Associate Professor of Music Dan Bolin ’70 MM ’75 looks back on his career in education—23 years at Butler, 48 overall—and says, “I can’t think of anything I could have done that would have been more satisfying. To get to work with the kids, to get to know the people I’ve gotten to know …”
He lets the thought hang in the air, but he might have finished with “to achieve all I’ve achieved.”
Since joining the Music Department faculty, Bolin has made his mark, particularly with regard to equipment, the physical plant, and faculty.
Bolin arrived in 1995 as Department Chair to find that no one had been keeping track of the instruments the department owned. Forty were missing. He had a hand in finding almost all of them and creating a new inventory system.
When the Schrott Center for the Arts was being built, Bolin took a tour of the construction and noticed that the orchestra pit was so low that people on the stage wouldn’t be able to see the conductor. His keen eye helped Butler avoid a potentially costly repair.
It’s a point of pride for him that the University’s music ensembles have improved over the years and that Butler has retained so many talented faculty members.
“Most of the faculty in the music school were people I was involved with hiring and setting up,” he said.
“(Professor of Music and Director of Bands) Michael Colburn is the last person I hired, and he’s a superstar. We’re fortunate to have him.”
The feeling is mutual, Colburn said.
“My wife and I fell in love with Butler as soon as we visited, but I must admit that a big part of the attraction was the knowledge that Dan was serving as the Chair of the School of Music at the time,” he said. “I figured that any school of music that had Dan Bolin in a leadership position would be a great place to work, and my instincts were right on the mark! Although he is no longer Chair, Dan has continued to be a valued colleague and a tremendous friend, and he will be sorely missed when he retires at the end of this semester.”
Bolin spent his entire career close to home. He grew up in Indianapolis, took up the tuba in junior high school, and was the tubist in the Indiana All-State Orchestra all four years at Harry E. Wood High School, five blocks south of Monument Circle. That distinction earned him “a healthy scholarship” to Butler.
As an undergraduate at Butler, he tutored at his old high school. After graduation, his first teaching job was replacing his high school band director, who retired.
Bolin earned his principal’s license at Butler and his doctorate in school administration at Indiana University. (His minor there was in music education.) He was a high school band director for 13 years, including time at Manual, Lebanon, and Southport high schools, and in administration for 12 years.
At Southport, he rose through the ranks to become an assistant principal. He left Southport for Perry Township Schools, where he moved from Director of Secondary Education to Personnel Director, Assistant Superintendent, and, finally, Interim Superintendent.
When the job opened at Butler, then-Director of Bands Robert Grechesky asked him to apply. Over the years, Bolin said, he was contacted by other institutions about opening on their faculty, but “I was doing what I wanted to do here.”
Bolin said the greatest joy of his career has been working with students.
Matt Harrod ’83 MM ’88 is one of those. Harrod, Band Director and teacher at Riverside Junior High and Intermediate School in the Hamilton-Southeastern school district outside Indianapolis, was a student of Bolin’s at Lebanon High School from 1975–1977. Harrod said even after Bolin left Lebanon for Southport, he stayed in touch and interested in his progress.
Harrod remembers a time when he was a freshman at Butler and decided to skip a pep band practice. That earned him a reprimand not only from Butler Band Director Grechesky but from Bolin.
“He told Dan and Dan got all over me about that,” Harrod said. “He kept me on the straight and narrow.”
After Harrod graduated from Butler, Bolin helped him get his first teaching job, attended his concerts, and worked with his band. Eventually, Harrod taught Bolin’s sons at Keystone Middle School.
“He’s been a close friend my whole life,” Harrod said. “He’s been a mentor to me. We laugh together, we tease each other a lot. He has guest-directed my band several times. He’s introduced me to important people in the field. He hasn’t only done this for me; he’s done this for a lot of people.”
In addition, Harrod said, Bolin has been instrumental in bringing military bands such as the U.S. Army Field Band to Indianapolis to perform free concerts for the public.
In retirement, Bolin said he and his wife, Jane, will continue to have a home in Indianapolis, but they’ll also be living in Melbourne, Florida, where they bought a house 10 years ago.
Bolin said what he’ll miss most are the students.
“They keep me young,” he said. “Watching them grow and graduate and seeing some of them become educators—I tended to teach music education classes—and become band and orchestra directors and do good work has been incredibly gratifying. That’s essentially what we’re all about—trying to create the next generation of teachers who are going to do what we did and hopefully do it even better.”
(After this story was written, Dan Bolin conducted his final concert as Music Director of the Indianapolis Municipal Band and was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash. The honor is given to those who have rendered a distinguished service to the state or to the governor.)