I have lost a musical mentor. Dr. Jay C. Decker was the longtime Professor of Music and Director of Orchestras/String Studies at Wichita State University, as well as Associate Conductor of the Wichita Symphony. Jay came from a musical family, and had a musical family himself. His dad, Harold Decker, was a choral director and teacher. Jay played the cello, and his daughter Debbie does as well.
A native Wichitan, Jay Decker began his musical training at an early age, taking private cello lessons from Gretchen Dalley, the wife of the Wichita Symphony's first conductor, Maestro Orien Dalley. During high school he served as principal cellist of the Wichita Symphony Youth Symphony. While he attended Wichita State University, Dr. Decker was a cellist with the Wichita Symphony, and as a junior in 1955 he won the Naftzger Young Artists Auditions and Awards. Also during his junior year in college, he won the Instrumental Division of the Tulsa Young Artist Competition and the Youth Artist Award of Wichita Falls, Texas.
After his graduation from Wichita State University, Decker taught in the Springfield, Missouri, public schools and at Drury College. For eight years before his return to Wichita, he was on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he served as Director of Orchestral Activities. In 1979 he received UMKC's Standard Oil Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. He was also Conductor of the Kansas City Civic Orchestra and Civic Ballet. Dr. Decker received his master's degree from the University of Illinois and his doctorate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Rest in Peace
I learned that he passed in late July 2017 in Wichita, KS. I had the pleasure of playing violin and viola in Jay's orchestras from high school through college, as well as being a member of his conducting class. Professionally, we worked at the Wichita Symphony, several years of stage managing allowed me to learn and earn some extra cash. I learned lots of repertory: from Respighi tone poems to Martin's Concerto for Seven Winds and Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, and an especially delightful Chopin E minor Piano Concerto with Julie Bees. I conducted twice on the Concerto/Aria concerts, and would get on the podium as Dr. Decker would listen in the hall.
Audiences might know Jay from his holiday concerts and traditional Twilight Pops concert at the Wichita River Festival. 1812 Overture always brought the house down and cannons from the Kansas Army National Guard were favorites. I chuckle as wipe away tears, thinking about the KMEA performance of John Adams' Harmonielehre when I put a Playboy picture in his score at an important transition. When we didn't rehearse it atthe soundcheck, I had to fess up, and asked him if I could see what the bowing was for rehearsal letter t. As he turned to the page, he laughed. "No one has ever done that to me!" he replied. I told him I thought for sure we would have rehearsed it, and even gave some principals the warning to look up for his surprise. Then we laughed about telling principals to look up.