Victor Chavez Receiving Award at ClarinetFest

Fulfilling a Dream

Victor Chávez’s dedication to the clarinet community fueled the tremendous success of ClarinetFest® 2019.

It was about fulfilling a dream, but it wasn’t even his own dream. That’s why Victor Chávez, assistant professor of clarinet, worked so hard to bring the International Clarinet Association’s (ICA) ClarinetFest® to campus in 2019. Former clarinet professor Gary Sperl had long dreamed of UT hosting ClarinetFest, an internationally-acclaimed clarinet festival bringing clarinet students and professionals together from all over the world. Chávez started carrying out that dream after Sperl’s retirement in 2013, and it all came to fruition this summer.

Laying the Groundwork

Chávez moved to Knoxville in 2013 to take a clarinet lecturer position at UT, and he immediately took notice of all the groundwork Sperl had laid out for ClarinetFest—the countless hours of research completed, finding talent, meetings with the ICA, site tours, and much more. It was easy to see how much this meant to him. Sperl traveled to Africa every year to work with Clarinets for Conservation, an initiative focusing on sustaining Tanzania’s national tree, the Mpingo, from which the clarinet is derived. Chávez spent three weeks there helping Sperl and the Clarinets for Conservation group show locals how to cultivate and sustain the wood so it would be conserved for future use.

They also educated students at an early age about the clarinet culture and the instrument itself.

It was from this experience that Chávez decided he was going to carry out Sperl’s dream of bringing ClarinetFest to UT. “For me, it was about fulfilling Gary’s dream,” Chávez said.

“I felt that I had an obligation to put forth my very best effort to make this happen. It wasn’t just about making it happen, it was about making it successful—something that people would talk about for years to come.”

Patience Through the Process

Even after most of the groundwork had been laid, it was not guaranteed that UT would be able to host the festival. Each potential site places a bid to host, so UT was competing with many other locations. Under Sperl’s direction, they had come close a few times, notably being outbid by Vancouver, Canada, a few years back. UT finally won the bid to host in 2016, but it was put on hold while the new Student Union was being built. When Chávez learned that 2019 was approved, he couldn’t wait to tell Sperl. “It was a time of great joy but also a realization that we had a lot of work to do.” said Chávez.

What followed was years of pursuing talent, publicizing the event, and coordinating with UT and the Knoxville community to ensure everything was in place.

Successes of the Labor

The hard work and the time dedicated—it was all worth it. ClarinetFest 2019 came to UT, and it was a tremendous success that broke many records. It was the largest attendance on record, with more than 1,700 attendees and over 500 performers. Approximately 31 clarinet choirs were invited to attend, ranging from collegiate, semiprofessional, high school, and more. The conference was also successful in breaking the Guinness World Record for largest clarinet choir.

The week was filled with presentations, standard recitals, lecture recitals, five international competitions, and various performances, including a special performance by the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America. One of the focus points was to ensure the lectures and presentations were more accessible for everyone in the clarinet community, so topics included working mothers, diversity, and the LGBTQ community, among others.

Another positive aspect of this year’s conference was the majority of the literature consisted of new works that hadn’t been performed before. This drew more attention to the performances as well, including the Friday night concert at the Tennessee Theatre, featuring the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra under the direction of School of Music director of orchestras Jim Fellenbaum. “That concert was incredible,” Chávez stated. “It was so clean, and there was an abundance of literature in their performance. This will bring greater international recognition to our wonderful professional orchestra.”

Bringing the World to UT

Hosting the 2019 ClarinetFest did wonders for both the School of Music and the Knoxville community. It was evident that it had an immense impact on the attendees, as countless people informed Chávez that it was the “best conference they had ever attended.”

“For this conference to go so well and to fulfill Gary’s dream, it gives us a great sense of pride.” Chávez proclaimed.

The conference highlighted both the School of Music and Chávez, who now has multiple invitations to visit institutions in other countries and throughout the United States. The success of this conference laid a foundation for years to come.

“The most rewarding part, looking back, was bringing the world to East Tennessee and our campus,” Chávez reflected. “People from all over saw that we are a major contender amongst our peers, and our resources are second to none.”

Photos by David Royse | International Clarinet Association