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Finale concert for Russell Wilson, career music instructor, conductor

A view shared by musicians for 26 years: Conductor Russell Wilson lays down the law at the final rehearsal before the concert.

Sun Advocate associate editor

For a split second after the choir intones "...requiem aeternam" at the end of Saturday's concert, there will be a moment of silence between the fading of the last tone and the onset of the applause.

The interval will be just long enough to realize that these are the last notes under the concert baton of Russell Wilson at USU Eastern.

Wilson is retiring, closing out a 29-year career teaching, 26 years of which have been at the Price campus.

For his grand finale, he has chosen two works by English composer John Rutter: "Gloria" and "Requiem."

Both are contemporary pieces, with "Requiem" completed in 1985. Both will also feature performances of musicians who have known Wilson as conductor and instructor for years.

The path that led to nearly three decades of sharing a love of music began with a life-changing decision. He walked away from a potential career in law, abandoning the degree he had earned at Arizona State.

He decided he wanted a life in music instead. And that decision he traces back to his high school days at Carbon High.

"We had two full symphonic bands back then," he recalls. "Dorothy Brown, Darrell Siggard, Glen Fifield - they were all circuit riders, going from school to school teaching music."

Wilson got his advanced music training at Utah State in Logan and was lucky enough to get a job there.

That position lasted for three years, until the job opened up at the College of Eastern Utah. He took it.

"A lot of my friends didn't understand why I wanted to go to Price. But this was homecoming for me. This is where I became a musician," he says.

Almost like a relay race, there was a transfer of the baton. Wilson picked up the conducting of Handel's "Messiah" from Dorothy Brown, who had conducted choirs for decades.

The tradition of blending community singers with college students continued. Over the course of the decades, the orchestra grew.

Violists and cellists augmented the violin sections, brass and woodwinds added their sounds.

Wilson had a recruiting philosophy about taking part in the performances: "Just play the parts you can, and sit out the parts that you can't handle right now."

[Full disclosure: That's how he persuaded me to come aboard 16 years ago.]

As a conductor of an unpaid, volunteer choir and orchestra, Wilson makes sure that those who show up know they are appreciated.

"With all the things they could do with their time," he says of the players and singers, "they work hard to make something beautiful that lasts a few minutes. It keeps my faith in humanity."

Wilson and his wife, Cathy, a teacher in her own right with Carbon School District and the college, are bound for southern California.

He says he has a few gigs lined up there already.

Saturday's concert begins at 6 p.m. sharp in Price Civic Auditorium. Admission is free.

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