A Conversation with George Papich, Director of the Center for Chamber Music at UNT, by Ruben Balboa

IMG_3162 (1)I have had the distinct privilege during my graduate degree to be a part of the Bancroft String Quartet. Every week , we meet with two professors to go over our progress. One professor, in particular, is Dr. George Papich. He has been a teacher here for nearly 50 years and has taught classes such as Music History, Music Appreciation, Opera, Performance Practice, and Chamber Music. Dr. Susan Dubois and I sat down with Dr. Papich to speak with him about his life and time here at UNT.

Before becoming a professor at UNT, Dr. Papich was called upon to serve in the United States Army whilst in the middle of completing his doctoral degree. During his service, he was the principal violist of the Seventh Army Symphony, with whom he performed throughout Europe; completing 20 concerts in 20 days. Upon returning from his tour of service, he became an elementary music teacher, since the need was there and his course of study had previously been interrupted. He taught there for a year, but was not satisfied with the administration, though he thoroughly loved teaching and the students alike. By happy coincidence, it was then that Northern Michigan University requested that he continue his course of study for his doctorate at their school, which would later lead to Dr. Papich becoming faculty there.

Around the year of 1967, Sandy, his wife, wanted to live somewhere new as she wasn’t fond of Michigan, or the cold weather that accompanies the state. So, Dr. Papich then gave her a list of five universities, and promised if one those universities had an open position, and if they were interested in him, then they would leave Michigan. Shortly after this compromise, he would fulfill his promise to her. Just two days after making this promise, the University of North Texas called offering him a job. At Northern Michigan University, he was making $9,200 a year; UNT offered him $13,000 without even blinking, and even allowed his brother to attend UNT tuition free as a part of his contract.

He then arrived at UNT to teach two viola students, nineteen chamber groups, and several university courses. As a musician he went on to maintain a thriving teaching studio, and performance career. Many of his students have gone on to win orchestral auditions, perform in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Ft. worth Symphony Orchestra, Austin Symphony Orchestra, and many prestigious chamber groups and quartets. Not only has teaching at UNT for 48 years afforded him to meet and touch many lives, but it has proven that Mrs. Papich’s request to move is one that brought upon a decision they have both been happy with throughout the years.

In the year 2000, Dr. George Papich decided to retire from the University of North Texas, only to return three years later. When asked why he returned to teaching, he said that there were three things most important in his life: family, music, and the people he would interact with and teach. During his brief retirement, he made furniture, played golf, and found that it didn’t bring him as much joy as teaching. “Training young people is something really special,” Papich said, “It’s never perfect but there are times when it is just so good. “  The joy of coaching for Dr. Papich is seeing his students take the next step forward, not being afraid of the challenges, and to hit them head on.

During his time here at UNT, he developed the Center for Chamber Music supported by the Dean of the College of Music, Dr. James Scott. Dr. Papich believed that Chamber Music needed to be more of a priority at UNT. The program started with a piano trio that turned out to be very successful. The trio competed for, and won the Plowman Chamber Music Competition, Colbourn Chamber Competition, and Fischoff Chamber Music Competition.

This primary success has evolved into what chamber music at the University of North Texas is today. Chamber music at UNT currently enrolls over 200 students every semester. Out of those students, 17 musicians are chosen for the Center for Chamber Music Studies. The Center for Chamber Music Studies is comprised of a woodwind quintet, piano trio, brass quintet, and a string quartet. Every week, coaches listen to these groups and there is a final performance every semester. The goals for these ensembles are that when the musicians graduate and leave to go on in the professional world of music, they are capable of being in a chamber group, and know how to efficiently work as a musician and person. They do this by not only teaching students how to play certain pieces, but why we play the pieces the way we do and how to appropriately give our own interpretation.

As we drew closer to the end of the interview, we asked what his thoughts were on the past 48 years of teaching. “It’s been a good job for me”, he said. “The whole concept of growing from two students to thirty students is just amazing. I’m so proud.” He then said, “I feel like I’ve established a good thing, and whoever took over for me would benefit from it. I’ve had the pleasure of watching this enormously talented young lady (Dr. Dubois) follow me, and do a better job than I ever could have.”

When asked what were some of his favorite memories, the amount far surpassed the appropriate length of this article and I have been hard pressed to choose just one to give you insight into the personality of this amazing teacher, man, and musician. It was very clear that he has had a great time here, and true to his humorous personality, has proved to be quite a jokester. He said, “There are plenty of musical memories and then there are some that are just plain fun.” One time at a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, in between the two acts, Phil Lewis (one of UNT’s Violin Professors) chained and locked up Dr. Papich’s viola. When Dr. Papich asked Mr. Lewis to unlock it, he said that he didn’t have a key. So, Dr. Papich had to find a janitor to cut the chain. In return, Dr. Papich grabbed Mr. Lewis’s violin, and hung it up on Lewis’ dartboard. Dr. Papich then proceeded to put darts all around the violin. He remarked that it was very pleasant to have their offices next to each other because he heard a big scream when Mr. Lewis returned to his office. “We lived in a different time. Everyone wasn’t so serious back then. It was a special time”, Papich said.

Dr. Papich has clearly done a multitude of wonderful things in his lifetime for UNT, and more importantly his students. He has touched so many people with his humor, dedication, knowledge, and love. I am so honored to have met him and thankful to him for passing his knowledge onto me and many others.


Until next time,

Ruben Balboa III

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