We’ve lost one of our most esteemed seniors, a man many of us affectionately called “The Father of Us All,” Paul R. Bryan, mainstay of Duke’s music department for as long as we can remember and the last remnant of the glorious post-war period in the arts that also gave us Allan Bone and John Hanks and Giorgio Ciompi and….

This birthday tribute – yes, he’d turned 101 on March 7 – from former student and long-time colleague and admirer Joseph Dobbs, is reprinted with permission.

Today, March 7, 2021, is a special day for the Alumni of the University of Michigan Bands as we celebrate the 101st birthday of Paul Robey Bryan—our oldest band alumnus. (He is also our oldest alumnus of the University of Michigan School of Music.)

A native of New Jersey, Paul entered the University of Michigan in the fall of 1937 as William Revelli was beginning his third year as Director of Bands. After hearing him play the euphonium in the New Jersey all-state band, Revelli recruited Paul to come to Michigan. The University of Michigan Band of the late 1930s saw tremendous growth, and Paul witnessed all of it. He recalled that when the Michigan Marching Band entered the field in Michigan Stadium, the band announcer introduced it as, “The most famous marching band in the United States!” The heavy wool overcoats that we wore in the 1960s and 70s were brand new when Paul was a student.

A few years ago, Paul wrote a letter to me while watching the Michigan-Ohio State football game on television. He said, “Today we’re playing ugh! Ohio State! My memory of marching up State Street after our beating them and seeing [Drum Major] Bob Fox break a few street lights by throwing his baton still excites me!” (By the way, on the day that Paul wrote this letter, Michigan lost, 20-17.)

During his four undergraduate years in Ann Arbor, Paul met many well-known musicians, including Morton Gould and Edwin Franko Goldman. Both of them could not believe the rich color and professionalism of the Michigan Band. Morton Gould described Paul’s euphonium playing as sounding like a fine cello. It was while playing the trombone in the University Orchestra—the “Little Symphony” conducted by Thor Johnson—where Paul spotted a pretty string bass player named Ginny. When he wasn’t playing, Paul would stand behind her in the string bass section. She asked him why he stood there, and Paul replied that he did so to “gain a better view of the conductor and thus gain a learning experience.” They fell in love and eventually married—a relationship that would span seventy years.

After graduation in 1941, Paul taught band in Sterling, Michigan. His teaching career was interrupted by World War II. During the war, he served in the U.S. Army as a musician. After the war, like many G.I.s, he returned to school to do graduate work. In 1946, Paul was back in Ann Arbor working on a Master’s Degree in Music Education. However, after a few weeks of sitting in Revelli’s afternoon band rehearsals, Paul noticed that he was getting a headache every day at 4 o’clock. The daily headaches convinced him to change his major from Music Education to Music Theory and to put some distance between himself and Revelli. After one semester, he quit the band. Paul greatly admired Revelli’s vision, quest for excellence and musicianship, but could not accept the brutal methods Revelli used to attain these goals. That was when Paul decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Music Theory. For many decades thereafter, every time Revelli saw Paul, he asked, “Why did you ever quit the band?”

In 1951, Paul became the Director of Bands at Duke University, where he would remain for 37 years. During his tenure, the Duke Bands grew and gained much respect. As conductor of the Duke Wind Symphony, Paul commissioned more than 20 significant original works for the wind band from some of the day’s leading composers, including notables such as Vincent Persichetti, Norman Dello Joio, and Vittorio Giannini. The Paul Bryan commissions of Dello Joio’s “Variants on a Medieval Tune” and Giannini’s “Symphony No. 3” would become staples of William Revelli’s programming. He cherished these works.

Paul was one of the first college band directors to regularly perform Percy Grainger’s works, and eventually, they enjoyed a close friendship. A few years ago, I asked H. Robert Reynolds about Paul. He thought for a moment and then said, “Paul Bryan’s contribution to bands and the band repertoire was important. Very, very important.” (Whenever Professor Reynolds uses the word “very,” I sit up and listen.)

Paul returned to Michigan a third time to earn a Doctor’s degree in Musicology. Later, he would be recognized as one of the world’s authorities on authentic music practice of the Classical era.

A year ago, the Duke University Band held a special concert in Paul’s honor—just before the pandemic. Paul’s mind is sharp as a tack. Up to a few years ago, he sometimes would sit in with the Duke University Wind Symphony and play his euphonium. His sense of humor is second to none.

Thanks to Paul, we have dozens of stories about Revelli’s early years at Michigan that otherwise would have been lost. His accomplishments are significant and a point of pride for the University of Michigan Bands and the School of Music.