Dr. Bill Swann: A Local Music Legend

Many Maryville College students and alumni know Dr. Bill Swann as the smiling face of the Music Department. As a student not affiliated with music, I learned he is much more complex than that. I met with Dr. Swann over boneless wings at the recently opened Blue Moose in Alcoa to discuss his career with him.

Alongside growing concerns about the future of the Music Department at Maryville College, Swann stated he would be stepping down as the Division of Fine Arts chairperson to focus on “chasing [his] nose.” This career shift may worry Maryville College students and staff, but Swann assured that his music career is nowhere near over. 

Regarding the future of his position at Maryville College, a replacement for the chairperson’s position has not been identified thus far. On this topic, Swann simply said, “I don’t know yet.” The college expects to make a formal announcement of a replacement before the next academic year.

After uncovering this career shift, I probed Swann on the former jazz ensemble that he used to conduct. The jazz enthusiast immediately perked up and said “I would love to have one!” He stated, “Over the last three to four years, I just kept getting fewer and fewer students.” 

Now that he is stepping down, the opportunities for musical endeavors on campus are endless. Swann’s career, like that of many musicians, involves lots of trial and error to see “what shakes out.” He’s excited to explore avenues of student involvement in his favorite pastime: jazz. Perhaps the combination of the spare time dedicated to his personal music and a growing student interest could result in a Maryville College jazz ensemble resurgence very soon. 

Upon finding his albums on Spotify, I knew I needed to delve into his self described “rhythmic, jazz-derived, and funky” experimental music. When asked why he has not released an album since his 2005 record “Three, Swann said he would love to and adds that doing so “is highest on [his] musical list.”  This answer hints that there are likely chances of more produced music coming to Swann’s Spotify soon.

According to Swann, the job market and general advice for an aspiring musician has not changed since he enrolled in college. Swann compared the life of a music major to those in the humanities with overarching advice to “be well rounded” and “see all possibilities and connections.” He remains optimistic about the futures of music majors in spite of polarizing opinions about career prospects for these students.  

Speaking directly to musicians, Swann encouraged them to “practice, practice, practice,” but strive to “stay healthy in every dimension,” noting that there is a fine line between hard work and putting yourself at risk. Swann asks all students, no matter their field of study, to be mindful of their personal needs. He has high hopes not only for the progression of his own music but also for the potential of all current and future Maryville College music majors.

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