The UF School of Music recently benefited from an alumnus, composer John Edmondson (BA Music Theory ’55), who donated his collection of original music scores, recordings and publications.
The collection shows the extensiveness of Edmondson’s more than 50-year career as a composer and arranger for educational, marching band and entertainment music. In addition to composing and arranging hundreds of scores, Edmondson has also made his mark as an educator for public school students and a music publisher.
Edmondson’s foray into music came at a young age having been a part of a musical family. He took up the trumpet and played in a family band with his older siblings, who played piano, clarinet and trombone.
“In retrospect, playing the trumpet was not a wise choice for me because of a bad overbite and braces on my teeth,” said Edmondson.
However, it was the trumpet that secured Edmondson a spot in the Gator Marching Band and Variety Band, which is now known as the Jazz Band.
“‘Jazz’ was still a dirty word in the 1950s, at least on some college campuses, and the Variety Band was a way around the ban on such ‘pop’ music by the head of the Department of Music,” said Edmondson. “By the time I was in my senior year, it had become a full-blown jazz band, and students were writing most of what they performed.”
During Edmondson’s time at UF, degrees in music were not offered, so it was encouragement from band directors and professors to write his own music that showed Edmondson that music composition was what he wanted to do with his life.
“My first ever band work was a typical school fight song entitled Fight On, Dear Old MSC 101,” said Edmondson. “I remember laughing with joy when I first heard my masterpiece. I wasn’t completely aware of it at the time, but this is really where my life’s career really began.”
After graduating from UF and serving two years in the U.S. Army, Edmondson received his Master of Music in Composition from the University of Kentucky (UK), where he studied composition with Kenneth Wright and band scoring with R. Bernard Fitzgerald.
Edmondson transitioned from his own education to the education of young musicians and took jobs as a public school music teacher in central Kentucky and as a staff arranger for the UK Wildcat Marching Band.
During this time, Edmondson developed his influence as a top tier arranger and composer of educational music.
“My goal was always to write music for students that would appeal to them at that stage of their development so that they would stay interested and remain in music programs,” said Edmondson. “Many ‘serious’ composers do not like to write with restrictions on range, technique, endurance and the like, but I enjoy writing music that is interesting and slightly challenging to the developing student.”
With the compositions made during this stage in his career, as well as the numerous arrangements and publications created during his time as a music publisher, Edmondson began creating his personal music archive.
“I made it a point in my career to save a copy of everything that was ever published of mine,” said Edmondson. “I was fortunate enough to be able to make a living as a music composer and arranger without a ‘day job’ to help support my family and me. Not many have been able to do that, especially in the area of educational music.”
Edmondson hopes that with access to the compositions that filled his extensive career, music education students can look over his work for ideas and inspiration, as well as a perspective of what published band music was like from the 1970s forward.
“By donating his library to the School of Music, John will allow future generations of music educators to realize the benefit of his life's work,” said Jay Watkins, UF associate professor of music and associate director of bands. “We are deeply grateful to John for his continuous and generous donations to the School of Music and the UF Band Program throughout the years.”
As for his favorite pieces in the collection? Edmondson says he enjoys The Fun-Way Band Series and his early contest and festival works for middle school, including Norland March and Winchester March, but his favorite comes with a different answer.
“When people ask what my favorite work is, I reply with ‘The last one I wrote,’” said Edmondson. “That is another way of saying that they are all favorites for one reason or another.”