Sinfonia Mourns the Passing of Past National President and National Historian

Dr. T. Jervis Underwood
(1932 – 2017)

 

We report with regret the passing of our Brother, T. Jervis Underwood, past National President of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America. Brother Underwood passed away early Wednesday morning, April 26, 2017, in hospice, at the age of 85. Services will be held Sunday, May 7, 2017 in Denton, Texas.

Born March 10, 1932, in Harrold, Texas, the son of Edgar and Hazel Valley Haralson Underwood and eldest of their three children, he later moved to Electra, Texas which he proudly claimed as his “hometown.” Brother Underwood graduated from Electra High School in 1949, where he participated in band and choir and was a student director, and was elected to the National Honor Society. In 1992, the Electra High School Band and Choir Ex-Students Association awarded Jervis the Howard L. Smith Spirit Award.

Jervis enrolled in the summer of 1949 to begin work on a degree in Music. Interrupted by service in the United States Army from 1951-54, Jervis completed a Bachelor of Music Degree at the North Texas State College (now University of North Texas) in Denton, TX in 1955, and went on to graduate study at the University of Illinois, where he received the degree of Master of Music in 1957. In order to support his family, Jervis held part-time teaching positions in the public schools while completing his Master’s degree. He served as band director at West Unity Junior High School in Sadorus, IL from 1955-56, and served as the director of band and choir at St. Joseph High School in St. Joseph, IL from 1956-57.

Jervis accepted a position as instructor of music, teaching flute and music theory, at the University of Texas following his graduation from Illinois in 1957, and held that post from 1957-1960. He would leave Texas to join the faculty at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, MO as an associate professor in 1960. Brother Underwood completed his Ph.D in music at the University of North Texas in 1970.

Jervis spent the remainder of his academic tenure at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL, from 1971 until his retirement. He joined the faculty as an Associate Professor of Music in September, 1971, and was promoted to Full Professor in 1978. While at SIU, Dr. Underwood taught Flute, Music History, and Form and Analysis. In addition to inspiring undergraduates with his musicianship and knowledge, Dr. Underwood was a foundational influence to scores of graduate students through his dedication to teaching the required Bibliography and Methods course in Music faithfully for many years. He would also serve as President of the Southern Illinois University Faculty Senate from 1992-1993.

Brother Underwood was initiated into Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia by the Gamma Theta chapter on May 13, 1954, one of many men brought into Sinfonia under the tutelage of the legendary Gamma Theta faculty advisor Robert J. Rogers. The year 1954 was very important for Jervis; on June 4, less than one month after his initiation, he would marry Carmen Palacios, the love of his life. The love they nurtured and so obviously shared inspired all who came to know them.

It is impossible to imagine Sinfonia today without the inestimable contributions to the Fraternity’s development, growth and well-being made selflessly for over sixty years by T. Jervis Underwood.

Following in the footsteps of Dr. Rogers, Jervis served as faculty advisor for the Alpha Iota chapter at the University of Texas in his first academic post. While in Austin, Brother Underwood was a colleague of famed wind band composer J. Clifton Williams (Beta Omega 1946). When Brother Williams composed his well-known concert march The Sinfonians in 1960 (commissioned by the Fraternity and the Sinfonia Foundation for the 36th National Convention in Cincinnati), he wrote the iconic featured piccolo solo for Jervis Underwood.

Following his brief stint at Texas, Jervis accepted the position of associate professor at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. Shortly after arriving on campus, Brother Underwood brought Sinfonia to his new campus, co-founding the Iota Psi chapter, which was chartered on March 4, 1961. Brother Underwood was initiated as an honorary member of the chapter, which he served as faculty advisor from 1961 through 1971.

 

It was during his tenure as Iota Psi advisor that the Fraternity proposed the change from a Biennial to Triennial Convention system and from direct chapter voting representation to a single collegiate delegate per Province. Jervis opposed this move vigorously, writing to his fellow faculty advisors to explain his objections and ask them to join him in opposition to the proposal. Although his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, Brother Underwood would continue to be a staunch advocate for collegiate members to have an increased voice in the running of Sinfonia, their fraternity, for the remainder of his Fraternity involvement.

Dr. Underwood began his path to leadership in the National Fraternity when he was appointed to the Commission on Standards by National President J. Eugene Duncan in 1973. Jervis served faithfully on the COS from 1973 – 1982, and served as Chairman of the Commission from 1979-1982. Much of the early records and history we have of the COS are thanks to Brother Underwood’s meticulous record-keeping and dedication to preservation of the proceedings during his tenure.

In 1976, Jervis was appointed Governor of Province 5, succeeding his friend and mentor Henry Charles (Alpha Lambda 1939), and would hold that post until his election as President of the Fraternity in 1988. After having been elected to the position of National Committeeman-at-Large in 1982, Dr. Underwood had a long and distinguished tenure as a National Officer including his election as National Vice President three years later, in 1985, followed by his election as the National President in 1988 at the 46th National Convention in Kansas City, MO.

Jervis Underwood rose to prominence at a time when the Fraternity desperately needed strong leadership. A failure to keep pace with rising costs had placed Sinfonia in jeopardy of financial ruin by the summer of 1982. Delegates at the 44th National Convention in Urbana were faced with the choice of doubling per capita tax, or liquidating the assets of the Fraternity and donating the proceeds to the Sinfonia Foundation. Working with collegiate delegates and giving an impassioned speech on the Convention floor, Brother Underwood’s leadership helped to carry the increase. While it was initially unpopular, this enabled the Fraternity not only to continue operating, but also to embark on a renaissance of Fraternity history and tradition.

 

T. Jervis Underwood (1985)

 

The National Executive Committee elected Brother Underwood to the position of National Secretary-Treasurer in 1982. He would serve in that capacity through his tenure as Vice President until August, 1988. What is less well known today is that during that same time, the NEC decided that the Secretary-Treasurer of the Fraternity should also assume the same position with the Sinfonia Foundation (now known as the Sinfonia Educational Foundation), to ensure consistency and sound financial management. In 1983, Dr. Underwood became the only man in the history of Phi Mu Alpha to hold the position of Secretary-Treasurer in the Fraternity and the Foundation simultaneously. He continued to serve the Sinfonia Foundation, now operating under its present name as the Sinfonia Educational Foundation, in this capacity until the summer of 1991.

It is no exaggeration to state that Jervis Underwood’s selfless dedication and steadfast leadership during severe financial hardship saved the Fraternity from complete demise. In the turbulent years from 1982 to 1988, Jervis would be repeatedly asked to rise above and beyond the call of duty for the good of our Order, and he would never fail to rise to the challenge.

Following the resignation of Executive Director Daniel E. Beeman in January, 1983, Dr. Underwood was called upon to assume direct leadership of the National Headquarters operations while the NEC conducted a search for Beeman’s replacement. For over six months, Brother Underwood would make the two-hour trip to and from Evansville every two weeks to sign checks and oversee expenditures.

The Fraternity was over $300,000 in debt when Brother Underwood assumed the office of National Secretary-Treasurer in 1982, saddled with unpaid short-term notes and overdue bills from vendors in times of double-digit inflation and declining membership and revenues. His abiding faith in the Fraternity gave him the strength to steer us through the storm, often relying on his personal credit to provide badly needed financial assistance.

The Fraternity had taken out a loan from the Citizens Bank of Evansville to underwrite the costs of the 1985 National Convention, pledging the assets of the Sinfonia Foundation to secure the loan. As revenues continued to decline, the Fraternity fell further into the red. In the early fall of 1986, Citizens Bank demanded repayment of the loan by the end of business on the day of demand, and threatened foreclosure on the assets of the Foundation if payment was not received.

Using his home as security, Dr. Underwood arranged an emergency loan of $5,000, and drove the check to Evansville before the bank’s close of business to pay off the Convention loan. Over the next two years, Dr. and Mrs. Underwood would borrow an additional $30,000 to underwrite Fraternity expenses until per capita taxes were received in the fall and the Fraternity could repay them. Sinfonia owes its undying gratitude and respect to Brother Underwood, and to his wife Carmen, for their sacrifice and their faith in our Fraternity, both of which were given repeatedly, and without hesitation.

Prior to the 46th National Convention in 1988, after years of deficits, Dr. Underwood knew that the Fraternity would have to take bold action to solve its financial problems, difficult though it would be. Working with the National Staff, he directed a thorough analysis of the Fraternity’s revenues and expenditures. As a result of the analysis, three options were presented to the NEC: Option 1 called for a 50% increase in per capita tax and a 38% increase in initiation fees, and would have just covered operating costs, barring a decrease in initiations or membership; Option 2 called for an 88% increase in both fees, which would allow for the restoration of some discontinued services; Option 3 called for a 125% increase in per capita taxes and a 113% increase in initiation fees, which would permit the Fraternity to move ahead and allow for future needs. The NEC chose to recommend Option 3 to the delegates of the National Assembly.

For the second time in six years, Jervis Underwood was called upon to make the case for a staggering increase in fees—the largest one-time increase in the history of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity. His patient and thorough explanations, and his complete knowledge of the Fraternity’s finances, made such a clear case to the Assembly that the motion passed with an overwhelming majority vote.

In an emotional and inspiring inaugural address following his election as National President, Dr. Underwood shared advice that was direct, pitch perfect and prescient:

“We must not think of the challenge of this Assembly as merely one of convincing the collegiate brotherhood to support the dues increases. Rather, our challenge is to always measure our attitudes and our actions by our ideals.”

 

Had Dr. Underwood retired and enjoyed some well-deserved leisure after his Presidency had concluded, he would have been considered one of the most significant leaders in the history of Phi Mu Alpha, with good reason. But duty called once more, and Brother Underwood rose to meet that call yet again.

With great foresight, and Dr. Underwood’s leadership, the National Executive Committee began to make plans in earnest for the observance of the Fraternity’s Centennial, ten years in advance. The Fraternity’s frustrated dreams of having a comprehensive History written were foremost on Brother Underwood’s mind, and he set in motion plans that would come to fruition 11 years later to provide a comprehensive research History of Sinfonia for the very first time.

In early 1991, President Underwood undertook the task of authoring the History. His Vice President and good friend David Irving (Gamma Theta 1960) proposed a comprehensive timeline that would present critical milestones and historical events. Brother Underwood asked him to begin work, and the backbone of the History was then in development.

In 1991, the delegates to the National Convention in New Orleans re-established the dormant office of National Historian, last held by Frank Hill in the 1960s. Rather than creating a new elected office, the delegates approved the establishment of the National Historian as an appointee of the National President. Newly-elected President Robert L. Hause appointed Jervis as the first National Historian since the re-establishment in 1991, and Brother Underwood served faithfully in that post until 2000.

During his time as National Historian, Brother Underwood worked tirelessly to speak with Brothers who had first-hand knowledge, family members and descendants of key figures, and spent hours conducting and transcribing telephone interviews. Over the next 7 years, Dr. Underwood retrieved many records that had not previously been in the possession of the National Fraternity, and greatly expanded the collection to which we now refer as the National Archives.

More than ten years in the making, Dr. Underwood finished the text of what we now know as Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia – A Centennial History in June, 1999, and the work was first published in 2000, with an updated second edition released in 2005, and reprinted in 2008. This invaluable resource has enriched the lives of countless Sinfonians, and offers all who seek it a comprehensive research guide to the rich and vibrant history of our beloved Sinfonia.

Today, however, many Sinfonians are unaware of the tremendous musicianship of Jervis Underwood. A superb and sought-after flutist, Jervis served also as a reviewer for publications such as Woodwind World, Brass and Percussion, and Flute Forum. He was a member of the National Flute Association for many years, and chaired its new music committee from 1975-78. Dr. Underwood dedicated his life to the advancement of music, and was a devoted sponsor of new music and American composers.

Jervis developed a love for music early in life, and knew that it would always hold an important role for him. Jervis began to play second flute in the Wichita Falls (Texas) Symphony Orchestra while still in high-school. It was there that he would meet Dr. George Morey, the Flute Instructor at North Texas State College, who was hired as the Orchestra’s Principal Flutist in 1948. Jervis would hitch-hike from Electra to Denton to take lessons from Dr. Morey, who would become his teacher, mentor and lifelong friend. It was Dr. Morey who inspired Jervis to enroll at North Texas State College, and continued to guide him through the completion of his Ph.D in Music twenty-one years later.

Jervis was a member of the U.S. Fourth Army Band, one of the finest service bands during the 1950s and 60s, while stationed at Fort Sam Houston. In addition to its normal duties, the Fourth Army Band participated in a weekly radio program called Concert in Khaki, with Jervis playing Flute and Piccolo. In 1952, Jervis was sent to the U.S. Navy School of Music in Washington, DC, by the Department of the Army, where he completed a course of instruction and earned the title of Army Bandsman.

He continued his playing career while serving as an instructor at the University of Texas, playing Piccolo in the Austin (Texas) Symphony.

Jervis served as principal flutist of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra from 1964-1984. During his tenure with the Orchestra, Dr. Underwood appeared several times as a soloist. On January 20, 1983, Brother Underwood joined Principal Harpist Marian Schaffer in a performance of Mozart’s “Concerto for Flute and Orchestra” in honor of the anniversary of Mozart’s birthday. Robert Jennings, Music Critic for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, wrote “The always graceful composition was graced even more by their performance, flawlessly integrated and with virtuoso quality singly or together.”

Jervis joined the established Altgeld Woodwind Quintet at Southern Illinois University upon his arrival there in 1971. The Quintet went dormant for a time in the late 1970s when its French horn player retired, but the recruitment of William Hammond, a renowned French horn virtuoso who was one of only four musicians in the United States who played the natural horn precursor to the French horn, brought new energy.

The ensemble was reborn, and christened the New American Woodwind Quintet, with Hammond arranging bookings and national and international tours. The Quintet included Dr. Underwood on flute, Eric Mandat on clarinet, Charles Fligel on bassoon, George Hussey on oboe, and William Hammond on French horn.

 

 

Their first national tour included a performance on April 14, 1985, at New York’s Carnegie Hall. This performance brought the Quintet to the attention of music lovers everywhere, and won the ensemble critical acclaim. On a 12-concert European tour of Holland, Belgium, Scotland, Germany, Italy and Austria the following summer, the Quintet performed in Vienna’s famous Musikverein, notorious for its sophisticated and hypercritical audiences, and received a rare standing ovation. In the final year of the Quintet’s existence, they were given the rare opportunity to perform in Beijing, China, as a cultural representative of the American people.

In a quirky accident suffered while on a fishing trip on the Wabash River, Jervis was removing a catfish from his line when the fish jerked away and thrust one of its spines through his hand. This began a series of complications which required several surgeries on the hand, and ultimately it compromised Brother Underwood’s ability to play the flute at the standard he felt necessary. Reluctantly, he was forced to retire from active playing, and the world lost a tremendous flutist.

One of the very last performances by Dr. Underwood was shared with the delegates of the 1991 National Convention. Joining the combined bands of the Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing and the US Navy in concert at the historic Orpheum Theater, under the direction of Col. John Bourgeois, Jervis played for the last time his signature piccolo solo in Clifton Williams’ march, The Sinfonians.

Dr. and Mrs. Underwood had three children, Cynthia Ellen, Analynn, and Michael Edgar. Michael preceded Jervis in death in 2006. The Fraternity offers Dr. Underwood’s family our deepest sympathy and most sincere condolences in their time of loss. We have lost a great man, and a Brother of profound and lasting significance, whose like we shall not see again. Dr. Underwood will never be forgotten; if you seek his legacy, look around you. The Fraternity we love and share today exists in large part as a product of his undying faith in Sinfonia’s ideals, his selfless devotion to the Fraternity’s welfare, and his wise and steady leadership.

Requiescat in pace, frater.

 

J. Clifton Williams’ The Sinfonians, as performed by the Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing and the US Navy band in concert at the 1991 Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia National Convention. Directed by Col. John Bourgeois (Ret.). Featuring Dr. T. Jervis Underwood on piccolo, and the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Men of Song Chorus.

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