Rodney Dorsey ‘92 MMus, ‘06 DMA is professor of music and chair of the department of bands at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He previously served as director of bands at the University of Oregon, associate director of bands at the University of Michigan, and associate professor of music at DePaul University. He has also taught public school in Georgia and in his home state of Florida.

Dorsey chose Northwestern in order to study with director of bands John Paynter ‘50, ‘51 MMus, and, later, Paynter’s successor and current director of bands Mallory Thompson ‘79, ‘80 MMus. While pursuing his doctoral degree at Northwestern, Dorsey served as the school’s director of athletic bands.

Tell us about a particular experience that impacted you during your time at the Bienen School of Music.

I think being around such a high level of music making was a big influence. It reminded me of what was possible and helped to elevate my ears and my expectation to a higher level. When I got out of undergrad, I was in tune with that, but then I taught high school for three years. If you’re not constantly engaged with a high level of music making—either through your own music making or by going to concerts—you can lose that perspective. Just being in that environment at Northwestern, and in Evanston and Chicago, was a huge influence on me.

What lessons did you learn at Bienen that have continued to resonate with you in your career?

You can never know enough. That’s the one thing that John Paynter drove home every time we stepped on the podium. No matter how much you have studied, or no matter how much you think you know, there is always something else to know and internalize about the music you’re conducting. 

What I learned from Mallory Thompson is that so much of musicianship and your connection with music is directly tied to your depth as a person. You need to practice skills—ear training, conducting technique, and all that—but you also need to work on yourself and make sure that you are growing as a person since that affects your art and artistry.

Top three of your Desert Island Discs (any genre)

Mahler Symphony No. 2
Beethoven string quartets
Anything with Jessye Norman

  • alumni
  • Mallory Thompson