Dr. Steve Zegree came to Western Michigan University in 1978. He quickly founded the Gold Company program, which over the ensuing 34 years, would become one of the university’s most prestigious fixtures. Regularly recognized as one of the finest and most innovative vocal jazz ensembles in the world, Gold Company and Zegree have toured far and wide and performed on some of the most famous stages in the country, from Carnegie Hall to Lincoln Center.
But with the fall of 2012 comes the biggest shift in the history of the Gold Company program. For the first time ever, when students enter Dalton Center’s hallways to audition for one of the two jazz ensembles (the program also includes GC II, directed by Michael Wheaton), they will be joining a program that no longer boasts Zegree as a staff member. The former director left Western last spring after accepting a job at the University of Indiana, leaving the higher-ups in the Music School and the Jazz Department with big shoes to fill – and a short time to fill them.
Luckily for the School of Music, the right man for the job was right in their backyard.
Duane Davis has taken on teaching duties for private jazz voice students over the past four years, but he also has an illustrious history with the WMU Jazz Department that dates back much longer. Beyond Steve Zegree, he is the only person who conducted the Gold Company for any extended period of time, and this fall, he will take that job again.
“I have been teaching at Western, off and on, for about 25 years,” Davis said. “I was the director of GCII for about six years and I have conducted Gold Company twice before, during Steve Zegree’s sabbaticals. Every year I have written arrangements for them, and after I retired from Grand Rapids community college four years ago, I started teaching private jazz voice here. When Dr. Zegree left, it was too late to do a national search (for a replacement), and I was probably the natural choice to take that position.”
The news of Davis’s appointment comes in the midst of a wider-scale transitional phase for the School of Music, which will celebrate its 100th birthday during this school year. Recently, the program has seen a great deal of turnover, with shifting choral directors, private teachers (across all disciplines), and even student advisors. But Davis vowed that he would do everything in his power to make Zegree’s departure easier on students.
“Dr. Zegree was the founder of the program and the creative spirit behind it, but the tradition of excellence shall continue, and the transition will be as smooth as we can make it,” he said. “The fact that I know the students, the standards and the tradition of this program should help that.”
It’s also a banner year for the Gold Company program itself, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary at the annual Miller Show in February. Davis named the event, which will see the return of many alumni, as one of the things he is most looking forward to about his new position.
Zegree himself had nothing but good things to say about his former colleague, and wishes the program the best of luck as it moves into another chapter.
“It was a very difficult decision for me to leave WMU, and especially my wonderful students,” Zegree said. “But I could not be more proud of the fact that Gold Company and GC II will be directed by Duane Davis and Michael Wheaton. Our students love both of these professors for their wisdom, high standards, experience, expertise, vision, passion and commitment to excellence.”
Auditions for the Gold Company program will be held during the first week of classes. Interested students can sign up for a slot at room 1203 in Dalton Center. Auditions are open to all students, regardless of year, major or level of experience.