Music Department Head Larry Stockton to retire this year, reflects on decades at college

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Larry Stockton will retire at the end of 2021-2022 academic year after 44 years of teaching. (Photo courtesy of Larry Stockton)

Bernadette Russo, Assistant Arts and Culture Editor

There are some professors whose impact extends far beyond the classroom. If you ask his students, Larry Stockton, who took his final bow as director of Percussion Ensemble on Nov. 6,  is one of them.

Stockton started his Lafayette career in 1977 resurrecting the college’s marching band. Now, Stockton’s titles at Lafayette include professor of music, head of the music department and director of Percussion Ensemble. He is credited with the creation and development of the Percussion Ensemble and the introduction of a global music class (MUS 103) into the curriculum, which has grown considerably since its inception 40 years ago.

Before coming to Lafayette, Stockton was an adjunct percussion instructor at the University of Delaware. Prior to that, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Western Carolina University and a doctorate degree in musical arts from Temple University. In his early career, he served as a percussionist in the Third U.S. Army Band in Atlanta, Georgia and the 296th Army Band in Zama, Japan.

Under Stockton’s leadership, Percussion Ensemble has blossomed since its establishment 13 years ago into a crucial component of the music department that contains about 32 current members. Reflecting on his time teaching, Stockton credited the ensemble with fueling the rest of his career. 

“Percussion, once it got going, just revitalized me,” he said.

Stockton’s last concert at Lafayette was on Nov. 6 with the Percussion Ensemble. Though he will be retiring at the end of June, he will take a step back from the ensemble next semester to welcome and assist a new director.

However, there is one aspect of teaching that Stockton holds dearest: his students. He emphasized that it is the interactions with students that he will miss the most.

“You’ve got to be student-oriented. I’m convinced of that. And I think any success I’ve had as a teacher has been because of the great students I’ve had,” he said. “While playing percussion, we were able to explore different avenues and people felt free to express themselves. And I felt the same way.”

These sentiments are reciprocated by many of Stockton’s students. Anna Zittle ‘22, percussion ensemble assistant and board member recognized Stockton as being one of the most transformative people in her life. 

“The way in which he goes about life with this kindness to others and generosity and charisma and ability to lead a room without ever having to raise his voice at all is just something I admire,” she said. “People have so much respect for him, from the freshmen who’ve just met him now to professors who have been here for almost as long as he has, some longer even.”

“I’m sad that other students won’t get to experience Doc in the future as a teacher, but his care for students will last well beyond his physical presence at the school, and his spirit that he’s infected and the camaraderie between Percussion Ensemble and musicians on campus will keep going,” Zittle added.

Percussion board member Anna Boggess ‘23 looks up to Stockton for his large contributions to the expansion of the music department, which as a result has created spaces for students to follow their passions and indulge in music. From Stockton, Boggess has learned to find greater joys in music and life. 

“I think he’s taught me to bring more humor into life. One of the reasons why I would be so excited to go percussion was to see him, because he is the funniest person I’ve ever met, and he’s not afraid to embarrass himself,” Boggess said. “I would never associate the word ‘goofy’ with percussion, and he showed me that you can have so much fun while doing that type of work.”

To send Stockton off in his retirement, students gifted him with a Djembe drum signed by all members of the ensemble. Stockton also invited generations of alumni percussionists back to perform at his final concert. After the concert, Stockton and his former students recalled memories of their time together.

“The thing that stood out with everybody is how special Monday nights were to all of us. And everybody said it was such a great environment that was just open for everyone. It was safe,” Stockton said. 

Following his departure, Stockton hopes that Percussion Ensemble will remain a key part of the music department and continue to expand and develop. He will remain an advocate for emphasizing student-teacher relationships.

“I would say to my colleagues, the key to successful teaching is to really be engaged with your students and develop a learning environment in which it’s a two-way street,” Stockton said. “It’s not just lectures and taking notes, but it’s really active involvement.”