Introducing Brendon Wilkins

Humanities5 MIN READ

The multi-genre, multi-instrumentalist is elevating Colby’s music scene through performance, conducting, and teaching

Brendon Wilkins, director of the Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble, is a virtuoso performer, an accomplished conductor, and a committed teacher.
By Laura MeaderPhotography by Gabe Souza
January 17, 2023

To hear Brendon Wilkins play the flute is to feel the spray of a waterfall, taste the crisp bite of an apple, or catch the blue light of snow. His jazz flows, surprises, and calms. And if you like what you hear, he has more. Much more.

Wilkins also performs on saxophones, clarinets, oboe, and bassoon. Plus, he’s equally versed in jazz and classical music. A gifted multi-genre, multi-instrumentalist like Wilkins is unusual in the music world.

With all this talent, Wilkins is primed to elevate Colby’s music scene as the new director of the Wind Ensemble and the Jazz Band.

Brendon Wilkins is one of those rare musicians who can do it all. He is a virtuoso performer, an accomplished conductor, and a teacher who is bringing our music students to impressive levels of artistic accomplishment,” said Steven Nuss, associate professor and co-chair of the Music Department.

“I want to make sure that all students, regardless of the genre, are getting a complete overview of music,” said Wilkins. Not just the technical aspects of playing and reading music, but the creative aspects too. “I’m thinking about how they can look at these notes on the page and make an artistic decision about how to interpret them.”

In addition to being an inspiration to his department colleagues, said Nuss, Wilkins has compelling ideas for the continued musical evolution of the department. 

Among them are the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Music Organization at Colby, which Wilkins established to discuss issues framed around a central question: Does the field of music look like America? He’s talking onstage, backstage, and in the audience. Topics include financial equity for young musicians and the gender balance of composers in concert repertoires.

“I’m trying to create a space to have those discussions,” said Wilkins, “because I think that’s the first step to getting the wheels turning on these things.”

Wilkins arrived on Mayflower Hill last fall after completing his doctor of musical arts in multiple woodwinds from the University of Miami in May 2022. It’s his first full-time teaching gig at a college, and he’s thrilled to be here.

“I think Colby is a terrific place for musicians,” said Wilkins. And even though Colby is smaller than where he previously studied, “there’s a strong community here, and it definitely doesn’t feel like there’s any lack of excitement.”

An early start

Wilkins began playing the flute in second grade and picked up the saxophone three years later. Throughout his childhood in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., he played flute in the school band and saxophone in jazz ensembles. This marked the beginning of playing multiple woodwinds while exploring classical and jazz music simultaneously.

Wilkins studied and performed in both genres at the University of North Texas (UNT), one of the largest college music schools in the world. He earned two bachelor degrees—in music education and in jazz studies—and a master’s in multiple woodwinds.

Brendon Wilkins’s discography includes recordings with the One O’Clock Lab Band and the Toshi Clinch Big Band.

UNT’s competitive environment compelled Wilkins toward excellence. His accolades include winning the 2015 National Flute Association Jazz Flute Masterclass Competition. That same year, the UNT College of Music selected him as its Presser Scholar. And in 2016 he was selected to play alto saxophone and piccolo in the prestigious Disneyland All-American College Band.

“I realize that I’m on this musical journey of exploring all this wonderful music and these instruments,” said Wilkins. “It’s a lifelong quest, certainly, and there are still things that I’m learning every day about music and all of these instruments that I’m playing.” 

Making music together

While competitions propelled Wilkins to a higher level of musicianship, as a conductor and teacher, he takes a different approach. He encourages competition within oneself to make music that is “better today than yesterday.” In ensembles and combos, he views making music as a process of building one another up.

It’s an effective approach for tenor saxophonist Kathryne Clay ’26, who performs with the Jazz Band and with Combo B, both of which Wilkins coaches. She also takes lessons from him.

“One thing I liked is the first day he asked what I wanted to work on instead of having a set curriculum,” said Clay, who wanted to come to Colby since she was a sophomore at Maine’s Cape Elizabeth High School. “He set up a curriculum for me, we started working, and I began to see improvements.”

When Clay plays with the Jazz Band, she’s learning to trust herself and her bandmates even as they “play the ink,” or the music in front of them. But in Combo B, she feels less like they’re reading music and more like they’re creating it. The solos and improvisation are “nerve-wracking,” she said, but once she’s learned how to create melody on the spot, “it becomes freeing.”

Music’s universal appeal

Wilkins sees so much potential for growth in the years ahead. He’s encouraged by the large number of first-year students in Colby’s music program and believes the trend will continue. The Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, too, will allow for expanded participation through increased interdisciplinary collaboration.

For most people, music is an inseparable part of their daily life, said Wilkins. It certainly is for Clay, who believes that there is music for every emotion. As a musician, she can express those feelings through music.

Wilkins can relate. “Life is not about music,” he reminds his students. “Music is about life.”