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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
David Blackinton conducts orchestra at BYU, where he's taught since 1980.

PROVO — When David Blackinton retires from Brigham Young University with a farewell concert this week, his focus will be on a band much smaller than the musical groups he's been directing for 43 years.

For the next three years he's going to be directing the Nauvoo Brass Band.

The Nauvoo Brass Band was disbanded when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left Illinois. In recent years it has been re-established, traveling around to play for visitors at historic sites. The band consists of just 17 members, about the size of the original band.

Blackinton came to BYU in 1980 after teaching at the University of Delaware for 15 years. Originally from Ogden, he received his bachelor's and master's degrees in wind instruments from the University of Michigan in 1964 and 1966. His doctoral degree came from Catholic University of America in 1974 in performance.

A devout yet practical Latter-day Saint, it was convenient to get to Catholic University, he said, because it was within easy driving distance to the University of Delaware where he was teaching.

He is past president of the Western division of the College Band Directors National Association and president of the Utah Music Educators Association. His professional memberships also include the American Bandmasters Association.

AT BYU Blackinton conducts the wind symphony, which consists of the top woodwind, brass and percussion musicians. The group tours every other year.

"They're the next thing to being a professional group," he said. "They're in a new city that night, the night before and the night after. They have to be at the top of their game."

In the 28 years he's been at BYU, Blackinton has taken his students to Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the Orient, Russia and three tours around the United States.

The BYU music program has some 700 students enrolled with more music majors than any other private university.

"In 28 years I can see the quality of the students going up," he said.

When he first arrived at BYU the school of music didn't have enough students for both the orchestra and the band so "we shared them," he said. Today, with ample students to go around, some still play in both groups, but by choice.

He said the quality of the students is up because of BYU's reputation as a very good school of music and high academic standards.

"They're better players and they're smarter," he said.

The school accepts just 150 new freshmen music majors every year.

The music program also consists of the 80-member symphonic band, two university bands that meet at night totaling 225 musicians, the 225-member Cougar Marching Band and two pep bands.

In addition to performing groups such as the Young Ambassadors, the BYU music scene includes the chamber orchestra, the top small group; BYU Singers, the top choral group; and Synthesis, the top jazz band that numbers 48 players.

"That's purely practical," Blackinton said. "That's how many fit on a bus."

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com