Skip to main content

John Paynter, Legendary Director of Bands, Lives On

John Paynter is the subject of a new book and a talk about his impact on music

EVANSTON, Ill. --- John P. Paynter -- the second of only three band directors in Northwestern University’s history -- lives on in the hearts and minds of many.

Almost 19 years after Paynter’s death, the life of the legendary leader of bands is the subject both of a new book and a talk that will take place Dec. 17 at the 68th annual Midwest Clinic at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Mark Camphouse, composer, conductor and lead author of the new book, will lead the talk, titled “The Life and Legacy of John P. Paynter: His Impact on Music and the World,” at 10:30 a.m. in Room W185 at The Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference.

The presentation will be followed by a book signing of “Whatsoever Things: The Life and Teachings of John P. Paynter,” a collection of writings by Paynter’s family members, friends and former students who knew him best.

“Mr. Paynter set an extremely high standard of performance and musicianship which we continue to build upon and develop,” said Mallory Thompson, the third director of bands at Northwestern and a former student of Paynter’s. 

Appointed as director of bands at Northwestern in 1953, Paynter became a leading authority on marching and concert bands. Named for John Philip Sousa, he also was a beloved professor at Northwestern's Bienen School of Music, where he taught band music arranging and conducting to thousands of students, including Camphouse. 

During his tenure as director of bands, the Northwestern University Marching Band (NUMB) developed most of the traditions and culture that exist today.

“The band program at Northwestern has been and continues to be one of the most prominent in the country,” said Thompson, also a professor of music at the University.

A double Northwestern alumnus, Paynter earned his bachelor’s degree in 1950 -- the year after he, as a student member of the University’s marching band, traveled with his clarinet to the 1949 Rose Bowl and witnessed the football squad’s memorable march to victory. He earned his master’s degree in theory and composition at Northwestern in 1951.

Paynter, whose blood was said to “run purple,” remained at Northwestern and led the bands from 1953 to 1996.

“I always say that I have the best job in the world, and I assume from the length of their tenure that my predecessors felt the same way,” said Thompson. “I live in a world-class city, am affiliated with a world-class institution, work with exceptional colleagues and teach intelligent and incredibly talented students. It’s exciting to teach in an environment that supports both tradition and innovation.”

In 1996, as director of bands, Paynter had the rare thrill of once again accompanying the Northwestern football team to another Rose Bowl game, but, alas, this time, victory was illusive.

For many years, Paynter also served as president of The Midwest Clinic. He also led the celebrated Northshore Concert Band, which he directed in a repertory that ranged from standard polkas to modern composers like Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud.

“His avocation was proselytizing for an American tradition, community bands of music teachers, dentists, bankers, sales clerks and other adults, and he helped organize dozens of such bands around the country,” according to a February 1996 obituary in The New York Times.

Back to top