A look at the impact, legacy of Derle Long

Cameron Jett

Music fell on the ears differently this week. Paint took an unusual hue as it sat on the canvas. All instruments all sounded out tune. 

The ULM community stood in a collective state of shock when the passing of Director of the School of Visual and Performing Arts Derle Long was announced on Monday. 

To the students and faculty who knew Long, he was more than his title and career. To many, Long was the lifeblood of the VAPA program. He was the welcoming face that every freshman in the program learned to trust and the unforgettable life-changer that anyone who encountered would cherish for life.

 Long was revered and respected for his dedication to the program and beloved for the connections he made with students.

“It was this selfless, friendly, outgoing and professional personality that made everyone love him so much,” junior music education major Ethan Harkins said.

Long knew how to help students celebrate their achievements and keep spirits high through all of the rigorous practices.

Recent graduate Westly Heflin performed in ULM’s wind ensemble during his time as a student, and he cherished the connection Long appeared to have with everyone in VAPA. 

“Dr. Long always had some stupid joke on standby to lighten the mood,” Heflin said. “He loved to pick on each section, and every day there was a new target.” 

His jabs at the section were all playful fun. Heflin said the students knew the quality person that Long was, and they knew he would always prioritize the success of his students. 

Long didn’t have any children of his own, but students in his program looked at his as a father or grandfather figure.

“VAPA was his family and he couldn’t have advocated for them any more than he already did,” Heflin said.

Professor Matthew James had over a decade of experience around Long. When James joined ULM as an associate dean in 2008, he and Long found themselves bonding well with each other. Whether it be joking about their different backgrounds—James had a choir background while Long was engulfed in band culture—or reliving moments from their era, they found a friend. The unfamiliar eye could have mistaken the two towering, grey-haired virtuosos in Biedenharn Hall for the other. 

When word spread—before the announcement came from President Ronald Berry—James said he dismissed the rumors because he saw Long as immortal. 

“I knew such a thing could happen in theory,” James said, “but I just couldn’t accept it in reality.”

When the VAPA program reorganized in 2012, James was asked to step down from his position take the role of the director but he declined the spot. James instead suggested that Long should be considered for the position.  The suggestion was taken into consideration as Long was promoted to VAPA Director.

Having worked both as Long’s subordinate and his superior, James witnessed the full spectrum of Long’s personality.

He saw Long as a first-class leader who never once asked for respect, but he earned undying loyalty from the students and staff around him. 

“He was a tough, tough band guy who came up through the ranks,” James said. 

Having spent time in the high school band scene, Long understood the need to develop future band directors and educators.

Brian Bass is a high school music educator who spent time locally as the assistant band director for Ouachita High School. He attended ULM and said he saw Long as a person who would, “use his position to give guidance and help to anyone who wanted it.”

And the impact that Long had then never went away.

“Though I have moved away from Monroe, I still teach band and I still feel his presence,” Bass said.

Bass is just one of many future educators who give credit for their careers to Long.

Christopher King, the assistant band director for West Ouachita High School, started his journey into music education as a student the same time that Long joined the university 22 years ago.

King didn’t know that over two decades later, Long’s influence would still play a part in his life. He said that seeing Long work incredibly hard as a recruiter who hit the roads to convince the best talents that ULM was for them. King said it “definitely made an impact,” on how he viewed what became his career.

“He took his responsibility very personally and wanted to ensure that we had the tools we needed to go out into the world and be effective teachers,” King said.

And after years around the program, Long never lost the drive to be involved in all aspects of VAPA.

Even last Saturday at the homecoming game, Long was around for the band’s warm-ups and practice. He stayed through the game and didn’t leave until all the equipment was put away.

Only about 24 hours later, Long passed away.

Long was a few years out of retirement, according to James. But he said it’s his belief that Long has a new occupation.

“He’s off somewhere conducting some great band up in the sky,” James said. “They’re lucky to have him.”