From IWU Magazine, Winter 2011-12
Alumni Add Their Voices in Tribute to Scifres
Story by RACHEL HATCH
Sammy Scifres enjoys a Homecoming concert in his honor. (Photo by Marc Featherly)
It has been more than 40 years since Associate Professor Emeritus Sammy Scifres gave
voice lessons to his first students at the School of Music. Those students who have
benefited from his instruction now number in the thousands.
“I wonder why time has gone by so rapidly, at least in my mind,” said Scifres, who
retired this spring. “I look aroundand think, ‘Didn’t I just get started?’”
At Homecoming 2011 in October, the School of Music honored Scifres with a reception
and concert of alumni vocal performers at Westbrook Auditorium.
Sitting on campus with his wife, Maxie, who has been an accompanist in the School
of Music for 15 years, Scifres remembered how easy it was to fall in love with IWU,
and how that love affair has endured.
“In 1967, as soon as I had my interview, I called Maxie and told her, ‘This is the
place we should be,’” he said. “It just felt like home.”
As a high school student in the small Texas farming community where he grew up, Scifres
was a vocal performer but dreamed of becoming a choral director. He said he had no
intention of becoming a full-time performer. “That never interested me,” he said with
a slight shake of the head. “I couldn’t have done that.” At that comment, Maxie rolled
her eyes. “I totally disagree,” she said in an exaggerated whisper. “He is a wonderful
singer. And his choir director agreed with me.”
Alumni pay tribute to Sammy Scifres. (Photo by Marc Featherly)
After earning his master’s in voice at Colorado State, Scifres joined IWU as a voice
teacher in 1967. He considered the job a stepping stone toward choral direction, but
soon became enamored with vocal instruction.
Scifres was accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Iowa, where he
studied during summers. “One of the many things I love about Illinois Wesleyan is
that there was no pressure to get my doctorate, but I was supported and encouraged
to continue. There is that love of learning at IWU — for every person here — that
is fostered and nurtured.”
In addition to his teaching and choral directing, Scifres served as head of the Voice
and Choral Department. “In that capacity, he carried out his many responsibilities
in highly skillful and congenial ways, for which I was particularly grateful,” said
Mario Pelusi, director of the School of Music. But it is his connection to students
for which for which Scifres will be most remembered. “From among all of Sam’s many
accomplishments, most of us know him to be primarily the consummate professor of voice,
who, over the years, has taught and mentored countless numbers of outstanding students,
many of whom have stayed in touch with him ever since their graduations,” said Pelusi.
Scifres said the students gave him the greatest joy. “It is a wonderful feeling to
see them develop, doing what they love.” He added that both he and Maxie will continue
to work with Illinois Wesleyan. He plans to stay on as an adjunct faculty member of
voice. “I may stay for a few more years,” he said with a shy smile. “It’s always a
joy to see my kids graduate.”
To visit the School of Music website, click here.