Wilton music directors Gawle and Rhodes announce retirements

At a band concert Wednesday evening, Jan. 13, Wilton Public Schools music directors Frank "Chip" Gawle and John Rhodes announced their retirements. According to Bulletin columnist Stephen Hudspeth, who was at the concert, their retirements are effective July 1, but they have an arrangement to remain to assist with the transition to new leadership.

Gawle is band and fine and performing arts leader at Wilton High School, where he has worked for 35 years.

Gawle was the keynote speaker at Wilton High School’s 2011 commencement exercises and in his speech reminded students, “Our moral compass must be strong enough to provide a beacon upon which our decisions are made, for just because we can do something does not mean we should do it. We would do well to remember what Jacob Marley said to Scrooge that fateful night: ‘Mankind was my business.’

“Many of our economic woes were caused by a few powerful and greedy people who put themselves over everyone. HGH and other subtle substances can make athletes faster and stronger, technology can make it easy to cheat, and on and on. Life is filled with moral dilemmas and choices must be made at every turn. At the same time, life is also filled with change; in fact, that may be the one constant.”

Gawle is also a finalist in the Grammy Awards competition for music educator of the year. The results will be announced next month.

Of his nomination for that award Gawle said, “I am here because I had the best mentor possible, Mr. John Rhodes, the unsung architect of the Wilton Music Program. I am here because of the great students I have had the pleasure of teaching [and] tremendously supportive colleagues who consistently inspire these wonderful students and share time from their successful programs for our students to flourish in the music program.”

Rhodes is band director of Middlebrook School, but he was also instrumental in establishing Wilton High School’s Big-Ten style marching band in 1974. He was inspired, he told The Bulletin in 2012, by an impressive marching performance he saw in Cayuga Falls, Ohio. Since then, Wilton’s marching band is one of only a few of its kind in Connecticut.

Recognized for their inclusiveness, Warrior Words columnist Jillian Finkelstein, who played clarinet in the marching band, had this to say of Gawle and Rhodes in her column in 2012.

“Mr. Gawle and Mr. Rhodes recognize that band should first and foremost be fun. Unlike other high schools that hold auditions and practice every day after school for several hours, anyone interested in the Warrior band is welcome to join. With nearly 200 students, our band is made up of people from every sports team, just about every club in the school, and a wide variety of other extracurricular activities. Where else can varsity football players be in the marching band?”

In addition to their work in school, both have led student musicians to scores of awards in all forms of music.