Paul R. Bryan Jr. (March 7, 1920 - March 25, 2021)

Sunday, March 28, 2021
Duke Music mourns the passing of Professor Emeritus Paul R. Bryan, Jr.
PB conducting

The Duke University Department of Music is saddened by the loss of our friend, colleague, and mentor, Dr. Paul Bryan. "PB," as he was affectionately known, was Professor of Music and Conductor of the Duke University Wind Symphony from 1951-1988. He organized and led the Duke Wind Symphony's semester-long Programs in Vienna throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Under his leadership, the Duke Wind Symphony performed concerts in Austria (Vienna, Graz, Lockenhaus, Mayrhofen, Berndorf, Bad Gleichenberg), Italy (Venice, Vicenza), Hungary (Budapest), Germany (Dresden, Leipzig, Mainz), and Czechoslovakia (Prague, Cheb).

"Paul Bryan built the Duke Wind Symphony into a first class ensemble, known for an intense esprit that changed the lives of hundreds of Duke student musicians," says Jonathan Bagg, chair of the Department of Music. "His popular study abroad program in Vienna exposed many more directly to life in one of the world’s great musical capitals. Even after his retirement, Paul was a vocal advocate for the Wind Symphony, especially when the department needed to be reminded of its once and future potential in our musical life. He kept a watchful, supportive eye from his place in the brass section of the ensemble until only a few years ago."

Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, director of the Wind Symphony, remembers the warmth with which Professor Bryan greeted her when she arrived at Duke and the support he gave her as a loyal member of the ensemble. "I will never forget first meeting Paul Bryan (PB) at my interview for Duke. He was the insistent Euphonium player in the back of the ensemble who asked endless questions during the rehearsal, and afterward asked if he could drive me to my hotel. We stopped for dinner on the way at George’s Garage, and bonded over our connection to Austria. PB had a huge impact on my decision to accept the position at Duke in 2009, and I am grateful beyond words to have had his mentorship, friendship, knowledge, frankness, humor, stories, and vast musical knowledge and experience. He became an ersatz-American grandfather to me, always full of kindness and support. I was also fortunate to have him as an active player in the Wind Symphony for many years, where he continued to ask just as many questions as when we first met."

In addition to his contributions as conductor of the Wind Symphony, Professor Bryan was a musicologist who specialized in the music of the eighteenth century, in particular the composer Johann Baptist Wanhal. A noted authority about the life and work of the Czech composer, Professor Bryan continued to write and speak about him throughout his retirement. In 2013 at the age of 93, Professor Bryan was interviewed on Czech National Radio as part of a remembrance of the 200th anniversary of Wanhal's death. Professor Bryan's scholarly approach to music-making shaped the growth of the Music Department throughout the 1970s and 80s. "Paul served as department chair in Music, and his legacy is still evident in the importance we place on integrating the study of performance with music as an academic pursuit," says Bagg.

Professor Bryan was also a well-known and well-loved contributor to the musical life of the community, serving as conductor of the Durham Civic Choral Society 1957-67; Durham Savoyards 1963-67, 70, 1974-75, '77, '80; and the Durham Youth Symphony 1972-76. It was, however, his profound love for his students at Duke that may be Professor Bryan's most enduring legacy. He kept in touch with many of his former students over the decades, taking immense pleasure in performing with them whenever he could. In February 2020, the Duke University Wind Symphony honored him with a 100th birthday celebration and concert, bringing over 100 Wind Symphony alumni back to Baldwin Auditorium. The Paul R. Bryan Award in the Department of Music, endowed by Wind Symphony alumnus Jim Brooks and his wife Karen, is presented annually to a student who demonstrates outstanding musicianship and exemplary service to the Duke University Wind Symphony.

Professor Anthony Kelley, a colleague in the Music Department and a member of the Wind Symphony during his undergraduate days at Duke, stressed that Professor Bryan taught his students so much more than music. “Dr. Bryan shared an indelible lesson with the Duke Wind Symphony during his years as director: that human connection, whether personal or cultural, is one of the most lasting, important and intrinsic values of music-making. It’s for that reason that the bonds among DWS alumni persevere, fortified by the memory and spirit of PB residing in each of us.”

"PB is a legend in both the band and musicology worlds, and I have been lucky to experience the impact he has had on so many lives over decades," says Mösenbichler-Bryant. "We will miss you, PB, but we will carry you in our hearts and remember you through our music-making!"

John Brown, vice provost for the arts and director of the Duke Jazz Program, sums up the profound influence Paul Bryan had on all who knew him. "To meet and know Paul Bryan was to gain a friend for life. One could have no more loyal, committed, or treasured friendship than one with him. He’s a legend. He’s an icon. Notice of his passing is notice of the loss of a true and faithful forever friend. There is no question about his genius as an artist, his contributions to the Duke family, or his gifts to the world. He has touched uncountable lives and his legacy will be among the very best Duke University will enjoy.”

Share your thoughts and memories of Professor Bryan

Watch the video of PB's 100th birthday concert in Baldwin Auditorium