A thunderclap of musical instruments hits the ears as the door opens to a room filled with concert band students warming up for class. Students are called to attention by professor and band director Richard Inouye. Raising his baton, Inouye signals to the students and music suddenly fills the room for a few seconds. Then, just as suddenly, the baton drops and the music ceases.
Inouye asks the brass players to give him the lead notes into the music. Up the baton goes, along with the music from the instruments. Inouye enthusiastically shouts, “That’s perfect!” He calls on the rest of the musicians to match the brass section. They begin again with more focus and feeling. With much starting and stopping, direction and modification, the students learn to play the music together. Laughter is always present as Inouye ribs someone for a mistake or for not paying attention.
Inouye will retire by the end of the Spring quarter, having taught music and directed band at Clark for 11 years. During that time he has made a long list of accomplishments. A student-run annual jazz festival, The Big Band Bash, scholarships and educational trips to Canada, Korea and Mexico are just a few.
Inouye said his time in the Air Force’s Falconaires Jazz Ensemble, where his responsibilities included administration, finances and tour management, helped him with his job.
“Without a doubt, the training that has helped me get everything done here I needed to do successfully is my military training way more than my degree,” Inouye said.
Shelly Williams, the band’s program coordinator of five years, said she appreciates working with Inouye.
“He’s very clear about the steps that need to be taken,” she said. “The timeline and tricks of the trade.” Williams, who also plays in the concert band, said that clarity and focus also comes out in the music.
“He can get the emotional response he’s trying to elicit with those notes that are very sterile, black and white,” she said.
“Don’t make me do this,” Inouye threatens playfully as the students try a passage again, but don’t quite get the timing right. Students groan as he turns on the electronic metronome and the rhythmic ticking starts over the speakers.
Inouye’s wife, Susan Inouye, said people don’t always see how much her husband cares about his students.
“He is a hard-nose,” she said. “If you’re late for rehearsal, you’re not gonna get an A in band because that is the only thing you’re graded on: your attendance.”
She also said he wants to teach students not just to be good musicians but good people. If the students make a mistake, he tells them to own it and fix it.
“He’s hard on you because he wants you to be the best version of yourself that you can be,” trombone player Alex Tippets said. Tippets has played with Richard Inouye for five years and said he’s periodically butted heads with the professor. He recalled one time Richard Inouye took him aside and said Tippets wasn’t putting in the work to play at the level he should be. Once Tippets worked harder and improved, Richard Inouye took notice of this and rewarded him with a trombone feature in the Big Band Bash.
“Everything he does is for and about the students, not for personal gain,” Susan Inouye said. She said his vision for the future pushed him to make sure the music program could run just as well without him.
The attention over his retirement isn’t something the band director anticipated.
“Honestly all I was doing was my job,” he said. “It’s a little overwhelming.”
Richard Inouye will cap off his 11 years at Clark on June 16 with his final performance. As the last note falls into silence, he will leave behind his mark on the Music department, but more importantly on the hearts and lives of his students.