LSU Director of Bands Emeritus Frank Wickes was surprised when the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts and Department of Bands announced he would receive an honorary Doctor of Arts degree at the University’s spring 2019 commencement ceremony, considering he retired from his 30-year reign as Tiger Band director in 2010.
“I was flabbergasted,” Wickes said. “I had no inkling. I didn’t expect to have any kind of accolade like that.”
Honorary degrees are a time-honored tradition used to bestow distinction upon scholars who have made a particular impact within their field. They are not used to further careers, and are usually given to those already established within their fields.
Wickes said the audience humbled him with a tremendous ovation at the College Band Directors National Convention in Phoenix in February. The Wind Ensemble performed “Wondrous Love” from Donald Grantham’s “Southern Harmony” as a tribute to Wickes, since he had conducted the Wind Ensemble when they debuted the piece 20 years ago.
Wickes retired nearly a decade ago, but he had a notable career during his 30 years at the University, where he conducted the Wind Ensemble, directed Tiger Band and taught graduate courses. Tiger Band was unanimously voted as the best marching band in the SEC by the band directors in the Southeastern Conference in 1997 under his direction.
Among his many other accolades, Wickes was inducted into the Louisiana Music Educators Hall of Fame in 2009. Wickes said conducting the Wind Ensemble, a premier concert organization performing in recital halls, and directing the lively Tiger Band performing on football fields were two unique experiences. Both groups have prestige for different reasons. While the Wind Ensemble is sometimes overshadowed by the Tiger Band on a collegiate level, the Wind Ensemble garners national recognition. A common misconception about Tiger Band is that they are only active during football season, but Wickes attested to the band’s dedication throughout the school year.
Most of Wickes’ finest memories conducting the band, however, do include the field shows at football games. Two particularly notable experiences were LSU’s victory in the 2003 and 2007 National Championships. Both championships were played at the Superdome in New Orleans and had the majority of the fans supporting LSU.
Wickes also fondly remembers taking the Wind Ensemble to many national performances and conventions. Most of these events were invitation-only, and the Wind Ensemble was chosen among hundreds of applicants based on the quality of their audition tapes. These trips were essential for the group’s team-building.
“Those were peak experiences and very emotional high points for our group during those years,” Wickes said.
Despite his retirement, Wickes still remains active in the music community, attending conferences and workshops and providing his mentoring services to band programs across the country. He also maintains close ties with the University and regularly attends programs on campus, such as a recent clinic for conductors that was held in the Tiger Band Hall.
In addition to receiving the honorary degree at the Spring Commencement ceremony on May 10 and 11, Wickes will also speak at the College of Music & Dramatic Arts commencement ceremony. Although he is not a speaker and is unsure of what he is planning to say, he is looking forward to the event.
“Just the mere fact they would think enough of my career for this to occur is such an honor,” Wickes said. “This is the pinnacle of my career.”