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K-State Today

April 17, 2018

Farewell concert honors K-State Orchestra conductor's retirement

By Jennifer Tidball

A grand finale will celebrate the retirement of the longest conductor of the Kansas State University Orchestra.   

David Littrell, university distinguished professor of music, will conduct a farewell concert at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24, in McCain Auditorium. Littrell will retire in May after 31 years at Kansas State University. 

Littrell has conducted the K-State Orchestra for 28 years, which is the longest tenure of any conductor in the orchestra's 137-year history. 

"I will greatly miss the students and faculty colleagues more than anything else, " Littrell said. "I've been blessed with wonderful colleagues who really do get along well. I like interacting with the students both in the classroom and in the halls, and they never get tired of my corny jokes." 

Littrell began his career in the K-State Orchestra as an undergraduate student in music and was a cellist from 1967 to 1971. Since he became the K-State Orchestra's conductor in 1990, he has conducted 198 concerts, including the K-State Chamber Orchestra's United Kingdom/Ireland tours in 2008, 2011 and 2017. 

The K-State Orchestra includes nearly 80 students from all majors. Under Littrell's direction, the K-State Orchestra has doubled its string section and increased the number of performances to five concerts every school year. 

Littrell has taught cello, double bass, string techniques and music theory at Kansas State University. He was the 2007 CASE Kansas Professor of the Year. 

"Dr. Littrell's contribution to Kansas State University can’t be measured in concerts, trips, graduates, awards or publications," said Frank Tracz, professor of music and director of bands. "His legacy is with people. He has poured his heart and soul into the students of this university and has changed thousands of lives in a very positive manner. His talents, humor, collegiality and his friendship will be sorely missed." 

Littrell has been a leader of string education of both precollege and college students in the region. He founded the Gold Orchestra and the Silver Orchestra for precollege students in 1989 and conducted the Gold Orchestra for 27 years, including two concerts at Carnegie Hall. More than 500 students have been involved in the orchestras, which give young string musicians in the Manhattan area an opportunity to perform and gain a love for classical music. 

For 31 years, Littrell has directed the String Fling clinic, which has attracted more than 600 students in grades five through nine each year to the university's Manhattan campus. 

"Dr. Littrell has been a leader in string education both locally and nationally over his 31 years on the faculty at Kansas State University," said Jeffrey Ward, director of the university's School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. "Generations of string performers and educators look to Dr. Littrell as their mentor, as they pass along his pedagogical knowledge, artistry and humor to future generations of string students." 

Littrell was president of the American String Teacher Association from 2002-2004 and organized their first stand-alone national conference in 2003. Littrell also has edited three volumes of the publication, Teaching Music through Performance in Orchestra, which is used by string teachers across the country.

Littrell received his bachelor's degree in music from Kansas State University in 1971 and his master's degree in music and Doctor of Music Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972 and 1979. He taught in Wisconsin, played in the Denver Symphony and later taught at the University of Evansville in Indiana for eight years. He was principal cellist of the Austin Symphony, the Evansville Philharmonic and Owensboro Symphony. He became Kansas State University's cello professor in 1987 when he replaced his teacher, Warren Walker. 

During retirement, Littrell will continue to teach precollege cello students at his one-room schoolhouse on Cedar Creek Road. He and his wife Laurel Littrell, professor at K-State Libraries, plan to travel and he will remain involved in community organizations.

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