By CHRIS MORRIS
NEW ALBANY —
Don McMahel loved music, and he wanted to pass that love on to his students. From elementary school children to college students, McMahel shared his passion for more than 50 years with all those he came in contact with.
McMahel, 82, died Thursday at his home following an illness.
An accomplished clarinet player, he worked for the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. from 1959 until 1993, where he taught band at Hazelwood Junior High, several elementary schools and music theory at New Albany High School. He also performed professionally with the Louisville Orchestra, Corpus Christi Symphony, Kentucky Opera and local jazz bands. Along with Rubin Sher, he co-founded and co-directed the Southern Indiana Orchestra and the Floyd County Youth Symphony.
In 1963, McMahel became Indiana University Southeast’s first music instructor. He helped start the IUS Concert Band in 1997 with a former student, James Poteet.
“Countless musicians in the area have been his students. Since his passing we have received calls from as far away as Brazil and New York,” said Ken Atkins, music and theater coordinator at IUS. “He was very patient and generally cared. Teaching was not a job to him. If he could of, he would have done it for free.”
McMahel received the 2012 IUS Chancellor’s Medallion Award in October and directed the university’s Concert Band at its last concert Nov. 4.
Kirk Randolph, who works in the IUS development office and is a member of the Concert Band, first met McMahel as a student at Fairmont Elementary School. He said McMahel helped him choose his first instrument.
“I can’t imagine how many lives he has helped shape,” he said.
Randolph said he did research on McMahel prior to the Medallion Award Dinner and read and heard several stories about New Albany’s music man.
“Don would always tell his students to strive for perfection. He would say that is where the magic happens,” Randolph said.
Randolph said several members of the band went to play for McMahel when he was at Autumn Woods Health Campus in New Albany around Christmas. He said despite being ill, McMahel managed to come out and direct the group.
McMahel also received the Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Award for teaching in 1975 and the Lifetime Arts Achievement Award from the Arts Council of Southern Indiana in 2005. Also last year, the Donald E. and Elizabeth H. McMahel Music Scholarship at IUS was established.
He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, daughter Donna McMahel Klinglesmith and a granddaughter.
McMahel’s visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Market Street Chapel of Seabrook, Dieckmann & Naville Funeral Homes, 1119 E. Market St., New Albany. His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday at the funeral home.