New director of music school ties arts communities to department

Will Conley

Jeffrey Kimpton hit the ground running.
Since he was accepted as the new director for the School of Music in March, he has visited the campus four times to meet with faculty members, get budget insights, spend training time with then-director Vern Sutton and get background information. His job started Monday, and he has had meetings booked for every half-hour slot this week.
Kimpton wants to work to integrate the School of Music into the other arts departments, and the arts community at large. He proposes coordinating artistic events where people can move from building to building and experience presentations that have a common theme. He hopes to give the Fourth Street area a makeover with benches, special lighting and trees. His goal is to make it “an important venue, not only for the University community but for the greater metropolitan community as well.
“We have to learn to work with external partners, whether they be orchestras and cultural organizations or other University departments,” Kimpton said. “… The relationships that we have from the University with our external partners and colleagues are very, very important.”
Technology is blurring the lines between composer, creator and consumer, Kimpton said.
“It presents some musically ethical issues that will be important for our students to grapple with and important for our faculty to be leaders in.”
Aside from his directing responsibilities, Kimpton plans to teach a freshman seminar and a music education course, which he has yet to design.
Kimpton earned a degree in music administration and education from the University of Illinois. He has taught in a rural school district in upstate New York and in the Apple Valley school district. He became the director of music in the Wichita, Kan., school system in 1984. He was the director of education for the Yamaha Corporation from 1988 to 1996. Most recently, he was the director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s public engagement department.
His philosophy on leadership is one of collaboration.
“It’s not dictatorial,” he said. “It’s clearly leadership by consensus and it’s leadership by what I call ‘pushing from behind,’ in that you bring in different groups of people that have both similar and diverse ideas, and you have a dialogue knowing that in the end something has to make the place a better school — and you have to be continually improving.”
Steady improvement is exactly how Sutton envisions his replacement working.
“He’s a go-getter,” Sutton said of Kimpton. “He brings an energy to the job that’s going to be infectious, and it will either inspire us or poop us out entirely.”
After six years, Sutton is trading his position as director of the School of Music for a continued and intensified professorship as director of the opera program this fall. He intends to stay in the opera program for another 10 years or so.
Sutton said he’ll be glad to ease his responsibilities in the music school to focus on opera.
“There were very good times and there were very bad times,” he said. “I think it’s difficult to be a leader anywhere. No matter what level — whether you’re president of the United States or director of the department, you go through such scrutiny and you go through so much justification and documentation.”
He said that, depending on the economic situation, administrators must decide whether they want to simply be a manager of money or a visionary leader.
“Luckily I had a little of both of those in my administration,” said Sutton.
He could have served a third term, but he wanted to go back to doing more teaching.
On Sutton’s to-do list are commissioning some new works as well as reviving some traditional works, and devising a course that involves musical theater repertoire.
While Sutton wants to take the opera program to the next level, Kimpton is excited about the entire music school and its future.
“We have an opportunity to make the School of Music a real catalyst in research and teaching, creating opportunities and performances, and really push the envelope in how we think about the role of music in the lives of 21st-century people.”