Terence Milligan has played a unique role in the lives of tens of thousands of University of Cincinnati graduates on their special day, dating back to processionals in Nippert Stadium. He has conducted the University Commencement Band at every Commencement ceremony since June, 1980.
This spring will be his 33rd year behind the baton at Commencement directing 48 ceremonies, counting the three in June. Through each ceremony, his service has been all voluntary.
Milligan is professor of music and associate director of Wind Studies at CCM. He is one of hundreds of musicians, faculty, staff, maintenance workers, security staff and others who work together to celebrate UC’s newest graduates.
One year, when he was on sabbatical leave in Paris, France, Milligan flew back to the university solely to conduct the band at Commencement. “I think ceremonies are important. Otherwise, why would we do them?
“We recognize the birth of a child, we celebrate when a child becomes an adult, we have religious observances – I think Commencement is just as important a ceremony as all of those. So I feel that if you’re going to do it, you need to do it well,” says Milligan.
As for the musicians, UC’s graduates are getting the very best. Milligan says all of the musicians are professional-level students. Some of them are even substitute players for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Band members have joined major symphonies after graduating from UC.
Milligan was born and raised in Texas and earned his baccalaureate and master’s degrees from West Texas State University. His doctor of musical arts degree came from The University of Texas at Austin. Milligan says a mentor professor from his doctoral program, Thomas Lee (now at UCLA), was the first person to receive a doctor of arts in conducting from CCM. It was Lee who suggested that Milligan apply for a position at CCM back in 1979, when Milligan began his service with the university.
Milligan received CCM’s Ernest Glover Outstanding Teacher Award in 1996 and in 2006. In 2003, he was named Outstanding Teacher for the University Honors Program. In 2009, he was presented with the university’s George Barbour Award for Good Faculty-Student Relations.
He has served as a guest conductor throughout the United States and Canada. He is also a singer and clarinet player.
As UC’s graduates march in and out of UC’s commencement ceremonies, they may not be aware that processionals and recessionals are the most difficult pieces that a musician can play. “The musicians are using muscles, much like an athlete,” Milligan explains. “Now, think of using those muscles over and over and over again to march thousands of graduates in and out of the ceremony. It’s challenging for all musicians, but especially for the brass players. If they’re holding an instrument against their face for 30 minutes, it can be grueling,” Milligan says.
“One year, we discussed playing something other than Pomp and Circumstance and at the next ceremony, we went without it. That wasn’t a popular decision at all and we heard about it! So now we play it, and play it and play it…”
Milligan says that in addition to the processional and recessional, Commencement is a musical production, and the band must rely on cues throughout the ceremony, such as playing fanfares through honors presentations and at different transitions in the ceremony.
“We play other music, too. We play the hymn, ‘Sine Nomine,’ and the march we play for the President’s Processional, ‘Crown Imperial,’ was first performed at the Coronation Ceremony of King George VI.”
Milligan has conducted Commencement at Nippert Stadium, at Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena), when Commencement was moved downtown from 1985-1988, and at Fifth Third Arena, where ceremonies have been held since 1989.
“I remember one of my first ceremonies in Nippert Stadium, when Henry Winkler was president. It was about 95 degrees outside, but on the field, it was about 10 degrees warmer, so it was miserably hot. The ceremony started at around 2 p.m., so I had all the band members bring umbrellas to provide a little shade,” says Milligan.
“That was a good idea in more ways than one, because at that time, graduates from the College of Engineering (now CEAS) would bring champagne and pop the corks. The champagne would spew all over the field. It turns out the umbrellas provided us some protection from that as well,” says Milligan.