New music director brings passion to KSU

John Oberlin


Credit: Beth Rankin

Between spurts of spirited laughter, Josef Knott explains his approach to administration is the same as his approach to conducting:

“You walk into a room filled with different people with different abilities, talents and backgrounds and through inspiration and empowerment you bring them to embrace a common goal.”

Knott, who next month will begin his job as Kent State’s new director of the School of Music, says he will be “off and running” by the middle of the month.

“I’m flattered that Kent took my application seriously,” he said. “I’m humbled.”

For the past 18 years, he has worked at the School of Music and Dance at the University of Arizona. Before taking the job at Kent State, he served as its assistant director.

A director at the University of Connecticut nominated Knott for the Kent State position, and with the prodding and support of his colleagues — some of whom taught or graduated from Kent State — he applied for the position.

Knott will be replacing Mary Sue Hyatt, who is retiring as interim director of the School of Music.

On his first visit to Kent State, he met Tim Chandler, dean of the College of Fine and Professional Arts.

“His humanity, it’s his human spirit,” Knott said about Chandler. “It immediately felt right.”

Knott said he will bring passion, the love of music and the love of empowering people to the School of Music. There are all these “professional and administrative words, but it has to have heart — otherwise it’s just hollow,” Knott said.

Frank Susi, interim associate dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Fine and Professional Arts, was the coordinator for the committee which selected Knott. Susi said Knott “had a lot of interesting ideas and has an interesting background.”

Knott was born in Jamaica and moved to Liberia when he was 10 years old, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry from

Cuttington University College.

My parents were missionaries in Liberia, which gave me a very large and global perspective on human beings,” Knott said.

Jan Dressler, associate professor at the School of Music and member of the selection committee, said Knott brings with him excellent academic credentials and years of administration experience.

“We decided he was the best person for the job,” said Dressler.

He earned his Bachelor of Music from St. Olaf College in Minnesota and his Master and Doctor of Music from Indiana University. He is involved in the National Endowment for the Arts and has been knighted by the Liberian government into the Order of the Star of Africa for his contribution to music.

“The opportunity of living in three different countries broadened and deepened my understanding of the human spirit,” Knott said. “Africa was the most enriching experience for me.”

Knott’s final performance at the University of Arizona — a concert featuring great opera moments — will be “bittersweet and almost prophetic,” he said.

He says he has come full circle in his life and thinks of Kent State as another opportunity to continue his journey and enrich his life.

Contact Fine and Professional Arts and College of Communication and Information reporter John Oberlin at [email protected].