Weeks’ Days, Months and 38 Years
by John Jeter, Lecturer in Music Business
Roller coasters may be an apt metaphor for life, but Dr. Doug Weeks never once mentions his passion for them. It’s only later—days after an arpeggiated conversation with Weeks that runs slightly longer than one of his favorite Beethoven sonatas—that a longtime colleague shares the telling tidbit.
“You know, Doug’s a roller-coaster addict,” says Dr. Scott Robbins, musicology and composition professor, who has worked with Weeks since 1998 at Converse College’s Petrie School of Music. “He likes to model having a good life. He likes to make room for fun.”
So why is it that Weeks, 70, a freshly retired professor emeritus after 38 years at Converse, didn’t say a word about his regular trips with students and fellow faculty to Carowinds?
“He wouldn’t immediately connect it to music,” says Rita, his wife of 45 years. “I think there’s a connection between how he experiences roller coasters and the way he has walked out on stage and just said, ‘You know, let’s just go where it takes us.’”
Eighty-eight keys have taken him to more than 30 countries, from the Middle East to Africa to South Asia and to such capitals as Cairo, Paris and Moscow, where he once competed in the celebrated International Tchaikovsky Competition.
“My ambition was to be the best pianist that I could be. I love playing the piano and I love performing and I love teaching more than performing,” Weeks says. “I decided to devote my life to it, regardless of how much success I had, regardless of how much applause came my way.”
The boy from Dayton took to the ivories when he was 3 years old. At 5, he says, he started taking lessons from his mother, Marjorie, a piano teacher and church organist.
As a teen in the ’60s, he took to rock ‘n’ roll and Motown. He saw the Four Tops and The Temptations and Jimi Hendrix twice. He joined a rock group, The Reproductions, a “mediocre” cover band. He played a Fender bass because keyboards cost too much.
A few years before earning his master’s degree in music from Indiana University, he and Rita spent a year in Paris, where he studied at the renowned École Normale de Musique.
In 1982, after teaching two years at a small liberal-arts college in Ohio, he became Babcock Professor of Piano at Converse, where he fast became instrumental on and off-campus.
One highlight came in 2005, when Kurt and Nelly Zimmerli invited a group that included Weeks to the Steinway factory in Brooklyn; Weeks was already on the elite Steinway Artist roster, and now Converse would become the world’s first all-women’s college to become an “All-Steinway School.”
Nelly and Kurt, a Converse College Life Trustee whose name graces the performance center that houses Twichell Auditorium, had decided to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with a $100,000 donation toward a Steinway. They sought Weeks’ help to choose one. Weeks spent a few hours playing a selection of pianos until Kurt clapped and said: “’If we don’t leave right now, we’re going to miss our flight,’” Weeks recalls.
“I think it will be a long time, if ever, for Converse to find anyone of his caliber again.”
“I can’t think of enough good things to say about him,” Kurt told Converse magazine, while Nelly mentioned that Weeks regularly stops by their home to play—as he has for so many others throughout Spartanburg, “I think it will be a long time, if ever, for Converse to find anyone of his caliber again. I admire him greatly.”
Students, of course, have always been Weeks’ focus.
“Working one-on-one with the student is such a reward,” he says, “and when they work hard and I see them have breakthroughs where, all of a sudden, they take it to the next level technically or musically, that’s an incredible joy.”
Some of his students broke through to international recognition.
Among them was Tharanga Goonetilleke, who was planning to study medicine — at least, until Weeks arrived in Sri Lanka during a three-country Asia tour. During a gala celebrating the year 2000, he accompanied the soprano on Gershwin’s “Summertime.”
Blown away, Weeks recruited her with no small persistence, arranging her full ride to Converse. (She graduated in 2005, also recruiting her sister, Eranga, Class of ’08 and another Weeks student, who teaches voice and piano at Lawson Academy.)
Tharanga, the only Converse alumna to date to graduate from The Juilliard School, hails Weeks for giving her complete agency as a student and performer.
“He just kind of steps back and watches,” she says. “That’s incredible. It’s pretty special. That’s how you would be a colleague to someone, you don’t impose yourself on them.”
Wael Farouk is another Weeks protégé who achieved worldwide fame.
In 1998, the Cairo native played alongside Weeks during one of the professor’s two Fulbright residencies in Egypt. Both happened to be working on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
Weeks invited Farouk to Brevard Music School, where Weeks had spent summers teaching since 1982. Farouk earned his master’s in piano performance at Converse in 2006.
“He has a tireless willingness to help his students, to go way beyond any teacher I’ve ever seen.”
“He was more of a mentor and a lifelong, wonderful influence,” he says. “He’s a great human being, not just an outstanding musician and an outstanding teacher. He has a tireless willingness to help his students, to go way beyond any teacher I’ve ever seen — not only with one or two of the students, but with all of them.”
Robbins says he considers Weeks’ globetrotting performances, his Brevard affiliation and his draw for students as significant contributions to Converse’s repertoire.
“He’s certainly a good part of why we enjoy the reputation we do as a school of music,” Robbins says. “Doug measures us against the great schools of music. He knows what a great music program is and he has always made it his goal to be as good as them.”
Reflecting on her husband’s ride so far—as thrilling as any amusement-park track — Rita says, “He has a great love of music. God, that sounds so cliché, but it feeds him just as it feeds the people around him.”