BYU-Idaho’s Music Department is home to a wide variety of musical talents. Students learn to play instruments such as the piano, violin, flute, trumpet, and even the harp. The department also covers genres from classical to jazz.
One of the department instructors is someone who has a unique upbringing.
“Neither of my parents were into music. My dad loved collecting instruments, but he never learned to play any of them, and my mother and her entire family never really liked music,” said Dr. Mark Watkins, a music professor at BYU-Idaho.
Even though his inspiration never came from his home, Watkins still got into music, both listening and performing. He graduated from Brigham Young University, received his doctorate in five woodwind instruments from Indiana University, and has taught saxophone, oboe, flute and various other instruments.
Watkins attributes his love of music to his high school band director in a little town in Mississippi.
“His name was Floyd Stevens, and what a great man he was,” Watkins said. “Our class would come into rehearsal every day and he would be playing Maynard Ferguson albums. Maynard was a renowned trumpet player, known for playing really high notes really well. I loved him, but I was more interested in the saxophone player myself.”
All over his office, Watkins has trinkets, posters and instruments from his years as a teacher and a composer. They come from all over the world, from places like New York, Albuquerque, Chile and Puerto Rico. He often travels with the school bands.
His impressive accomplishments are made even more incredible because of one thing: he is blind. Since birth, Watkins has dealt with glaucoma, and after years of battling it, he’s recently completely lost his eyesight.
He said it has been an uphill battle for him to learn how to live without his eyesight. Over the summer, though, he attended a blind school that helps those dealing with blindness learn how to function effectively. He’s learned how to read Braille and has set up text-to-speech on his phone and computer. It’s still difficult for him, but he’s making strides. Strides that have set him on the board of directors for the Idaho Commission for the Blind.
He’s learned a lot of new things to help him continue living his life. But when it comes to performing and teaching music, he does what he always has done, use his ears.
“It’s been difficult for sure, but I’ve developed a way to help my students that I think is pretty effective. Because I can’t see a score, I have to listen to the way it’s performed,” said Watkins. “That can be difficult sometimes, but it has helped me learn how to find the faults in songs much easier.”
You can listen to the BYU-Idaho Symphony Orchestra Tuesday, Feb. 22 during a livestream. To find more info, click here.