by Gail Levinsky
Beginning Thursday, May 31st, the campus of Northwestern University was filled with the sounds of saxophones celebrating the career, leadership, and vision of Dr. Frederick L. Hemke upon his retirement from Northwestern University. For the last 50 years, he has performed, taught, and led the classical saxophone movement in North America and throughout the world.
Current and former students, colleagues, friends, and family honored Dr. Hemke by attending his final performance with the Northwestern University Chamber Orchestra; performing in recitals featuring the Chicago Saxophone Quartet, Jan Baker Berry, Susan Fancher, William Street, Jonathan Helton, John Sampen, Timothy Roberts, David Hastings, Steven Jordheim, Ron Blake, the Northwestern University Saxophone Ensemble, and the Kumoi Saxophone Quartet; attending a luncheon sponsored by Selmer Paris and The Conn-Selmer Company; enjoying the traditional BBQ and softball game; and ending the weekend with a reception hosted by Northwestern in Dr. Hemke’s honor.
Although many highlights can be listed, none were as powerful, nor emotional as hearing 100 current students and alumni, many of whom have gone on to distinguished musical and non- musical careers, perform the works of Karlins, Debussy, and Bartok in a monster saxophone orchestra. Moving tributes and special recognitions were also shared during the luncheon, including Patrick Selmer who traveled from Paris to present Dr. Hemke with a plaque acknowledging his years of support and sponsorship to The Selmer Company. In addition, a film reflecting on Dr. Hemke’s professional life captured the true essence of his career and his passion for teaching.
The recipient of numerous musical and teaching awards, including The Louis and Elsie Snydacker Eckstein Professor of Music and the McCormick and Northwestern University Alumnae Teaching Professorships, Dr. Hemke’s contributions to the performance and teaching of our instrument cannot be overstated. His students speak of his intuitive sense of judging their needs and untapped abilities, and it is often written that he does so much more than just teach: he inspires excellence, and transforms the good player to the brilliant musician.
How do you honor the career of someone who has given our profession so much? The first American to earn the Premier Prix at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique bringing this pedagogical insight to us; guiding the first undergraduate degree in saxophone performance at an American institution; his pedagogical writings, recordings, and arrangements; his impact on guiding his own students to careers that have continued the French School of saxophone performance and pedagogy; a mammoth dissertation on the early history of the saxophone; and being well-versed and well-read, not only about music, but about life itself.
For all those in attendance it was a weekend not to be forgotten. Special thanks to Selmer (Paris), Conn-‐Selmer (Elkhart), and Rico Reeds for their support and contributions to making the weekend a resounding success. Dr. Frederick Hemke is and will always be a tireless advocate for our instrument. His students, colleagues, and the entire saxophone community wish him a long and joyful retirement.