Carnegie Mellon University

School of Music

Where artistry and innovation share center stage

December 14, 2023

Remembering Lance LaDuke

By Dan Fernandez

Dan Fernandez
  • Director of Marketing & Communications, School of Music
  • 412-268-4921

He was a professor, a euphonium player, an ensemble director, an advisor, an expert in entrepreneurship, a multimedia series producer and host, an avant-garde artist, and a friend to scores of students, alumni, faculty and staff in the Carnegie Mellon School of Music.

The School of Music mourns the loss of our dear friend and colleague Lance LaDuke, who tragically passed away over the weekend from injuries sustained after a fall.

LaDuke was an Associate Teaching Professor in Euphonium and Music Business, as well as Coordinator of Special and Creative Projects, director of the Tartan Tuba Band, and the First-Year Advisor to undergraduate students in the School of Music. He joined the faculty part-time in 2003 and received his full-time appointment in 2012.


During his distinguished career, he performed with numerous outstanding ensembles including the Pittsburgh Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra and taught at prestigious institutions around the world including the Juilliard School, the Royal Academy of Music and the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts. Educated at Michigan State University, the University of Akron and George Mason University, he went on to be a member of the United States Air Force Band for seven years, appeared in a Tom Clancy movie, played with legendary performers, played on over 30 recordings, wrote multiple books, was heard on numerous television, radio and podcast shows, and was an accomplished improv comic.

On top of his formal activities and roles within and without the School, LaDuke was known for his enthusiasm, positivity, creativity and boundless energy to help students cultivate their ideas and become the best version of their musical selves.

Current and former colleagues and students of the School of Music shared their remembrances of Lance.

I will miss hearing about his latest ideas and projects and trying to keep up with his wild and wonderful thought process.

Lance LaDuke was a very special person, and I count myself extraordinarily fortunate to have had him in my life.

Lance was one of the most kind, compassionate, and generous people I have ever encountered, and we are all poorer for his passing. Brilliantly creative, I will miss hearing about his latest ideas and projects and trying to keep up with his wild and wonderful thought process.

For those who knew him, it goes without saying that Lance possessed an extremely well-developed sense of humor that enlivened every meeting he attended. 

Lance leaves behind a legacy of dedicated students, amazing entrepreneurship, compassionate care for colleagues, and a too-short career of great musicianship. I will miss him greatly. 

                –Denis Colwell, Associate Professor and former Head of the School of Music


Lance was an extraordinary individual, leaving a lasting mark during his brief time with us. I first met him during School of Music orientation, where his infectious smile and vibrant personality stood out among professors. Lance swiftly became a mentor, colleague, and friend. 

His genuine care for students was evident in every interaction. When he asked how you were, he truly wanted to know. Always available, Lance offered a listening ear whenever needed. 

Dedicated to the well-being of all students, Lance supported ideas and initiatives beyond his studio. His creativity and innovation manifested in projects like the Modern Musicking Show and the SubSurface: Site-Specific Sight & Sound concert, showcasing his commitment to enhancing the student experience. 

Lance, your amazing presence has left an irreplaceable void in our lives. The memories, smiles, and laughs we shared will forever hold your extraordinary impact. We'll miss you dearly. 

                –Gino Mollica, alumnus, bachelor of fine arts in vocal performance and master of arts management (CFA 2020; HNZ 2021)

He challenged everyone to think outside the box and to "fail early and often...”

In 2012, Lance and I were hired to build the music entrepreneurship program.  Twin minds who thrived on the thrill of saying “YES” and then figuring out how we would deliver, we created the program one “YES” at a time. Lance was quick-witted, unapologetically himself, the kind of person who would give a motivational talk at freshman orientation holding his dog and wearing a “Dad" Hawaiian shirt. He challenged everyone to think outside the box and to "fail early and often;” and since that came from Lance, people took the leap because you just knew that this man believed in you!

Lance had a habit of ending other people's statements with “Just like that!”  These are the words that repeat in my mind:  Just like that, Lance came on the scene with his wacky humor and crazy ideas and just like that, the lights went off and his office door now flutters with sticky notes bearing memories of those of us who are better because he was here.

                –Monique Mead, Associate Teaching Professor and Director of Music Entrepreneurship

Lance was that most generous type of teacher, who was interested not in helping students play like he did or have the career he did, but rather, Lance was committed to helping students discover their own voice and their own professional path, regardless of what direction that took.

                –Joanna Bosse, Interim Head of the School of Music

Somehow being around Lance made the insane ambition of it seem just fun.

Seven years ago, Lance had an idea about forming a new music ensemble at CMU - a new group dedicated to experimental and interdisciplinary ways of music-making, a place where technology and performance would collide, and a space for students to manifest their most adventurous musical ambitions.  This was the genesis of the group that would eventually be named Exploded Ensemble, and it was my entry to the magical cinematic universe of Lance LaDuke’s imagination.

Lance and I co-directed Exploded Ensemble during its formative years and things got very wild very quickly. After only two semesters of performing in concert halls we decided we needed to explore more outlandish terrain - and so we took our students underground, literally, into a limestone mine the size of 1000 football fields.  This was the birth of the “Subsurface” performances wherein we bused in hundreds of visitors, deep into the belly of a mountain - and bombarded them with sound, light, and immersive art. Looking back on those productions it seems completely crazy that we did all of that - just way out of scope from what one would expect to accomplish with a handful of students and limited resources. But somehow being around Lance made the insane ambition of it seem just fun - like maybe it was impossible, maybe we would fail, but we would certainly have a really great time trying. And in the end those events were huge successes, and they brought out the best in our students and created transformative experiences for our audiences that I still hear people talking about to this day.

In the semester following our first foray into limestone mines Lance and I decided to tackle an equally ridiculous challenge - having our students perform an 8-hour concert that would begin at nightfall and which would be performed for a sleeping audience.  This was an event we dubbed Snoozefest.  We spent that Spring exploring the music of dreams, finding ways to manifest the realms of the subconscious through musical sound. For some reason we decided that all the performers would need to perform in shimmering wizard’s robes and so we bought a few dozen silver and golden cloaks from a costume shop.  I’ll never forget staying up all night with Lance, both of dressed up like low-rent cartoon shamans, drinking in waves and waves of music, in a state of somnambulant bliss.  As the sun rose Lance had a brass quartet guide the audience into the new day with an ascending ambient fanfare.  We had somehow convinced the chief music critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to spend the entire night lying on the floor of Alumni Concert Hall and he had this to say on the following day:

Between this sleep-themed concert and the concert in a nearby limestone mine last fall, CMU’s Exploded Ensemble is proving itself one of the city’s most creative musical performance groups.
                –Jeremy Reynolds, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

And that’s sort of Lance in a nutshell - within a span of two years we went from having no experimental music group to having music critics hail our students’ efforts as leading the city in musical bravery.  And all along the way Lance made every part of these ridiculous efforts so much fun.  The work was never-ending, but it was filled with so much laughter and light that it all felt somehow effortless.

Below is a photo of Lance playing his horn in a limestone mine with a fuzzy bear hat on - it is being amplified and sent out through a huge array of speakers surrounding the underground chamber.  I can assure you it sounded amazing.  I can assure you I will miss him forever.

                –Jesse Stiles, Associate Professor of Sound Media