Conductor to take podium one last time 

When Professor Craig Fuchs steps to the podium on stage at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts on Saturday, it will be to conduct what will be the most challenging concert of his career. 

Fuchs, who has spent a lifetime making, teaching, and directing music, was diagnosed earlier this year with ALS — or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. 

“I don't want to stop conducting, but my arms are like noodles now. A lot of energy goes into it and I don’t want to hold the group back,” said Fuchs, who until this month also directed the PSU Honors College. “It’s really hard to say goodbye – I love the people so much. I love making music and have conducted all over the world. For this to be my last concert is really, really hard.” 

The group he’s referring to is the Four State Symphonic Winds, which he began leading at its formation in May 2017.  

“Several high school band directors were sitting around a table talking while their students were on campus to rehearse with the Four State Honor Band,” he said. “They got to talking about how nice it would be to have a concert band for band directors so they could continue to play. I walked into the room and asked what was going on, and they said, ‘There’s our conductor!’.” 


The group held its first concert on July 3 that year at Carl Junction High School, then made plans to perform two more concerts in the fall and one in the following spring. Each year, the group has continued with four concerts, with the exception of a pause during the worst of the pandemic. 

Fuchs also has conducted the PSU Wind Ensemble and has been in high demand as a conductor and clinician for regional and district honor bands, as an adjudicator in the marching band arena each fall, and with international ensembles in England, France, The Netherlands, Paraguay, and Brazil. His invitations and awards are lengthy. 

But this group is especially important to him: It’s comprised of musicians who are themselves band directors and music teachers, but who before that were his students at Pittsburg State. 

And that’s the bright spot, says Fuchs, a lifelong educator who has decided to approach his battle with optimism, positivity, and determination. 

“My former students went on after graduation to lead bands and music programs of their own at schools across the region — Carthage, Neosho, Sarcoxie, Seneca, Webb City, schools in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas,” said Fuchs. “It’s comforting to know that you played a role in the ripple effect — things you taught your students are now being taught to their students.” 

Fuchs and Wadell

Among them: Trey Wadell, assistant band director at Carl Junction, who graduated from PSU in 2008; Fuchs was his band director.  

“This group means so much to me,” said Wadell, who has been in Four State Symphonic Winds since its inception. “First and foremost, I love playing trumpet and this group gives me an outlet in which to perform difficult and enjoyable repertoire with other individuals who are up for the task.” 

“Secondly, being able to perform with my friends and colleagues in the Four State Area is incomparable. My best friends play in this group. John Evans and I have played first trumpet in the group for many years. We know when each other will take a breath, needs to lay out for a rest, and how we will articulate something.” 

“I also sit next to Chris Goddard (trombone), whom I went to both high school and college with. My fellow band directors from Carl Junction play in the group. It is so special to perform with all of these people year-round.” 

“Thirdly, I get to continue learning from Dr. Fuchs. He has gone from being my band director to being a dear friend over the years. He is so knowledgeable in rehearsing a band that it still astounds me 20 years after I met him. I appreciate being able to take my experiences back to my students.” 

“Many times, he has said something in a rehearsal that is exactly what my students need to hear,” Wadell said. “So, the next day, the same words are coming out of my mouth.” 


Matt Bennett (BSEd ‘07), of Joplin, joined the group for the opportunity to play with fellow alumni and be directed by Fuchs once again. 

"He remains a mentor and friend,” said Bennett, who teaches music privately. “He motivates the group to perform at a high level. He’s a truly inspiring human being.” 

Saturday’s playlist includes “March from Symphonic Metamorphosis” by Paul Hindemith; “The Universal Judgement” by Camille de Nardis; “The Breath of Angels” by Brandon Robinson; “A Short Symphony: Give Us This Day” by David Maslanka; and “Rolling Thunder” by Henry Fillmore. 

“We run it like a professional organization, and the music is a serious repertoire,” Fuchs said. “The musicians in it are among the best in this region, so it’s very high quality. It’s an honor to direct them, honestly.” 

Patriotic tunes

The concert also will feature the Kansas Army National Guard 35th Infantry Division Band with a variety of patriotic music.  

The house will open for seating at 6:30 p.m. and the concert will begin at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public. 

The Bicknell Family Center for the Arts is located at 1711 S. Homer.