WPI’s Maestro Takes a Final Bow

For over 40 years, Doug Weeks has quietly helped build an extraordinary music program at WPI while also enriching thousands of lives and thrilling audiences on campus and around the world.
July 06, 2021
Matt Burgos

When Doug Weeks, coordinator of music and associate head of the Department of Humanities and Arts, joined the WPI faculty part-time in 1980 (he’d become just its third full-time music instructor in 1987), the Institute’s modest instrumental music program had one performing group: a 15-piece brass ensemble. Today the university teems with opportunities not only to perform instrumental and choral music, but to study it, to pursue it as a minor or major, to explore it deeply through project work, and to bring it to appreciative audiences around the globe.

“We associate Bill Grogan with the WPI Plan; we associate Doug Weeks with the WPI music program,” said Phil Ryan ’65, former chairman of the WPI Board of Trustees and former acting president of the university, at a virtual celebration in May to honor Weeks’s WPI career. “Both of you have had and will continue to have a very big impact.”

The celebration marked Weeks’s belated retirement. Having planned to step down at the end of the 2019-20 academic year, he agreed to extend his tenure for another year to help the university prepare to fill his oversized shoes. Little did he know that his final year as a fulltime faculty member would be one of the most challenging of his career, as the COVID-19 pandemic made face-to-face instruction and in-person performances before audiences difficult, if not impossible.

“After 40-plus years, I imagine this one stood out,” President Laurie Leshin said. “I’ve been talking at every Commencement ceremony [six were held in June 2021] about how amazing it is that our music and theatre groups figured out how not to be held back by this pandemic, to continue to bring joy to people, and to let people continue to express themselves. They did that with great guides and great teachers, and you are both, Doug.”

Noting that Weeks inherited just that single brass ensemble, Leshin said, “Now, of all of the amazing colleges and universities in Worcester, we are the only one that fields a full orchestra. We have four or five hundred students participating in music activities every term; I would guess that number was just a few dozen when you started. This is a testament to you—to your passion and your commitment to these amazing students and to helping them find a way to express themselves that goes beyond their studies—which, as we know, are mostly in STEM.”

In fact, one thread that ran throughout the celebration was the observation that, under Weeks’s leadership, WPI has become well known among prospective students who are interested both in music and in studying at a top STEM university. Among the more than 100 individuals who contributed memories to a 2½–hour video tribute prepared by Joshua Rohde, assistant teaching professor of music and director of choral activities, were several students and alumni who recalled how their choice to come to WPI was predicated as much on the chance to continue to study and perform music as it was on the opportunity to receive an excellent STEM education.

A similar sentiment was shared by Sergio Salvatore ’02, acclaimed pianist and senior director of engineering at Vimeo, who appeared at the celebration via Zoom to perform an original composition called Although. He recalled meeting Weeks while on a campus visit with his parents. "I asked to meet with someone from the music department,” Salvatore recalled. “I was interested in getting a great engineering education, which I felt I could get at WPI, but I also wanted to be involved in music. You were incredibly gracious and open to all of the things I wanted to do,” he said to Weeks, “and it was really because of that that I felt more at ease about coming to WPI.”

Weeks, who earned a BS at the University of New Hampshire, an MS at Gorham State College, an MM at the University of Massachusetts, and an EdD at Boston University, has played many roles in his career, including …

  • accomplished trombonist (performing with numerous ensembles around New England, as well as with major artists; performing for shows in many theaters and touring with A Chorus Line; and as a soloist, performing at the opening program for the White Nights Music Festival in Pushkin, Russia);
  • orchestra member (serving as principal trombonist with the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra and trombonist with the Claflin Hill Symphony, playing in orchestras for Luciano Pavarotti, Christopher O’Reilly, Henry Mancini, Leon Fleischer, and numerous other performers, and performing with the Krakow Orchestra on its tour in the United States);
  • innovator (a member of the New England Brass-Guild, he is founder and director of the Worcester Brass Consort and the Worcester Trombone Consort; the latter post has allowed him to research and arrange music for this unique ensemble and premiere two works written expressly for it);
  • conductor (of WPI’s Concert Band, Orchestra, and Brass Ensemble, which perform at a high level and mount numerous concerts on campus ever year; among his most notable career milestones was organizing and co-conducting a performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gruppen at Mechanics Hall in October 2013; the performance, just the third for the work in New England, involved 109 musicians—WPI students and members of the Claflin Hill Orchestra—arranged into three small orchestras, each with its own conductor);
  • educator (developing popular courses in American Popular Music, Music Arranging, and Performance; advising award-winning humanities and arts projects and Major Qualifying Projects; appearing frequently as a guest conductor, clinician, and adjudicator at music festivals; and, in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2018, working as a mentor, teacher, and performer with students at the Al Kamandjati Music School in Ramallah, Palestine);
  • and Global Ambassador (taking WPI ensembles on tour in the United States and throughout Europe, Russia, and Egypt, with performances at such venues as Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame Cathedral, Radio Belgium, and Washington National Cathedral).

As Jean King, Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences, notes, Weeks has also been deeply involved in the musical life of greater Worcester. “I have served on several community boards for the last 23 years,” she said. “And anytime someone would say we will need music for an event, someone else would say, ‘You need to call Professor Weeks.’ There was never another name, Doug. We cannot thank you enough for your generosity of spirit and what you have shared with the Worcester community.”

By those within the WPI community, Weeks was lauded as a mentor to his faculty colleagues (including those who now staff a much larger Music Department than the one he joined in 1980), an inspiration and friend to generations of students, and a bringer of joy.

“You have made my job a joy,” said Kathryn Moncrief, who joined WPI in 2019 as professor and head of the Department of Humanities and Arts, and who is a scholar of Shakespeare and an actor. “After talking with you when I interviewed for this job, I knew this was a place for a scholar-practitioner. And speaking with you about the arts, your passion, and WPI’s programs for artists and practitioners, helped me know that I could find a home here as an artist. The joy you bring to your work, to the arts, is infectious.”

Weeks has also been one of the most recognized and sought-after figures on campus, said Rohde, who recalled frequent walks across campus with him. “I would struggle to have a conversation with you,” he said, “because so many students and faculty members would stop you and have a quick chat. It seemed like you knew every person there.”

For his part, Weeks promised that, while his retirement will mark the conclusion of his formal career, there are sure to be many encores in the years ahead as he remains involved with the university and its music scene. One of the first of those may come next spring when WPI will hold a special concert to honor Weeks, complete with the debut performance of a new work especially commissioned for the event.

“I want to thank a far-sighted administration, as well as the wonderful students who have incorporated music as part of the arts and humanities program at WPI and the WPI Plan,” Weeks said at the conclusion of the event. “I walked into a place with a structure in place, and it has been exciting to see it grow and expand. And to see all of these students and alumni here today, some of whom I have not seen in years, is truly overwhelming. I am amazed, and I thank you all so much.”