By Victoria Modenesi, Social Media Director
If you are a Pokémon Go player, or if you casually came across our informative Pokémon Go Campus Guide (The Current, August 23, 2016), you might have seen the commemoratory plaque under a pin oak tree (Quercus palustris) near the Pokestop at the end of the path that takes you from the doors of the Millennium Student Center to the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The plaque memorializes Warren T. Bellis. Not only was Bellis a professor of music at the University of Missouri- St. Louis from 1967 to 1988, but he was also the first full-time director of bands.
Bellis, an accomplished clarinetist, had clear goals and great expectations for the band. Mike Olds, a former writer for The Current, explained that in 1968, due to the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ growing campus, “the band offered not only professional training for those interested in going into the business, but served as an activity as well.” Olds also remarked that Bellis envisioned the band “serving as a public relations medium for the university.”
Bellis, after working at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and the University of Idaho, decided to return to his home state to become the first full-time director of bands at UMSL. At the time Bellis joined the university, the Touhill Performing Arts Center had not been built. Since the band did not have an appropriately conditioned place to rehearse, Bellis had to improvise techniques that would allow the band to be able to play harmoniously and to listen to each other.
In “The History of the UMSL Band,” a compilation on the first 50 years of the ensemble, Sandy Bogue, an alumnus and former member, recalls that the band was small. The size of the band, combined with the poor acoustics of the handball courts in the Gymnasium building, generated problems, especially with wind instruments. However, Bellis skillfully sorted the issue out. Bogue said, “What he finally settled on was tag teams. Some played on one piece, others on another. Not everyone was on the same ‘team’ for the different songs. He had to post a list every day showing who was on what team and when the band would be practicing the song. That was when a lot of trumpet players began playing secondary instruments.” After a brief absence as band director, Bellis returned in 1980 to lead the band in “Hail to the Chief” during a visit from President Jimmy Carter. During that same year and under his direction, concerts were held in the auditorium of Marillac Hall.
Bellis passed away in 1994, at the age of 71. The University of Missouri–St. Louis and the Department of Music honored Warren Bellis for several years with the Warren Bellis Clarinet and Saxophone Festival, held annually at the Touhill Performing Arts Center until 2013.
To read “The History of the UMSL Band,” visit here.