After 28 years at the helm of K-State’s orchestra, David Littrell is ready to step aside.
Littrell, who will turn 69 in July, was the longest-serving conductor in the K-State Orchestra’s 137-year history. He officially retires at the end of the month.
“It feels good,” Littrell said. “I just knew the time was right and it was time to turn it over to somebody new with new ideas.
“I had a good run, but I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” he added. “I loved doing it but it’s time to do something different.”
The orchestra includes about 80 students. During Littrell’s tenure, the orchestra doubled its string section and increased the number of performances to five concerts each school year.
Rachel Dirks, who is working toward a doctorate in music and orchestral conduction at the University of Kansas, will replace Littrell. She is currently the director of orchestras at Lawrence High School and co-music director of the Lawrence Community Orchestra.
“I’m very happy with my replacement and I think she’s going to do quite well,” Littrell said. “And I would be happy if she takes it to new heights.”
Littrell, who grew up in Manhattan with his father who was a professor of education at the university, received his bachelor’s degree in music in 1971 from K-State, where he was a cellist in the orchestra.
After K-State, Littrell attended the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, where he received his master’s degree in music in 1972 and a doctoral degree in music arts in 1979. During his time in Austin, he served as the principal cellist in the Austin Symphony.
He went on to teach in Wisconsin and Indiana and perform with the Denver Symphony.
But after 16 years away from Manhattan, Littrell decided he wanted to come home. In 1987, he became a K-State cello professor to replace Warren Walker, his former instructor. Three years later he was selected to lead the K-State Orchestra.
“Good thing I came, too, because my career change a little bit in its path, and I had a really successful time here,” he said. “I know I improved the orchestra.”
Littrell conducted 198 concerts, including the K-State Chamber Orchestra’s United Kingdom and Ireland tours in 2008, 2011 and 2017.
“Dr. Littrell’s contribution to Kansas State University can’t be measured in concerts, trips, graduates, awards or publications,” said Frank Tracz, K-State professor of music and director of bands. “His legacy is with people. He has poured his heart and soul into the students of this university and has changed thousands of lives in a very positive manner. His talents, humor, collegiality and his friendship will be sorely missed.”
Along with his work at K-State, Littrell founded the youth Gold Orchestra of Manhattan in 1988. He retired from conducting the youth orchestra in 2015.
In his retirement, Littrell plans to stay in Manhattan and be involved with his church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and helping with the youth orchestra.
“I don’t want to live anywhere else,” he said. “This is home. I love the prairie.”
He also plans to travel with his wife, Laurel Littrell, who continues to work as a professor at K-State Libraries. They recently returned to Manhattan after a trip to England, a common destination for the couple.
He said the couple may come up with more ideas in the future.
“I’ll just let life unfold now,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll keep having things to do, but I’m also learning how to relax.”