Music Maestro Kevin Dewey retires after educating and inspiring musicians for nearly 30 years
After 28 years of teaching music and conducting choirs at the College, HFC Director of Choral and Vocal Music G. Kevin Dewey has announced his retirement.
“For 45 years, I’ve burned the candles at both ends and everywhere in between,” said Dewey. “I want to exercise some self-care and spend more time with my family, particularly my kids who are 12, 10, and 8. The administrative duties this position entails have grown too cumbersome for this ol’ guy. I could still direct choirs and teach the occasional class for another 10 years, because I really do enjoy working with the students, faculty, staff, and administration here at HFC!”
His final day will be Tuesday, August 15. After retirement, Dewey will continue to conduct Vanguard Voices (HFC’s choir-in-residence) and the Dearborn Summer Chorus for the Dearborn Parks & Recreation Department.
Maestro magic and abundant artistry
Dewey has left a truly lasting legacy, with innumerable contributions to the musical artistry of the College.
Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Michael Nealon -- an accomplished fellow musician and teacher himself -- is grateful to Kevin for the difference he made at the College and in the community. “It has been my great privilege and pleasure to work with (and recently teach alongside) Kevin Dewey in Henry Ford College’s Music Program -- witnessing firsthand the masterful and often magical way in which he integrates and shares his profound artistry, his love for learning, his dedication to community, his consummate showmanship, and his unwavering commitment to excellence. Take a (well-deserved) bow, Maestro!”
Dr. Brad Romans, dean of the HFC School of Liberal Arts, who joined the College just this year, has also been moved by Dewey’s many contributions to the College. “During Kevin’s tenure at HFC, he has led notable, successful vocal ensembles, has become a driving force for the music department, for Fine and Performing Arts, and served as an ambassador for the College's mission,” said Romans. “His impact on the thousands of students he has trained and developed, faculty he has mentored, and the arts community of which he is an integral part cannot be overstated, and his colleagues wish him happiness and success in his work beyond HFC.”
Winning the Distinguished Recognition Award
Dewey was presented with the Distinguished Recognition Award at the 2023 Mayor’s Arts Awards on April 25 for his many contributions to the HFC community and the greater Dearborn community. He was not aware that he would receive this prestigious award after leading the Renaissance Voices ensemble choir at the awards ceremony. He received a standing ovation.
“This came as a complete surprise. When (emcee) Mike Moseley was building up to this, it dawned on me that it was me he was talking about. Then, in the next instant, my photo appeared onscreen,” said Dewey. “For 40-plus years, I’ve worked for the City of Dearborn in one way or another. I do what I do because people have allowed me to do it, so this felt like a lifetime achievement award.”
He continued: “What’s always been a big part of the Dearborn community is the arts. I hope we can continue this. I hope we can continue to inspire kids and make it affordable and easy for all kids to get involved in the arts.”
Dearborn City Councilwoman and HFC alumna Leslie Herrick presented Dewey this award. Like Dewey, she is a graduate of Dearborn High School.
“Kevin has been making people feel welcome, lifting countless spirits, and inspiring others through music since he was a teen,” she said. “If you met him for the first time today, you’d have the same experience I had in high school when I walked into a room full of strangers and joined his Rise Up and Sing youth choir. We're fortunate that Kevin chose to spend his career teaching and inspiring students in his hometown at HFC!”
Herrick continued: “Whether he’s at the piano, has a trumpet in his hand, or is conducting from a podium, Kevin’s welcoming grin, twinkling eyes, and corny jokes immediately put newcomers at ease. No matter what their talent level, Kevin always brings out the best in those who have the good fortune to learn from and perform with him. Congratulations to Kevin on receiving special recognition for his lifelong work and the invaluable impact he has made on countless lives by making music in Dearborn. I wish him the best in his retirement from HFC and can't wait to see what he does next!”
Another award and lovely gesture that took him by surprise
On May 5, at the HFC Nursing Pinning Ceremony, Dewey – who has provided music for this special event for 11 years – was given an Honorary Nursing Pin. Recently-retired HFC nursing instructor Cathy Gangarossa presented this award, wanting Dewey to receive this special recognition by the Nursing Program for his musical contributions.
“This was another complete surprise,” said Dewey. “I was honored and speechless. This was a very lovely gesture.”
“Kevin was chosen because he was instrumental in the success of each pinning ceremony since we restarted them in 2012,” said Gangarossa. “Not only did he arrange for the musicians and soloists to perform at our ceremonies, but he was present at every one. Recently, Blue Fusion has been a fixture at our ceremonies, and I do believe I am their biggest fan! Kevin has been a positive influence at HFC from the time we met when we both were on the Faculty Senate. I wish him the best in his retirement. HFC won’t be the same!”
Growing up in an artistic family instilled a love of music
Born in Sacramento, CA, Dewey – one of three children and the only son – was raised in Dearborn in a very creative, musical household. His mother was a concert pianist and his father was a trumpeter in the University of Michigan Marching Band. His parents sparked his interest in music.
“I grew up in an artistic family,” said Dewey. “I had a wonderful mother. I woke up in the morning hearing Chopin and Brahms and Liszt being played in the living room. In the afternoon, my dad would play Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson.”
After graduating from DHS, Dewey earned his bachelor’s degree in jazz studies and his master’s degree in choral conducting – both from Wayne State University. He lives with his wife and their three children in Dearborn.
Dewey has spent his career in higher education. He taught at Wayne State, Macomb Community College, and Oakland Community College before coming to HFC (then Henry Ford Community College) in 1995.
The “Music Department of Love”
“I have always enjoyed educating and inspiring young musicians. Most music majors just want to sing and play their instruments. They don’t want to take music history and music theory classes. I know; I was them once,” he said. “I approached it by engendering a sense of love and knowledge of music history and theory, making students appreciate music’s other facets besides performing.”
Dewey explained why the HFC Music Department is referred to as the Music Department of Love – or MDOL.
“Everyone’s one big happy family in music. There is a sense of community through this program. The people in it – teachers and students alike – truly love and support each other,” said Dewey. “I have enjoyed the diversity of the students here at the College in all respects.”
HFC Faculty Chair of Fine and Performing Arts Steve Glazer has known Dewey since he arrived at HFC in 2004.
“Kevin Dewey is, without question, the most accomplished vocal music instructor I have ever encountered. I have known many who have a great ear and can pick out notes of a chord, but I have never met anyone who can hear, sing, and teach vocal music as Kevin can,” said Glazer. “Throughout the years, Kevin has continuously demonstrated and committed an unbelievable amount of energy to HFC and its music program. It is largely because of Kevin that the vocal music program at HFC is a beast! Kevin has traditionally put in endless hours to keep this program running – and performing – at an incredible level. Plus, Kevin has been no stranger to faculty governance, serving on numerous committees throughout the years. It has been an honor and privilege to work with him!”
Expanding the number of choral ensembles to seven
During his time at the College, Dewey has built the HFC Choral program from two ensembles to as many as seven. He also increased the number of vocal musicians to 150. An accomplished musician himself, he is the director of musical groups at HFC:
- Blue Fusion Vocal Jazz Ensemble
- The HFC Chorus
- Midnight Blue Vocal Jazz Ensemble
- Renaissance Voices
- Studio 110 Big Jazz Band
- Vanguard Voices
Dewey is also the founder of Blue Fusion, Midnight Blue, Renaissance Voices, and Vanguard Voices. In addition to directing all of the HFC choral and vocal jazz groups, Dewey has served as the music director for the HFC Theatre Department productions of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Pippin, The Music Man, The Wiz, Oliver, The Who’s Tommy, Grease, and Hairspray.
“We have done the Collage Concert for 28 straight years across four presidents and two interim presidents. I remember just before the pandemic, that year’s concert was on a leap year – Feb. 29, 2020. During the pandemic, we had a virtual concert,” recalled Dewey. “We’ve produced and sold CDs of each Collage Concert, so we have nearly 30 years of music at HFC recorded for people to enjoy.”
Former HFC President Dr. Andrew A. Mazzara, who worked extensively with both Dewey and Goward, referred to the two as the “Dynamic Duo.”
“Their love for instrumental and vocal music, their students, and the College was amazing!” said Mazzara. “Kevin and Rick collaborated on many local, national, and international music projects. The Dynamic Duo helped established a national reputation for the College’s music program. Both were great teachers, musicians, vocalists, and College ambassadors. I hope Kevin remains an active vocal music leader in our community. He has much to offer toward enriching the performing arts in our area.”
The College's current president, Russ Kavalhuna, has enjoyed working with Dewey and is grateful for his contributions to the HFC community. "It's not easy to summarize what Kevin has meant to this community," said Kavalhuna. "So many events showed the welcoming face of the College through the music that Kevin and his choirs produced. Performances, Commencements, caroling, Board meetings, community events, and, of course, concerts, all had Kevin's stamp on them. It wasn't just the talent, it was the sense of connection and the joy in producing music that brought people together. During the heart of the pandemic, Kevin used technology (YouTube) to continue to bring musicians and the community together. More than that, Kevin brought a sense of humor and a love of people and students to his work. Many of them will remember him for a lifetime. I am glad he will still be showcasing his talents, and the talents of others, in this community."
A “true music man”
Under Dewey’s leadership, HFC musicians have performed at three Presidential Inaugurations. They have also performed overseas.
“Our musical ensembles have always performed well and at really awesome venues,” said Dewey.
In 1998, Dewey arranged musical selections that were performed on what is now CBS 62 at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival. That same year, the Big Band and Midnight Blue performed Dewey’s arrangements at the Montreux Jazz festival in Switzerland.
“Kevin is a ‘true music man’ in every sense of the word. It is impossible to be around him without getting caught up in his love for music and – above all – his willingness and generosity to share the joy of it. I say this as someone who has had the privilege and pleasure of working with him over the years,” said HFC alumna EmmaJean Woodyard, the director of the Dearborn Community Fund, who’s known Dewey since he was 12.
In 2005, Dewey and Renaissance Voices performed a concert in the great hall of Kronborg Slott in Denmark. It has been immortalized as Elsinore Castle in Shakespeare’s famous play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. According to Dewey, Renaissance Voices was the only choir to ever perform in this beautiful, historic, and acoustically excellent venue.
“It was a thrilling and magical experience, and the audience loved it,” said Dewey. “We even released a recording of the performance after the tour!”
In 2011, Dewey was the guest conductor at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for their special performance, “An Evening of Rodgers & Hammerstein Classics.” He considers this performance one of the highlights of his career.
“That was a super special event!” he recalled fondly. “The musicians were on strike. They were still doing occasional concerts, billed as ‘The Musicians of the Detroit Symphony,’ to raise funds for those who were out of work because of the strike. They contacted the Detroit Federation of Musicians’ then-president Gordon Stump, who knew me well. He recommended that they book me to conduct that special concert.”
Teaching students to become good musicians and good people
HFC music instructor Anthony Lai was one of Dewey’s students. After Dewey’s retirement, he will become HFC’s Interim Director of Choral and Vocal Music.
“I am thankful to have experienced Kevin’s tenure at the College as both student and colleague,” said Lai. “His passion for choral music and jazz inspired my own path, and I’ve seen him inspire countless others. He worked tirelessly for so many years, and his retirement is, without a doubt, well-earned.”
HFC Manager of Recording Arts Jeremy Palmer has known Dewey for more than 17 years. Like Lai, He has been Dewey’s student and colleague.
“During that time, Kevin has taught me so much about what it means to be a good educator,” he said. “He focuses on teaching students to become good musicians, and he also teaches them to become good people. He has always been kind and thoughtful toward me, helping me to become a better version of myself.”
Palmer continued: “As a teacher, he is always teaching me new information and new ways of looking at things. As a mentor, he is encouraging and always pushing me toward my goals. As a supervisor, he is kind and respectful. As a friend, he is supportive and honest. Kevin will be missed by many people the College. I want to publicly express my sincere gratitude for Kevin and all he has done for me and my family.”
Selection: “This is Why We Sing” (Compiled and Edited by G. Kevin Dewey)
A note about HFC retiree stories
We value the contributions of all our retirees. When we become aware of a colleague's official intent to retire, we reach out to them to ask if we can write a story about them, to share their contributions and allow others to recognize and appreciate them. Some of our retirees decline to participate in the retiree story series. We respect their wishes and their privacy. If there is a retiree whom you want to see recognized, and we have not done a story about them near the end of their time working at the College, you can talk to that person, or reach out to HFC Communications. We will let you know if the person has declined to have a story published. In some cases, we might not be aware of their plans to retire.
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