Monday, February 24, 2014

The gift of Music

Many of us can point to one person and say that they had the most influence on our lives.  Perhaps it was a teacher in school, or a college professor.  Maybe it was a pastor or leader in your church or synagogue.  Maybe a kind neighbor down the street who'd listen to you when you thought your parents were clueless about you.  This person may have introduced you to something that today is a major part of your life, or at least still has a grip on your dreams and goals.  

I can think of many individuals who had a tremendous and lasting impact on my life: Ken Mulder, the youth pastor at my church during my turbulent high school years; Dr. John Todd, the pastor who became a spiritual mentor and eventually a very close and trusted friend; my own dad, who I was distant from as a child, but grew increasingly closer to as I matured; or even my father-in-law, who taught me how to fish.  These folk have all had a wonderful influence on me that I cherish.  But if there was one single person who I can say had the most impact on my life, it was my college music professor who became my choir director and eventually, my close friend.  

I had heard of Don Walker while I was attending Saddleback College.  Rumors of him being tough and exacting as the head of choral studies were rampant, and despite that, I decided to augment my private music studies with classes on theory and composition, which he taught.  Soon he was the choirmaster at a large Presbyterian church (where I happened to be taking lessons on the organ) and invited me to join the choir.  I was not "into" choral music at the time, but I did like to sing, and the traditional format of the service was appealing to me.  Soon, though, I found myself in a choir singer's Nirvana: Don was a true choral director, educated at a liberal arts college known for its excellent choral music.  The anthems that Don chose for Sunday worship ranged from classical pieces from the great sacred works of Mozart, Beethoven or Mendelssohn, to contemporary choral works by composers Don knew personally.  We had the pleasure of singing with the foremost arranger of Negro Spirituals, Jester Hairston, who Don knew quite well.  It was a wonderful place to sing and expand our musical palettes.  Eventually, he chose to retire, and in doing so, he gave to me nearly 100 pieces of music, from anthems to oratorios, from masses to motets.  It was a wonderful and generous gift, and I treasure the collection to this day.

But Don gave me a more treasured gift than the sheet music and scores.  He gave me a deep passion for choral music, and a love for music sung with great expressiveness.  He gave a  gift of understanding the phrase or the line, or the subtle nuances of a finely tuned and rehearsed choir.  And as I grow older I find that singing no longer has the hold on me as it once had.  I now realize that I too wish to give the same gift Don gave me, and give it to other singers.  I want to take the same sheet music that is such a treasure and work with singers to create expressive and passionate music.  I want Don's generous gifts to keep on giving.

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