When Kenyon Wilson joined the faculty at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, he had a pretty long commute.
Four hours each way.
Wilson, now the interim head of the Department of Music, was hired in 2003 as an adjunct professor in low-brass music. A tubist, he lived in Greenville, South Carolina and taught two days a week at UTC.
“Let’s not focus on how insane I was in the ‘paying dues’ portion of the career,” he said, laughing.
He paid enough dues to be hired full-time in 2007 and has been at UTC since.
“It’s just been a great. I’ve got some great colleagues,” he said. “There’s not a lot of turnover. It’s a good work environment.”
Growing up in Johnson City in Northeast Tennessee, he picked up the tuba in seventh grade.
“Why was seventh-grade me drawn to the tuba? Probably so I could get noticed,” he joked.
Being noticed would be a bit difficult since the tuba was about as big as he was. “It was bolted to a chair that I just crawled into,” he said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Tennessee Technological University, a master’s in music theory from Baylor University in Texas and a doctorate of musical arts in tuba performance from the University of Georgia.
Along with his teaching duties at UTC, he plays part-time in the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra in Alabama and the Augusta Symphony Orchestra in Georgia, where he’s been the principal tubist for over 20 years.
“I will play maybe five concerts with Augusta a year and three or four with Tuscaloosa because a tuba isn’t needed for every concert.”
He also performs in the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra when needed.
Wilson recently received national attention when he put a $50 bill in a locker on campus and any student who read the entire class syllabus would know where the money was. The cash was still in the locker at the end of the semester.
“The syllabus is a really dry document. I mean, it’s not supposed to be exciting to read, but I thought if my students are going through and reading it, I might as well reward them,” he told The New York Times.
Although reading the syllabus may not be part of the equation, student enrollment in the Department of Music has grown significantly. There now are more than 90 music major, the most since 2014, according to UTC statistics.
In the past, only one section of “Intro to Music,” a required course for all music majors, was offered per semester. In fall semester 2022, three sections will be offered.
The music-performance courses he’s teaching in fall semester—applied tuba and euphonium—usually have students from majors other than music, Wilson said. Not now.
“I’m teaching exclusively music majors and music minors,” he said.
Wilson doesn’t take credit for the increased attraction for the Department of Music, and said one of the reasons may be students’ desire to play music after not being able to do so during the COVID pandemic.
More money to fund more scholarships probably is another reason, he said.
With things going so well, Wilson said he doesn’t plan to make any major shifts in the department while he is interim head.
“The department is probably in about the best place as far as positivity and where we are headed in my entire tenure here,” he said. “There’s just a lot of excitement. I want to keep it going that direction.”