Celebrating the Life of David Belcher at MSU's Ellis Hall

Mar 29, 2019

Ellis Recital Hall will host a concert commemorating the life and accomplishments of former MSU music professor and dean Dr. David Belcher.
Credit (Photo courtesy Missouri State University Department of Music)

Saturday, March 30 at 7:30pm in Ellis Recital Hall, the Missouri State University Music Department will present a concert to commemorate the life and accomplishments of former faculty member and dean of the College of Arts and Letters, David O. Belcher, who died in June 2018 of a brain tumor.  Dr. Belcher’s wife Susan, and MSU composition professor and Graduate Coordinator for the Music Department Dr. John Prescott, came to KSMU to talk about David and about the tribute.

After graduating from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, David Orr Belcher began his career in higher education right here at MSU in 1988.  “David started here in ’88,” says Dr. Prescott, “but in 1994 he became Dean of Arts and Letters. And one of his first tasks was the search for a new Music Department head—and I ultimately got that position. So I worked hand in hand with David over the next nine years in many, many endeavors, and got to know him very well.”

One of Dr. Belcher’s most notable accomplishments at MSU was founding the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, the three-week summer study program here on campus for talented high school students throughout the state.

“(David) founded it and was the director of it,” says his wife Susan Belcher, “on top of his Dean’s job, so he was probably a crazy person for about the first five years. But he turned that over to the very capable hands of Julie Gilmore Bloodworth.  David was also very much involved in public service—in the Urban Arts Alliance, in the Springfield Regional Arts Council.  I know I served with him on the Springfield Regional Opera when I was affiliated with them.  It was one of his great joys and passions to see this coming together of the arts and community development, because he felt very, very strongly that Missouri State University, the arts, and Springfield could all benefit from each other.”

David Belcher was also a very accomplished pianist, and was a member of MSU’s resident faculty chamber music ensemble, the Hawthorn Trio.  “He always had tremendous ‘chops’ at the piano,” says Susan Belcher, “but his administrative skills were exceptional. And early on he had teachers that told him, ‘you’d be a great arts administrator!’ His response was, ‘what—you don’t think I can play the piano?!’”

Adds Dr. John Prescott, “David had a gift for being able to see a broad vision of what could be done, what could be accomplished, and then he was able to infuse the people around him with the same kind of passion, so that we all worked together as a team to accomplish whatever it was that we were going to do.  And Missouri Fine Arts Academy was one of those.”

Speaking of his administrative skills, Dr. Belcher left MSU in 2003 to take the position of Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at University of Arkansas-Little Rock, a post he held until 2011. His final academic post was as Chancellor of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.  Susan Belcher describes Cullowhee as being located “right below Asheville, and it was a perfect fit for David. But as I think back, I think it’s really important in David’s life to acknowledge that he cut his teeth at Missouri State, fresh out of his Doctoral program at Eastman. What he learned here, as John was saying—inclusivity, transparency, vision, being able to work with his colleagues in order to set a mutual vision, and then work backwards.  I always said David could look five and ten years out, and then be work backwards to see exactly what would have to happen to make that goal. But he carried those skills and honed them at UA-Little Rock, and certainly as a very successful and beloved chancellor for eight years at Western Carolina University.”

The program Saturday night celebrating David Belcher’s life and legacy is free and open to the public.  “We really hope that people who knew David will come to this event and get a chance to revive that whole spirit.  There’s something for everyone. It’s really designed to represent everything that David did as a musician.  So there’s piano music.  There’s going to be opera—there’s a segment from the Springfield Regional Opera Candide production. There’s a student who was a graduate of the Fine Arts Academy who’s going to perform.

“And then there’s a piece that ends the concert that I wrote at David’s request for a wedding back in the year 2000.” [Presumably that was David and Susan’s wedding, as they were married that year.] “We’ve repurposed it for this event, and it’s going to involve organ and brass, and it should bring the concert to a fitting conclusion.”  Adds Susan Belcher, “we look forward to seeing colleagues come and enjoy that music with us.”

For information visit https://www.missouristate.edu/music/calendar.htm.