‘Music chooses us’: Director Wes Kenney to retire this semester


Collegian | Garrett Mogel

Wesley Kenney, professor and conductor at the Colorado State School of Music, Theatre, and Dance prepares his students for an upcoming concert to be held in the Edna Rizley Griffin Concert Hall September 23 at 7:30 p.m. Mr. Kenney spoke to the upcoming concert stating that “It has been almost twenty months since we have performed in front of a live audience. We are so excited. … It is who we are.”

DJ Vicente, Staff Reporter

After over 20 years as a resident instructor at Colorado State University, Wes Kenney, the director of orchestras at the University Center for the Arts, looks to retire from his role as a full-time professor this semester.

Kenney prepares for his final symphony as the director of orchestras, “A Monumental Close,” featuring composer Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. He commented on this piece being a parallel to his time at CSU as well as the growth he saw in the CSU symphonies over the last two decades.


“Going into what I found here when I first arrived to what the orchestra has been capable of doing over the years, I never, ever stopped dreaming about what the possibilities are,” Kenney said.

With his retirement drawing near, Kenney gave his thoughts about his long career as a music educator and director. He remarked on his experience and growth over the years and on lessons learned that shaped his philosophy in his life before and during his involvement as a mentor at CSU.

“I’m definitely of the philosophy that we don’t choose music that music chooses us. … You have to have that kind of focus and wherewithal to run the gamut.” –Wes Kenney, director of orchestras at the University Center for the Arts

“It’s one thing just to play straight through a part, but it’s quite another when you’re dealing with a piece of music that has a tremendous amount of depth to it,” Kenney said. “If I’ve shown students who have come through CSU something about the human condition, I’m connecting them with something that I hope is something special.”

From his birth in New York listening to music in theaters and circuses, to picking up the trombone at 7 years old when his family moved to California, Kenney developed an appreciation with music as he grew up. His appreciation swelled when he began “to notice conductors who were waving their arms in front of the ensembles,” Kenney said, referring to the work conductors put behind pieces of music.

Kenney noted the need for tenacity when pursuing a passion for music. There must be no doubt when entering music as a career, something he tells prospective high schoolers that approach him for advice.

“You can tell by my hair color that this is not an easy life,” Kenney said. “I’m definitely of the philosophy that we don’t choose music that music chooses us. … You have to have that kind of focus and wherewithal to run the gamut.”

Kenney also said he felt despite not reaching the “absolute pinnacle” of his goals when it comes to conducting, giving hypothetical examples of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, he found his experience at CSU invaluable to his music career.

“I’ve had enough musical moments in my life that standing in front of an ensemble like that would certainly be a great experience,” Kenney said. “But to be able to get in front of an ensemble like the CSU Symphony, playing Mahler’s Third Symphony for the very first time in their lives and having them get it, that’s just as good.”

While conducting the Minnesota Music Educators Association All-State Orchestra in February 2022, the orchestra was playing Ukrainian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 at the height of tensions in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, days before Russia invaded Ukraine. Kenney said he found significance in this moment.


“Listen to what one man writing music can do with their thoughts,” Kenney said. “The best part about it was the experience of the orchestra players themselves being awakened to what was going on in the world and the parallelisms in how a composer comes out of their environment and makes a statement within their art.”

Kenney also remarked on the importance of music to human culture as well as the significance of musical preservation in regard to artists like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

“Culture, in many ways, is the antidote to a lot of what ails us right now,” Kenney said. “I’m not saying that I’m out to save the world, but we could do a whole lot worse than listening to some great music.”

Although Kenney is retiring from a full-time position at CSU, he still aims to involve himself at the University Center for the Arts. He looks forward to being recognized as faculty emeritus as well as taking on a role in summer programs for graduate students. Kenney also said he will continue to direct the Fort Collins Symphony for four more years.

A Monumental Conclusion” will be performed 7:30 p.m. May 4-5 in the Griffin Concert Hall at the UCA.

Reach DJ Vicente at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @DeejMako.