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Alumni Success

Music Alumni Spotlight: Allen Webber, Master of Music (Music Theory) ‘83

Allen Webber
Alumni Success

Music Alumni Spotlight: Allen Webber, Master of Music (Music Theory) ‘83

This May, Music alumnus Allen Webber will be retiring as Professor of Music at Palm Beach State College, in Lake Worth, Florida, after serving the students for 35 years. Highlights of his career include:

  • Authoring a supplemental Music Appreciation text in 2010, titled The History of Music Expounded in Verse (or, the Musical High Points, but Metered, and Terse), published by Kendall Hunt
  • Composing the College's new Alma Mater in 2016
  • Singing the national anthem for MLB spring training games and the NHL's Florida Panthers
  • Singing in Carnegie Hall in June of 2023
  • Being a founding member of the College's repeat-champion Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee team.

Webber answered a few questions below as part of our ongoing alumni features. Are you an alumnus with a story to tell? Submit your story online.

As a Master of Music graduate in Music Theory in 1983, who were your primary processors?

My primary professors (and I may not remember all their first or last names, unfortunately) included Dr. Pamela Fox-Mollard (music history and research), who was brilliant, professional, and very personable; Dr. Joseph Bein (initial advisor, orchestration, and thesis supervisor), Dr. Sheppard (composition); Dr. Jerome Stanley (history of theory); Dr. Eric (theory pedagogy); Professor "Jocko" Cummings, my counterpoint and form and analysis teacher (he came from Texas A&M, told great stories, spoke very fast with a raspy voice, had a shaved head, conducted a 20th-century music ensemble, and was a favorite of all the students); Carmen DeLeone (orchestra and 20th century music history); Dr. Bill Bausano (University Chorale); and Dr. Lawrence DeWitt (music chair, choral conducting). Of these, the ones who had the greatest impact on me were Dr. Fox-Mollard, Dr. Bausano, and Dr. DeWitt. Dr. Fox-Mollard took us to a recital at the University of Cincinnati, and had our class over to her apartment once for dinner. She made me feel like I really belonged at Miami. Dr. Bausano always had a smile and a positive, encouraging attitude, and Dr. DeWitt recognized my aptitude and let me know in several quiet but very meaningful ways that he saw great potential in me.

What were some memorable projects you worked on while a graduate student in theory?

I began my classes at Miami University in January of 1981, and no graduate assistantships in music were available at the time. I was told something might open up for me at the King Library, but I would have to start there as an hourly employee. I took the job, which was sitting at the exit of the library's basement snack room, and stopping anyone who attempted to sneak food out of that area! A library assistantship did materialize for me the following semester at the King Library's circulation desk.

Today's students would laugh at my electronic music class at Miami. In the early 1980's, it was all about musique concrete and all sorts of techniques on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The composition I remember most from that class was by another student who had gone to K-Mart and recorded the announcement, "Attention, shoppers." He started with that a few times, but gradually cut off the first syllable so that it became "Tension, shoppers!", in ever quickening repetitions with increasing loudness, tape speed, overlap, echo effect, distortion, and feedback. It was a riot!

Other memorable projects were outside of the Music Department. I wanted to play intramural coed softball, and found an opening on a team of mathematics graduate students. All the guys were required to bat from their non-dominant side, and I developed into a pretty good left-handed pull-hitter! I also participated in MUST (Miami University Summer Theatre) for two years, although I had never taken any theatre classes. Of course, the lead roles were all taken by the theatre students, but it seemed the directors tried to limit the number of actors, and sometimes gave me multiple minor roles in the same production. I had so many quick costume (and character) changes in Annie, Get Your Gun, that I was assigned to two girls who stood offstage with my next costume, and as soon as I made an exit into the wings, they stripped me out of my current costume, put the next one on me, then pushed me back onstage!

Did you participate in any of our instrumental or choral ensembles? If so, which ones and who were your directors? Do you recall any memorable moments, compositions, performances, collaborations, etc. with the ensembles, directors, guest artists, etc?

I was in both the university orchestra (percussionist), led by Carmen DeLeone, and the University Chorale, conducted by William Bausano. Highlights with the orchestra included performances of Carmina Burana, the Chichester Psalms, and Beethoven's seventh symphony, along with a trip to Cincinnati to perform Gottschalk/Kay's Cakewalk with the Cincinnati Ballet. My favorite performance with the University Chorale was a concert in which we performed Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs (lyrics by the great metaphysical poet, George Herbert), in the chapel on what we called the "Western" campus.

Not too long before I finished at Miami, a couple of the other percussionists in the orchestra somehow found out I had written a piece for percussion ensemble, got the score, and convinced Dr. Bill Albin to have the percussion ensemble perform it. I'd written it a couple of years earlier as a teaching piece, when John Mohler, one of my classmates at Cedarville College (my hometown college and Alma Mater, in Cedarville, Ohio), had asked me to help the percussion section of the high school band he was then directing. I didn't bother to give it a title when I wrote it, but one evening my wife and I were driving, and pulled up behind a car with a Florida license tag. The name of the county, Escambia, was at the bottom of the tag. I had no idea where in Florida Escambia County was, but thought it sounded kind of cool and mysterious, and used it as the title for that percussion composition. Its performance by Miami University's percussion ensemble was a real high point in my time there!

Following your MM degree at Miami, where did your journey take you prior to your current position at Palm Beach State College?

My wife, Janice, had earned her masters degree in theatre from Miami University at the same time, and we looked for a university that had good doctoral programs in both theatre and music. We narrowed it down to either the University of Washington or Florida State University. All of our relatives lived east of the Mississippi, so we chose Florida State. As it turned out, she did not pursue her doctorate, but I completed all the necessary coursework and passed all the preliminary exams for a Ph.D. in music theory there. I landed a teaching job at Paine College, an HBCU in Augusta, Georgia, before I could make any progress on a dissertation. I served at Paine for two years as the Visiting Director of Choral Activities, filling in for a faculty member on a leave of absence to pursue her doctorate. The 1988-89 academic year passed without my finding any teaching job, but I was hired to head up the music theory program at what was then Palm Beach Community College, in Lake Worth, Florida, to begin the 1989 year. That job security, children, and increasing community involvement lessened the urgency and available time to work on a dissertation, and I have never tried to complete one.

Tell us about your position at PBSC that has covered 35(!) remarkable years. What year did you begin at PBSC and what has your job entailed while on faculty there?

I started teaching in 1989 at Palm Beach Community College, which was founded in 1933 as the first public two-year college in Florida, and is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. As several community colleges began offering four-year degrees in some areas, many have changed their names, and the college became Palm Beach State College in the early 2000's. Since 1989, I have taught the Music Theory and Sight Singing I-IV course sequence and Music Appreciation every semester. From 1990-92 I directed our college choir and began the Chamber Singers, until a staffing change brought a new full-timer to head up our vocal and choral program. Since his retirement in December of 2020, I have once again been directing our college choir. Over the years, I've also taught class piano and an occasional applied percussion or applied voice student. I served as department chair briefly in the late 1990's, but felt my true calling was working directly with students, so returned to the classroom full time after three years. 

In 2010, I wrote an unusual supplemental text of approximately fifty quirky poems on specific topics covered in music appreciation courses, with the unlikely title, The History of Music Expounded in Verse (or, the Musical High Points, but Metered, and Terse). It's now in its third edition, and is published by Kendall Hunt. Here's a very short sample, from the poem, "Mass Hysteria."


   Many people don't know, here and now,

   How to spell "Agnus Dei," no-how.

   They put "n" before "g,"

   And amend it, you see,

   From "God's lamb" to more like "holy cow."


Students are utterly overwhelmed (and everyone knows it!) by Donald Jay Grout's A History of Western Music, so a lot of time students don't even read it. I think it's much more likely that a student will take a look at a brief poem, especially if there's a bit of humor in it! I use several of the poems as skits, getting students involved at the front of the class. There are three of them where I actually dress up in costume: like a monk ("Just Plain Chant"), a pirate, singing a 6/8 Mixolydian tune I made up ("It's opera for me, me mates,/It's opera for me!/No words are said,/But sung, instead!/It's opera for me!"), and a beach bum ("The most excellent of the Baroque includes/Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel, dudes . . .").

I was privileged to teach for one week in both the summers of 2013 and 2018 at a summer music camp in St. Marc, Haiti, run by Luc Beauliere, one of my former students, who is originally from St. Marc. He raised funds to fly some of his former teachers and classmates there and put us up at a hotel. He provided a translator for each of us, as well as all of our meals. It was a lot of hard (and hot!) work, but very rewarding.

For about twenty-five years, our college participated in the Palm Beach County Literacy Coalition's Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee, and I was a member of our college team every year until the Coalition discontinued the bee about seven years ago. Our team has been very competitive over the years, with three first-place finishes and a pair of second-place finishes. It was a fun fundraiser for the Coalition.

I've acquired the unofficial status of "Number One Fan" of several of our intercollegiate athletic teams, and often attend their games and practices when I can. In the 2019-20 school year, just before the big Covid epidemic hit, I actually made appearances as our college mascot, Palmer Panther, at at least one of each of our athletic teams' competitions. I tried to keep Palmer's identity as secret as possible, hoping to hint to our athletes that somebody besides Professor Webber cared about and loved them, but I think the students and coaches figured out pretty quickly that I was the one inside the costume.

I've always been involved in church music, either singing, playing percussion, or directing choirs. This has led me to participate in the music programs of Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Congregational, Jewish, Catholic, and Christian Science congregations. Since the summer of 2021, I've been a member of the church choir at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach, Florida, where the funeral of Marla Trump's late mother was held this week. All of the members of the choir are selected by competitive audition, and many of us are professional musicians. It's a phenomenally good ensemble, and we perform some incredibly difficult music.

In June 2023, you had an amazing opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall. Our Miami ensembles performed in Carnegie Hall in 2012, which was a wonderful opportunity for our students and greater Miami community. Tell us about your performance and experience at Carnegie Hall.

Since 2018, I have sung with a choral ensemble called Espressivo, conducted by John Weatherspoon, choral director at Lake Worth High School in Lake Worth, Florida.

It's composed primarily of music teachers in the county, and has included several of my former students who are now teachers. We were invited to perform as part of a larger choir of about 125 people from around the country in a concert of music from Japan, Korea, Hawaii, and the Philippines on June 10, 2023, and the concert included the world premiere of "Wide American Earth," by Saunder Choi. The logistics were arranged by a company called National Concerts, and the experience was incredible. My first time going to Carnegie Hall was as a performer on stage!

Singing the National Anthem at Major League Baseball Spring Training games must be a thrill for you and your students. How often are you able to engage in these opportunities? Do you have a favorite team?

When I knew in the summer of 2021 that I would once again be directing the Palm Beach State College Concert Chorus that fall, I contacted Taylor Burress, then Marketing Coordinator for Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, in Jupiter, Florida, home of our minor-league Palm Beach Cardinals (St. Louis) and Jupiter Hammerheads (Miami), to see about having our choir sing the national anthem at a minor-league game early that fall. It evolved into the stadium's first "College Night," and from that contact, I auditioned and was selected to sing the national anthem at subsequent minor league games, but also for MLB spring-training games, as the stadium also serves as the spring-training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. That contact led to an opportunity for me to sing the national anthem for the NHL's Florida Panthers. Being a big sports fan, these have all been wonderful opportunities for me which I have thoroughly enjoyed. People ask if I get nervous singing in front of so many people, but I really don't anymore, after having done this sort of thing in so many situations so many times. In a way, it's less intimidating to sing in front of thousands of people than it is to sing in front of a dozen people! I now sing for about four or five minor league games each summer, and one spring-training game each year.

My favorite sports team is and always has been the Cincinnati Reds. I grew up in Cedarville, about 20-25 miles east of Dayton, and fondly remember trips to Cincinnati's old Crosley Field to watch a young Frank Robinson, with Leo Cardenas, Tommy Helms, Vada Pinson, Jim Maloney, and of course, Pete Rose, followed later by trips to Riverfront Stadium to watch the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. I have yet to catch a game at Great American Ballpark, though, but hope to remedy that when I enter my retirement years! My favorite place to watch a game has to be the SIUH (Staten Island University Hospital) Park, which overlooks the water and Manhattan Island. My daughter, Hilary, and I had wanted to catch a game together there for several years, and finally had an opportunity to do so this past summer when I sang at Carnegie Hall.

How often do you compose? Do you focus your compositional writing to a certain genre? Your three-movement choral composition, Three American Poets, set to poems by Carl Sandburg, Ogden Nash, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, will be the subject of an upcoming doctoral dissertation by a colleague who is earning a doctorate in choral conducting at the University of Kentucky. Can you tell us more about this work?

It seems like I'm always composing! Most of the time, it's because I don't find exactly the literature I need to suit the particular strengths (and avoid the weaknesses) of the groups I'm directing. In 2016, I wrote the new Alma Mater for Palm Beach State College, in response to an open call for submissions. Most of my works are choral compositions (both arrangements and original works), although I've written a few piano solos for some of our student pianists (even though I don't teach piano). One of our piano faculty members, a European Georgian named Giorgi Chkhikvadze, has asked me over the past ten years to compose solo works for him to perform on his solo piano recitals. These have included a set of Fantasy Variations on a Russian Theme ("Song of the Nursemaids"), a twelve-minute long Passacaglia in G Minor, the Waltz Maria, based on tunes from West Side Story, and Gershwiniana. I also composed a homophonic solo piano arrangement of William Billings' "When Jesus Wept," which I programmed in a recent PBSC Concert Chorus performance on the theme of "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs." It included many of my hymn arrangements and an original setting of George Herbert's poem, "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing." (Can you tell I'm a big George Herbert fan?) Currently, I'm working on a "flash mob" arrangement of "My Favorite Things" to use at the beginning of my final concert with the PBSC Concert Chorus this spring, which will feature, of course, many of my favorite choral pieces. That concert will be a big challenge, as only fifteen students have registered for the chorus this semester. Retention is always a problem at two-year schools, especially with a legislature that thinks of our students as consumers and an education as a product to be purchased and delivered with no "wasted" credit hours.

Three American Poets is a choral piece with piano accompaniment that I quickly wrote in the summer of 2021, when it became apparent that I once again would be directing the PBSC Concert Chorus when we resumed face-to-face instruction in the fall of 2021. Our previous choral conductor, Michael MacMullen, had been heading the choral/vocal program for about 25 years, but decided to go ahead and retire in December of 2020, as our ensembles, because of the pandemic, had not been able to meet since March of that year, and it wasn't clear when they would be able to meet again. The college had not made any moves to hire any full-time person to succeed Professor MacMullen, and we were left with just two full-time music faculty: David Gibble, who oversaw our instrumental and jazz program, and me, the theory/sight singing person who had directed our choir nearly thirty years ago, had sung in a handful of operas, and had a fairly strong background in choral conducting. I was the rather obvious choice.

My composition used "The Fog," by Carl Sandburg, for the first movement, Ogden Nash's humorous poem, "The Germ," (appropriate, I thought, as we were emerging from the Covid pandemic!) for the second movement, and concluded with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's little known poem, "The Singers." I didn't have a collective title for the piece at first, and asked my choir for suggestions. They were of no help, however, and as our program was approaching, I needed something to use as a title for the program, and came up with the absolutely imaginationless (is that even a word?) title of Three American Poets. It served as the emotional centerpiece of the program that had the theme of "Great American Poets," and included settings of poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar (from Dayton!), Robert Frost, and Maya Angelou. I was able to get our college president to serve as host and narrator for one of the performances, and our academic dean did the honors for the second performance. It doesn't hurt for the leaders of the administration to know you exist!

The piano introduction to "The Fog" is very slow-moving and sounds like it could be part of the score of a 1950's film noir. The passage in "The Germ" set to the lyrics "His childish pride he often pleases/By giving people strange diseases" includes a hint of the horn theme of Richard Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, and at the mention of "strange diseases," I have the basses and tenors moving in parallel major thirds on the notes of a whole-tone scale, accompanied by parallel major thirds in the piano that are a whole step lower than what is being sung. Longfellow's "The Singers" is a serious poem tracing the stages of life, and the unique importance of the "song" that is sung at every stage of life. I've treated it in a much more serious style that I suppose owes a debt to Samuel Wesley, some of the great 19th century composers such as Johannes Brahms, both of the Schumanns, and Felix Mendelssohn; Amy Beach and The Second New England School, and a bit of John Rutter. It also has a somewhat hymnlike nature in its primary theme, which is developed on its return in later verses, after contrasting melodic and harmonic ideas that progress in a primarily through-composed approach.

John Weatherspoon, the conductor of Espressivo and prospective author of the dissertation, plans to have Espressivo sing the composition at our concerts this April, and I can't wait!

Can you share some advice for our aspiring music theorists and composers?

For composers: Compose because you enjoy it, not in order to get rich (the publisher keeps most of the money, anyway!). It's nice to get your music published, but it's more important for your growth as a composer to get your music performed. This often means being involved as a member of a church choir, civic choir, community band, or semi-professional group, and watching for opportunities to speak up about music you've written that you think would be good for that group to perform. You will already have an "in" with that group. Share your music with others whenever they ask you about it. I don't ask for money when colleagues ask if they may perform my works. My answer is always, "Yes! Please do! I'll give you permission to make as many copies as you need for your group, and I'll work with them in a rehearsal if you would like for me to." Finally: please, I implore you--learn the difference between 3/2 time and 6/4 time. They are NOT interchangeable! 3/2 is an augmentation of 3/4, with three beats per measure, and 6/4 is an augmentation of 6/8, with two beats per measure.

For theorists: Don't overlook the importance of a deep understanding of good voice leading. ALL good music, at its most basic level, should be singable. Teach theory to someone who doesn't know it, and that will guarantee that you will really learn it. Keep challenging yourself to learn more about music of all styles. Listen to music that you don't understand. You don't like country music? Find a country music performer who knows his or her stuff, and develop a friendship. Natalie Stovall is my country-music friend, and she's an amazing fiddler and singer. Go to his or her concerts, and learn about country music. The same thing goes for jazz, opera, bluegrass, church music, folk music, Romanian choral music, string quartets by Shostakovich, classical guitar music performed by Tatyana Ryzhkova, that creepy-quirky Bartok stuff that's really hard to count, Stravinsky, Messiaen (even harder to count than Bartok!), Josquin, Landini, Hildegard, Florence Price, and Adolphus Hailstork. Remember, when people say, "I don't know much about music, but I know what I like," what they really mean is, "I don't know much about music, but I like [only] what I know." If you get to know more, you may just find that you like more!