When Dave Wacyk was a little boy, his parents went to a garage sale and bought him a trumpet for $30. The 10 year-old holed himself up in his room and practiced on his own making “terrible sounds” until he finally got private lessons.

By eighth grade he knew he wanted to be a professional musician, and he’s been on that tour ever since. He’s also been helping students harness their talent and enthusiasm for music.

Wacyk is the new director of instrumental ensembles and assistant teaching professor of music at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. He will be conducting the UMSL wind ensemble and orchestra and working to redevelop the sound of the “Triton Sound” Pep Band.

Before landing at UMSL, Wacyk served as the director of instrumental music at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington, and taught instrumental conducting at Towson University. With a Doctor of Musical Arts, a Master of Music in Conducting from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Music Education from Western Michigan University, Wacyk is professionally prepped to take on this unique opportunity and is enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“In conducting you kind of follow a path of wind instruments or string instruments, and so I did the wind instrument side, but conducting orchestras was a big part of my experience,” Wacyk said. “It seemed to fit really well, and you don’t usually find jobs like this. Regarding the pep band, I have experience with that, and it’s just a whole lot of fun. So, we’re hoping to really elevate the department and instrumental ensembles in general by being visible on the court.”

Initially enjoying being a musician on the performing side, Wacyk had not considered teaching or conducting. But he was exposed to different works and styles that inspired him to bring that experience to others.

“When I auditioned in college on trumpet, I was just a music major, and I didn’t really have any thoughts on teaching necessarily,” Wacyk said. “But while there I had some experience in my conducting classes, and it really just expanded my mind as far as what my role in the music making process could be. It made me really just love working from the podium and helping others hear the music the way I was hearing it and in the way I wanted it to sound like.”

Wacyk believes the upcoming musical performances will demonstrate the level of talent at UMSL and the department’s willingness to stretch its creativity.

“One of the reasons that I’m excited about this work with this faculty is we’re clearly in this period where we need to grow, and we are looking at the future and saying, ‘How do we have to change?’ and ‘How can we change to be something more for the field of collegiate music?’” Wacyk said.

Though he understands traditional classical music and how it fits into the collegiate setting, he also has avant-garde tastes and listens to music from less traditional composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varese and Ida Gotkovskyn to acclaimed rap artist Kendrick Lamar.

Wacyk also understands that classical music is a space that historically hasn’t invited or welcomed talent outside a certain sect. A Michigan native who came back to the Midwest from Seattle, two regions that lack a range of diversity, he is keenly aware of the issues regarding diversity in St. Louis. So, something he wants to do in his role at UMSL is to make classical music more accessible and inclusive. He plans on visiting schools to talk with young musicians and invite them for concerts at the university, further extending its commitment to partnering with the community.

“There’s this divide, and I get the sense from the faculty that we’re ready to kind of tear down some of those walls,” Wacyk said. “I’m looking forward to inviting a lot of high school and middle school band programs from the community to share concerts and get people in our space. It’s the kind of work that college band and orchestra directors have always been doing, but I think it’s easy to be selective about where you go and visit.”

He also wants UMSL students to know that the ensemble is open to anyone.

“Having as much diversity as we can in terms of just who makes up our ensemble or who we collaborate with is super important,” he said. “The other side of that for me is the way I program and the way that I choose pieces for us to rehearse and perform that provide a different voice than what I’m used to because that’s exploration for me too, and that’s more fun.”


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