In July, The Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO) welcomed Lowell Graham ’70, ’71 as its new music director.

Nick Kenny ’16, executive director of the GPO, says that fully describing the magnitude of Graham’s arrival as music director for the Greeley Philharmonic can be compared to a legendary athlete’s return home.

“We'll just use Peyton Manning as an example,” he says. “He’s a top tier quarterback, a legend, wherever he goes. What Lowell Graham brings to the Greeley Philharmonic is as if Peyton Manning were to go back to his hometown with a division three school to offer to be their head coach, just to give back to the community. Somebody who's so accomplished, who's recognized across the globe in the music industry, and he's coming back home. I'm really excited to see what we're going to be able to create with UNC as well.”

Graham, who was born and raised in Greeley, earned his BA in Music Education at then-Colorado State College in 1970, followed by his MA in Performance the following year at the newly-renamed University of Northern Colorado. He went on to become the first person awarded the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Orchestral Conducting from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Graham comes to the GPO after 19 years at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he served as Chair of the Department for 12 years and then as director of Orchestral Activities and professor of Conducting for the last decade while holding the Abraham Chavez Professorship in Music.      

His accolades and achievements are many, with a distinguished, global career. He has conducted for the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony, the Spokane Symphony, the Westsachsisches Symphonieorchester, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Banda Sinfonica do Estado de Sao Paulo, Orquestra de Sopros Brasileira, the National Symphonic Winds, the National Chamber Players, and many others, nationally and internationally.

Graham also served as Commander and Conductor of the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C., and retired after 28 years with the Air Force as the senior ranking musician in the entire Department of Defense.

He says he sees the opportunity to music direct at GPO as a culmination of his career. “This is not a steppingstone for me. This is a capstone for me. I want to give back to Greeley. My father always said, ‘Remember who brung you to the dance.’ The community of Greeley and the teachers brought me to the dance. And I've had an incredible career. I want to bring those experiences of performing at the highest levels with organizations worldwide to the Greeley Philharmonic and to play music that audiences want to hear as well as introducing new and exciting music to Greeley and the region.”

According to the GPO, “Graham has initiated many important media projects for American Public Radio and other broadcasting organizations, as well as live telecast/web cast concerts and video productions on which his credits include those of conductor, writer, and musical producer. He is a frequent guest on radio talk shows and performed on NBC’s “Today Show” for five consecutive years on Independence Day.”

In 1995 he became a member of the American Bandmasters Association (ABA), considered the pinnacle of achievement by American bandsmen. He became the organization’s 81st president in 2018.

In 1996, he was inducted into UNC’s “Music Hall of Honor,” and in 1999 he received the UNC Alumni Association Honored Alumni Award for Contributions to Music. In 2013 the University of Northern Colorado Graduate School honored him with the “Century of Scholars Award” in Performance.

In 2003 he was the recipient of the Phi Beta Mu International Outstanding Bandmaster Award. In 2008, he was honored by the American School Band Directors Association with the A. Austin Harding Award for “making significant and lasting contributions to the school band movement,” and in 2014 he was named as the President and CEO of the John Philip Sousa Foundation.

The opportunity to bring someone with Graham’s renown and experience to the GPO is exciting, says Kenny, not only for the state and region, but also for students at UNC. The orchestra has close ties to UNC’s music program.

“Lowell has degrees from UNC and has had a fairytale career.  And he says that not once has he felt that his UNC education failed him,” Kenny says. “He will bring every tool that he's acquired over his five decade-plus career and bring it back to the community. I'm still on cloud nine. I can't wait for the students at UNC to experience all that he brings. I can't wait for all the things we're going to do to hopefully enhance their experiences at UNC.”          

Graham says he has always remained connected to the university. “I never have left UNC. It's part of who I am. I consider the connection of UNC to the Philharmonic intertwined. And obviously I will look for every opportunity to collaborate and to strengthen relationships whenever I can.”

GPO Director Extra

Watch as Nick Kenny shares a preview of 2021-2022 performances, featuring many UNC ensembles and performers. Watch via Facebook.