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Percussionist marches into retirement after 34 years at UCM

Michael Sekelsky

Mike Sekelsky was very young when he first watched the Drum Corps International while hiding in the woods in Wisconsin.

He said he used to walk four or five blocks as a first-grader to watch and listen to this drum and bugle corps. This is where his love for percussion started and inspired him to pursue his career in music.

“I would just sit there for hours and watch them,” Sekelsky said. “It was just fascinating. So I kind of grew up thinking, ‘That’s something I’d like to be able to do some day.’”

And he did. Sekelsky recently retired from UCM as dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and where he also served as chair of the department of music, a professor of music and the assistant director of band. He also worked with the Warrensburg High School band and taught private music lessons.

Sekelsky said he helped coach his two children while they were in the Warrensburg High School band every morning, a job that also helped recruit students to join the university’s band.

He said he worked about 25 years with the high school, where his wife, Stephanie Sekelsky, is currently the band director.

He continued to work with the high school drumline well after his two children graduated.

“I would work with marching band programs from 6:45 until 7:30 every morning and then I’d come to campus,” he said.

Sekelsky said he created the athletic band support group called Band-Aids to support the high school band, which eventually chipped in a stipend that allowed him to continue as drum-line coordinator and drill designer.

He was hired at UCM in 1984 as the assistant director of band and a percussion teacher, playing at over 500 games during his tenure.

Before coming to UCM, Sekelsky taught at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Kansas and the University of Minnesota.

“I always felt like I was the kind of person that the more I learned, the more I wanted to share with other people,” Sekelsky said. “I learned pretty early on that if I didn’t have the immediate solution for a student to some kind of problem they were having, I would try to find one.”

Eric Honour, interim chair for the department of music and professor of music technology and composition, said he and Sekelsky have been friends and colleagues since Honour started working at UCM in 2000.

Honour said one of Sekelsky’s percussion students, Shawn Pelton, has gone on to a very high-profile position. Pelton is the longtime drummer of the Saturday Night Live band.

Honour said many other students of Sekelsky’s have gone to become professors in music schools, positions in top military bands and many other prestigious positions.

“Regardless of the eventual career paths of his students, I think they all found him to be an inspirational, caring instructor who worked hard to develop each of them to the highest level possible during their time together,” Honour said.

Honour said Sekelsky has coordinated all of the music department’s scholarships for many years, which takes countless hours each spring. Sekelsky also took the lead on building and maintaining the department’s website.

He said Sekelsky has been a constant, steady presence, helping to guide the music department forward.

“Mike has been an extraordinary force in the department for many years,” Honour said. “Often operating behind the scenes, handling things others don’t even realize need handling, he has been one of the most important pillars supporting the department as a whole.”

Anthony Pursell, director of bands and associate professor of music, said Sekelsky works closely and personally with his students to know the best way to teach them and pushes them toward their goals better than anyone he’s witnessed in his time at UCM.

“Very similar to how he has inspired his percussion students, Mike’s work ethic is second to none,” Pursell said. “I know personally he has inspired me, especially in light of the recent budget problems UCM and the state of Missouri has faced…Mike is determined to find a solution that is sustainable and keeps the integrity of the unit strong. I overheard a staff member mention about Mike, ‘I hope he does not retire. He is the only person I know who can juggle the numbers the way he does but yet puts faces to what those numbers mean.’ To me that statement is a testament on how Mike has touched others.”

Allison Robbins, assistant professor of music, said she has known Sekelsky for about five years.

“In those five years, I’ve seen him work in all different kinds of roles: as chair, as percussion instructor, as associate dean, as dean and as a committed member of the UCM and Warrensburg community,” she said.

Robbins said she’s nervous that once Sekelsky officially retires, they will find out a lot of the administrative things he did for the department that they didn’t even realize.

“He’s like that. When a job needs to be done, he does it without complaining and he does it well. We’ll miss him a lot,” she said. “Mike undoubtedly inspires his percussion students. He sets clear goals for his students and helps them work towards those goals methodically. You can’t help but make better drummers with that approach.”

Sekelsky said he used to do many private lessons with percussion students. He said if a student struggled in a lesson, he would find many creative ways to teach that student specifically to their needs.

“I had to come up with a lot of different options and I always found that interesting, and it gets a little bit into the psyche of student,” he said. “So, you have to kind of figure out how they learn…so you find that passion that you want to share with somebody else and see them do well, and that’s always been the real treat for me to be able to do that.”

Sekelsky said when he retires from being the dean, he wants to get back into music. He wants to teach private lessons from his home and go back to working with the high school band.

“I’m kind of looking forward to getting back to teaching again,” he said.

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