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Tom Schow: Instrument of Change
Eddie Davis

Baylor bid goodbye to its first ever instrumental music instructor when Tom Schow retired at the end of the 2020 school year.

Schow, an accomplished and talented pianist, arrived at Baylor in 1986 to teach a music appreciation course in the seventh grade and to accompany the Glee Clubs in both school divisions. By the third year of what would crescendo into a 34-year career, Schow was asked to pioneer Baylor’s first instrumental music program. He got to work, conducting the first rehearsals of Middle School and Upper School bands, the Jazz Band, and the Pep Band, with rehearsals taking place in the Baylor dining hall. Under his direction, the instrumental program has added orchestras in both Middle and Upper Schools as well as a robust array of solo, ensemble, musical theater, and chamber music offerings.

“Looking back, I think the seventh grade music course was one of the best things I did,” recalls Schow. “That class was really fun to teach and was foundational to other programs. I started the bands in 1989 with nine students, mainly pep band and jazz band. We had instrumentation that fit in with those numbers, but it was still a challenge to make music with that small group. Luckily, we had some motivated and smart students, and we had a lot of fun.”

Schow says he typically had 20 or fewer musicians for the first five years of the program before interest began to grow. He recruited the school, including his seventh grade music appreciation class, and tried to channel the focus of music-minded students toward the instrumental program. During the last several years, the band and orchestra programs have averaged 35-40 participants. Schow took his dedication to the program a step further by organizing cultural immersions and performance tours for Baylor musicians in 11 cities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas.

I think the seventh grade music course was one of the best things I did. That class was really fun to teach and was foundational to other programs.

“It’s been gratifying to know that I built the program from those first nine students to the multifaceted program we now enjoy,” says Schow. “I’m proud that the program has thrived, seems to be very stable, and appears to have its own niche in the school. We now have the musician skills to perform pieces that are right in the center of what we might call significant band repertoire. I also know I’m leaving the program in very capable hands with Christine Lau ‘14 and Mae Weiss on the faculty.”

Schow picked up several other duties at Baylor including serving as a dorm parent, dorm head, and boarding adviser since 1997. “I have enjoyed working with the boys and found involvement with that side of their school experience to be very meaningful, even though it can be exhausting at times,” he says.  

He was involved in the creation of an amazing Baylor music center that houses both instrumental and vocal music programs in a repurposed building that was once the Baylor Armory Theater and, before that, the Baylor gymnasium. Schow and his wife, Deniece, an accomplished flutist who also taught a few music classes and served as a dorm parent at Baylor, used their professional contacts to arrange for a variety of world class artists to perform on campus. He even coached Middle School wrestling for a season or two.

Schow was in the early stages of preparing his orchestra for the Baylor Players’ spring musical when the campus was closed due to the pandemic. “Performing with the Baylor Players’ was always a rich experience for me because I got to use a lot of my skills,” he says. “And of course, we missed our spring performances. I was very sad that we couldn’t fulfill that commitment.”

It’s been gratifying to know that I built the program from those first nine students to the multifaceted program we now enjoy.

Schow was no stranger to interruptions in the rhythm of his career, however. As a reservist in the U.S. Army, Schow worked with the U.S. Army garrison in Chattanooga whose mission was to take over the normal operations of a military post when the host unit was being deployed. He was called to active duty three times while at Baylor, serving in Fort Campbell’s 101st Airborne during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Joint Endeavor as well as training at Fort Benning during an U.N. operation in Bosnia. One stint at Fort Campbell lasted 15 months. He retired in 2004 at the rank of Major.

“The Army was a great experience for me,” says Schow.  “I remember, as a young man, trying to figure out what directions I wanted my life to take, and I looked at the men I respected – my father, my uncles,  my brother – and they all had military experience. I am very grateful to Baylor for how I was treated during those interruptions. The school went out of its way to make sure I felt supported and secure in my position here and that I was welcomed back home.”

“Deniece and I want to express our gratitude to Baylor for providing a beautiful and inspiring place to work and live,” Schow says. “Our 34 years here contain many wonderful memories, both professionally and as a family. Both our boys, Carl ’05 and Bobby, enjoyed growing up on campus. We are truly thankful that we had the opportunity to work here and wish the Baylor community all the best in the years to come.”

Baylor fine arts department chair and choral director, Vic Oakes, offers Schow a congratulatory send off, saying, “Thank you, Tom, for your varied and impressive service to Baylor, which you leave sounding much better than you found it.”

 

 

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