A look back at how this great man grew into the teacher that would touch the lives of so many.
Walter M. Chesnut (1936-2007)
Walter M. Chesnut, professor emeritus of Music, whose stirring horn fanfares thrilled thousands who attended major campus events for more than 25 years.
One of the most well known and beloved faculty members on campus, he taught trumpet in the Department of Music and Dance for 34 years until his retirement in 2001. He also served as principal trumpet for Springfield Symphony Orchestra from 1967-73.
He began playing his famous fanfares at Commencement in 1975, often bringing cheering audiences to their feet as he signaled the opening of ceremonies. Perhaps his most triumphant performance as herald was in 1993, just a few months after a severe spinal injury left him partially paralyzed and unable to play a traditional trumpet.
Just two days after being released from a rehabilitation hospital, Chesnut maneuvered his motorized wheelchair to the front of the stage at McGuirk Alumni Stadium and with the help of a close friend, brought a valveless post horn to his lips. The notes of the fanfare he had composed many years earlier filled the stadium, and the appreciative crowd of 24,000 gave him a standing ovation.
He persevered with his rehabilitation, learning to walk again and to play an adapted trumpet horn equipped with touch pads. He returned to teaching in the fall of 1994 and continued teaching part-time after retiring.
“Walter Chesnut was one of this campus’ iconic figures, an individual whose dedication to the institution and his commitment to providing the best for student, faculty, parents and friends was legendary,” said Chancellor John V. Lombardi. “Of course most knew him for his virtuoso fanfares with his herald’s trumpet which made every ceremonial event come alive. His unfailing good spirits and his enthusiasm for this wonderful place were infectious and we will all miss him very much.”
Born in Norfolk, Va., Chesnut earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree in music education at the University of Michigan in 1958 and 1959, respectively. At Michigan, he was a soloist with the university’s symphony band and also performed with the Ann Arbor Symphony and other area musical ensembles.
He was instrumental music director for the Colon, Mich. public schools from 1959-62 and then director of the junior high band and orchestra in Sturgis, Mich. from 1962-66. He was also active as a clinician, soloist and adjudicator through Michigan and Indiana.
He served as a teaching fellow at the University of Michigan for a year before coming to UMass in 1967 as an instructor of trumpet.
As a faculty member, he directed the University Brass Choir and was a member of the faculty Brass Trio. In 1970, he toured Europe with the Chorale as a soloist and a member of the Brass Trio. Four years later, he was a guest artist when the Chamber Singers toured Italy, Austria and Switzerland. In 1975, he was guest soloist with the Boston Pops Orchestra, performing the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in E Flat under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. He was acting director of the Amherst-Mount Holyoke Orchestra in 1973-74.
Also an accomplished music educator, he was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992.
At a retirement celebration in 2001, one of his former students, Linda Hannum said, “His lessons transcend mere scales and arpeggios. He teaches us to be true to ourselves, to live with passion, to give more than anyone else expects of you, to be your best even if your best is not the best, and to be better today than you were yesterday. His message is timeless.”
During his career, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal, the Lowell Mason award from the Massachusetts Music Educators Association and the Kappa Kappa Psi Distinguished Service to Music Award. He was also awarded the title University Herald Trumpeter Emeritus upon his retirement.
In 2004, he was awarded an honorary degree at Commencement in recognition of his long service to the campus, his students and the field of music.
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