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Why I Give: John C. Hanford

Submitted by Joanne De Pue on November 14, 2023 - 10:02am
John C. Hanford (Photo: Steve Korn).
John C. Hanford (Photo: Steve Korn).

Scholar Mark Buford’s visit to the University of Washington on November 17 to deliver the School of Music’s 2023 Lecture in American Music is made possible by the generosity of a longtime School of Music friend whose ties extend back decades to his days as a UW student and his 20-plus years as a popular lecturer in the Music History program.

John C. Hanford’s (’03 PhD Music History) studies in musicology at the School of Music culminated in a PhD and two graduate dissertations, “Realities Altered and Redefined: Sound, Style, and Meaning in Jimi Hendix’s Purple Haze and The Star Spangled Banner” and "With the power of soul: Jimi Hendrix in Band of Gypsys,” but as he will tell you, the lessons and knowledge he gained at the School of Music are many and still resonating in his life in myriad ways. 

The lifelong Seattle resident (he graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1968) was already a working musician when he first enrolled as a student at the music school back in the late 1960s, and he continues to play lead guitar in a variety of groups performing in area clubs and venues, with perhaps his most high-profile gig being his stint as guitarist with Pacific Northwest icons The Fabulous Wailers.

 He and his wife, Myra, recently created an endowed fund at the School of Music to support activities in the area of American Music, a lifelong passion informing his studies at the UW and his work to the present day.  He graciously agreed to answer our (emailed) questions about the endowment and his time at the UW.

Q: You have given to the School of Music by creating the Wilberforce and Myra D. Hanford Endowed Program Support Fund in American Music. Who are Wilberforce and Myra D. Hanford? 

A: Wilberforce was a beloved Yorkshire terrier that owned the Hanford household. Myra D. Hanford, known as Debbie, is the lady wife of John C. Hanford. The idea of an endowment program flying under the masthead of say, “The John C. and Myra D. Hanford Endowed Program…” strikes a pompous kind of tone, like crediting a PBS contributor. 

Q: Why did you choose to make this gift to the School of Music?

A: Because I am grateful to both the School of Music and to UW for my education. I did my undergraduate degree in history at UW, but at that time was already a working musician. I played guitar in a band whose personnel were attending the School of Music (1968–1972). I have maintained friendships and working relationships with these people ever since. The Historical Musicology program offered by UW School of Music gave me the opportunity to study two passions in combination. 

Q: What is something you learned at the School of Music that has continued to serve you well in your life outside of school? 

A: Hard to think of anything that hasn’t served me over the years. There are so many ideas still circulating around in my noggin from my studies and experiences. These concepts and influences came from widely diverse sources: playing in a gamelan group; studying modal and tonal counterpoint — and set theory; attending concerts in Meany Hall as well as rehearsals in the jazz lab.  

Then there was the Beethovenian experience that came with my studies in the 19th-century. From that “transcendent” realm came possibilities that even an electric guitar player might draw upon! May sound hifalutin, but true, nonetheless. 

The one class I took in music psychology, offered in what was then titled the Systematic Musicology Program, made a lasting impact, especially in the area of theories of learning and musical therapies. 

I’ll tell you this  — one was never the same after sitting directly in front of the qawwali group led by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who held a residency sponsored by the Ethnomusicology department. Before that moment, I only knew him from sharing elevator rides in the Music Building. 

My instructors, each and every one of them, opened doors that continue to inspire my studies, practice, and trying to build on the foundations they set. 

Q: What is something you will never forget from your student days at the School of Music?

A: Professor Larry Starr’s lectures ranging across all kinds of musical styles and eras of composition  now there’s an unforgettable set of memories. Getting to meet musical heroes: Larry Coryell, Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, Gary Husband, Kenny Garrett - even Gottfried Wagner, after an exceedingly awkward exchange of ideas about “Wagner’s antisemitism.” Playing with world-class percussionist Tom Collier. Hearing Margaret Leng Tan perform The Banshie, by Henry Cowell, and pieces by John Cage on prepared piano. The support and the friendships of our musical directors, scholars, and fellow musicians. 

Q: What is something you will never forget from your teaching days at the School of Music?

A: Many of the individual students remain in memory and I remain in contact with some. And the student experience during my days of teaching was so radically different from my own: the price of higher-education was beyond my recognition based on recollections of my own undergrad days. I took stock of that; the challenges my students faced were daunting.  

Q: Why does Jimi Hendrix still matter? 

A: He matters most to people who love his music. In the course of my work on him, I met so many ‘fanatics,’ those who thought every time he blew his nose was a work of genius. I had to stop listening to him for years to hear him again “with new ears,” as his first album notes promised. I’m back again with renewed appreciation. His work remains astonishing, and I was privileged to have experienced him in concert and to have known some of the players he grew up with in Seattle. 

Q: When did you realize you were headed for a life in music? 

A: I never realized it, never envisioned a career. As a teenager I plugged into playing in bands and have never stopped - playing or being a teenager.  

Q: Has the guitar always been your musical instrument of choice?

A: No.  I started out on piano, moved to organ in order to play in a “teenage dance combo.” Shifted to guitar as a kind of default when the guitar player in the high-school band I worked in grew delinquent.   

Q: What are you listening to these days? 

A: In younger days it was all about something “new,” hearing something provocative — The Beatles and James Brown were enormous. Nowadays, I seem to keep looking backwards in the ”vernacular” realm: jazz (across the spectrum), country, rock, blues, “folk.” 

Q: How does music figure into your life at present?

A: Occupies most of my activities apart from grandkids.  But I mean it: practicing, gigging, trying to book the bands with whom I play and researching material for gigs, buying and selling equipment — and, yes, practicing.  Did I already mention that?  

Professor Mark Burford of Reed College delivers the 2023 School of Music Lecture in American Music on Friday, Nov. 17, 5 p.m., in the School of Music Fishbowl. His talk, part of the 2023 THEME Lecture series, is made possible through the generosity of John and Myra Hanford. 

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