WMU News

Down Beat awards streak continues for WMU students

June 8, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- For the ninth consecutive year, Western Michigan University has brought home multiple awards in Down Beat magazine's annual Student Awards Competition.

This year, three WMU students have won top honors in the competition sponsored by the top jazz and blues publication. No other Michigan school won an award.

The winners, along with individual categories and awards, are: Shawn Wallace, jazz instrumental soloist, saxophone, outstanding performance; Justin Binek, jazz vocalist, outstanding performance; and Rachel Flanigan, engineered studio recording, college winner. All material submitted in the competition was recorded Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2000.

Wallace, a repeat Down Beat award winner from Eaton Rapids, Mich., graduated in April with a master's in music. Binek, of Bismarck, N.D., is completing his master of music degree at WMU, while Flanigan, of Smiths Creek, Mich., graduated in December with a bachelor's in music with major in composition.

"We did it," says Dr. Thomas Knific, WMU professor of music and head of the University's Jazz Studies Program. "What it tells us, and what we've believed all along, is that our students are as good or better than any other students in the world."

WMU's string of multiple Down Beat awards goes back to 1993, with the University accumulating more of the awards for a number of years than any other college or university. Knific says he hasn't totaled up the tally for other schools and compared it with WMU's, so it's unclear whether WMU still leads all schools.

"We're definitely among the top three," Knific says, "and we may still be the leader in multiple awards since 1993."

Knific says a number of WMU graduates also have gone on to earn awards for their current graduate schools, including Shawn Sommer and Jeremy Fox, who both won awards while at WMU and have won again at DePaul and the University of Miami, respectively. Matt Faulker, a recent graduate and instructor at a Los Angeles arts academy, had a student ensemble under his direction win an award as well.

Knific says competition for Down Beat awards is keen. Jazz studies is a rapidly growing field, and many other schools are bolstering their jazz programs and have their sights set on winning their own share of Down Beat awards. This year's results show that WMU still ranks high among a growing number of schools with expanding jazz programs.

"The arts are very subjective," Knific says. "So it's nice when you have something tangible to quantify what you are doing occasionally."

Contest results are included in Down Beat's June issue, which is currently available at newsstands.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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