As a college student studying music at the University of Illinois, Butler University Bassoon Professor Doug Spaniol dreamed of becoming a rock star. After winning an audition for a full-time summer job playing electric bass at Busch Gardens amusement park in Virginia, he felt well on his way to accomplishing his goal. But upon returning to school for the fall semester, Spaniol discovered a new dream taking root.
“I got back to school and the light bulb went off, and I said, this is what I want to do. I want to be in a school of music where people are learning and teaching, and playing good music, and researching and collaborating and doing interesting things,” Spaniol said.
That new dream turned out to be the right path for Spaniol, who was named as a 2021-22 recipient of Butler University’s Distinguished Faculty Award, an honor recognizing outstanding achievement throughout one’s career at Butler University. Spaniol began teaching at Butler in 1997. Jordan College of the Arts Dean Lisa Brooks says it’s hard to imagine someone more deserving of recognition for the positive difference he has made at Butler over the past 25 years.
“Doug is one of the most highly regarded faculty members in our College,” Brooks said. “The consistent success of his bassoon students on a national stage speaks to the quality and relevance of what they are learning from him. In addition, the international significance of his research and scholarship enhances the reputation of our institution. Finally, his clear commitment to serve his institution, profession, and community embodies the empathy and generosity we have come to call ‘The Butler Way.’ I am proud to call Doug a friend and colleague.”
After earning his Doctor of Musical Arts in Bassoon Performance at The Ohio State University, Spaniol began his teaching career at Valdosta State University in Georgia. He arrived at Butler in 1997 as an Assistant Professor in bassoon and music theory, and became a full professor in 2010.
Among his many accomplishments is the unique distinction of having been named both a Marshall Scholar as a student and a Fulbright Scholar as a professor, a combination rarely achieved in a single career. Marshall Scholarships are awarded to Americans of high ability in any field to study in the United Kingdom. Both programs are considered among the most prestigious scholarships for U.S. citizens.
In 2012, Spaniol earned a Fulbright Scholarship to teach at the University of York in England and to conduct research on Julius Weissenborn, a 19th-century German bassoonist whose teaching methods are still the standard teaching texts used by bassoonists today. Spaniol edited and updated Weissborn’s original work, and his resulting publications, The New Weissenborn Method for Bassoon, Vols. I and II, are now among the most widely used bassoon teaching books in the world.
Along with his scholarly achievements, Spaniol’s music instruction and mentorship have left a meaningful impression on generations of students at Butler and elsewhere. He has served as a Bassoon Instructor at Interlochen Arts Camp every year since 1999 and has taught private lessons throughout his career. Kelly Swensson MM ‘13, now a professional freelance bassoonist in Indianapolis, first met Spaniol at 11 years old when he became her private bassoon instructor.
“He was so knowledgeable and overqualified to teach me, but he took a special interest in my growth as a musician, and I have him to thank for my love of the bassoon and the career I have as a professional bassoonist,” Swensson said. “During my high school years, he went far above the call of duty helping me prepare for camps, competitions, and auditions, and was so supportive at every turn. He was beyond generous with his time.”
Swensson says she was influenced as much by Spaniol’s character as she was by his musical instruction.
“He is the most patient teacher I have ever had. Doug is also the most ethical, ‘good’ person I’ve ever met. What an incredible influence he was on me as a young person,” Swensson said.
Ntinyari Miriti ‘21, now the Orchestra Director at Westlane Middle School in Indianapolis, says joining Spaniol’s bassoon studio was one of the main reasons she chose to attend Butler. During a visit to campus in the spring of her junior year, Miriti had a trial private bassoon lesson with Spaniol and felt an immediate connection with his teaching style.
“It was really him, and his enthusiasm about Butler and loving where he worked and the community there, that really made me want to come to Butler,” Miriti said. “He did a great job pushing me but also celebrating where I was doing well. I could tell that he was going to be there for me and always looking out for my best interests.”
Miriti says Spaniol always made her and other classmates aware of opportunities to gain experience teaching or performing on campus or in the community, sharing his broad connections with his students and encouraging their personal and professional growth even beyond graduation.
“His involvement in the community is what really makes him extraordinary because he’s able to bring back those experiences and connections to his students. As someone who isn’t from Indianapolis, I appreciate him making me feel at home in a place that I hadn’t been before, and continuing to do that even after I’ve graduated.”
In addition to helping his students gain teaching and performing experience, Spaniol also saw an opportunity to help his students gain entrepreneurship and business skills through a reed-making course he teaches. In 2014, Spaniol helped students enrolled in the Real Business Experience course in the Lacy School of Business to create the Butler University Bassoon Reed Company, which is still actively run by Butler students today. Along with teaching students how to make the reeds, Spaniol acts as a mentor and advisor to the students as they learn the necessary business skills to run the company.
“It’s a great experience for the students,” Spaniol says. “They get some business experience, they get some extra reed-making practice, and these are skills that bassoonists need in the professional world, because most of them will need some sort of side hustle like that, some sort of business skills, and they all need to make reeds. So it’s kind of a win-win.”
Despite leaving behind his rock and roll dreams to become a professor, Spaniol found an inventive way to reimagine his original rock music dream. He is a founding member of a local electric bassoon rock band, Rock E Bassoon, which was formed in 2016. The band has performed live on the Bob and Tom Show and at local venues, festivals, and fundraisers. Swensson is also a member and says getting to hang out and play rock music with Spaniol and other talented local bassoonists is the coolest gig she can imagine.
Spaniol says all of his activities and pursuits outside of the classroom from Rock E Bassoon to his Fulbright Scholarship have made him a better teacher.
“I feel like Butler has done a great job supporting me in my scholarly and creative work throughout my 25 years here through support for presenting at conferences, for making recordings, for presenting concerts. Most of that involves travel and some big expenses, so I’m very appreciative of the support Butler has given me. And all those experiences help make me a better bassoonist and musician, which in turn helps make me a better bassoon teacher for our students.”
This article is part of a series honoring the 2021-22 recipients of the Butler University Distinguished Faculty Award. The Butler University Distinguished Faculty Award celebrates the professional accomplishments of the University’s faculty, recognizing excellence in the combined areas of teaching, research, scholarship and creative work, and service/leadership. This award recognizes exemplary achievement, accomplishments and contributions across the length and breadth of the award winner’s career at Butler University.