For musician, leadership emerges from expertise

Padilla strikes the right dynamic with colleagues

Clarence Padilla’s strategy for success has always been to surround himself with people who are more talented than he. During more than 30 years as a professional clarinetist, Padilla has performed alongside well-known virtuosos such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, singer-songwriter Amy Grant and opera singer Simon Estes.

While he still seeks the inspiration and leadership of others, Padilla has increasingly found the tables turned: The longer he teaches and performs, the more he’s flagged as a mentor and leader. To him, this is a surprising career development.

“I’m a people person, and I love working with my colleagues at Drake and elsewhere,” Padilla says. “But leadership is not something that I chased. Over the years, it just happened.”


Clarence Padilla performs “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano: Vivace, Quasi Una Samba.”

Padilla has been chair of the Drake University Department of Music since 2004, providing administrative leadership for 17 full-time and 25 to 30 part-time faculty members. Colleagues say he fills the role with kindness, keen diplomacy and a graceful appearance of effortlessness. He also manages personnel for the Des Moines Symphony and conducted his first season with the Des Moines Metro Concert Band, a group of 40 professional musicians, in summer 2011.

“When I’m in a leadership role, I still consider myself an equal to everyone else. And in general I don’t consider myself a great leader,” Padilla says. “Who knows? Maybe that’s why some people consider me one.”

In his free time, he tours the world with pianist Nicholas Roth and cellist Ashley Sidon, both of whom teach at Drake. Padilla has also performed in a long list of Broadway shows at the Des Moines Civic Center, including two runs of Wicked and one run each of La Cage aux Folles, Young Frankenstein and Mary Poppins.

Padilla prides himself on bringing that experience back to the classroom. But as often as possible, he brings the students to those experiences. Like when he invited several students to sit in the pit during Wicked.

“There’s no better way for me to teach students about my experiences than to have them sit next to me while I perform,” Padilla says. “That’s one of the perks of being in a city with as many opportunities as Des Moines.”

Aaron W. Jaco, JO’07, AS’07

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