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HU receives major gift from former prof

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Donated sheet music worth $150,000

By Sean Weaver
Highlands University

The sheet music library in Highlands University’s music program has doubled, thanks to a donation from a former HU professor.

Ron Thielman, who was the university’s director of bands during the late 1960s, collected approximately $150,000 worth of sheet music during his career as a professor and professional musician. More than 3,000 scores comprise the collection Thielman donated to Highlands.

“It will give our students an opportunity to perform a wide variety of music that was used for commercial entertainment,” said Highlands music professor Edward Harrington. “It’s an awesome collection.”

Harrington said the collection includes a number of works for smaller ensembles and vocal scores.

“The selections fit our program nicely,” Harrington said.

Thielman began his music career when he was 8 years old with a five-dollar trombone his father bought from a pawn store.

“Growing up, I had a radio in my room,” Thielman said. “At 12 o’clock, there was live music from New Orleans. I would think ‘wow, I would love to play in that band.’

“I loved the sound of big band,” Thielman said. “I had an instant liking to it and the great singers of the time. This was before Elvis was popular.”

Thielman, who retired from New Mexico State University in 1995, said he donated his collection to Highlands because of his fond memories as the director of bands at HU from 1967-69.

“Champ Tyrone was the department head at the time, and I can’t say enough about him,” Thielman said. “We had 125 people in the marching band, which was bigger than the University of New Mexico or New Mexico State at the time. I also had two concert bands. None of that would have happened without Champ.”

Thielman, who has published more than 50 compositions, said the music department had a more quirky personality compared with his previous post at the University of Mississippi.

“We were helping students register for classes one time, and we brought out a Ouija board to help them,” Thielman said. “We had such a wonderful time, and I had some wonderful students. I made it a point to know everyone’s name and try to talk with a different student each day.”

In 1969, Thielman became the director of bands at New Mexico State University, a post he’s held until his retirement. Thielman’s New Mexico State concert bands performed at the Music Educators National Conference and the College Band Directors National Association Conference. Several of his bands’ recordings were included in the Educational Record Reference Library series.

“I thought long and hard about leaving Highlands,” Thielman said. “We had some wonderful faculty, and everyone was friends.”

Following his retirement, Thielman returned to his childhood desire: to perform with big bands.

He has been the lead trombonist for several name bands, such as Tommy Dorsey, Les Elgart, the Lawrence Welk Orchestra and Guy Lombardo. He has performed with several groups on cruise ships, and his own group, the High Society Orchestra, performs around the region.