Upcoming Performances

April 26
8:00 pm Eastern

Collaborative Organist, ASU University Singers, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

April 27
3:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Kingsport, Tenn.

May 5
4:00 pm Central

Guest recitalist, St. Paul's Cathedral, Des Moines, Iowa

July 18
10:00 am Eastern

Collaborative Organist, Organ/Brass concert, William Adam International Trumpet Festival, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

August 25
3:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Church of the Savior, Newland, N.C.

September 17
8:00 pm Eastern

Faculty recital, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

December 13
12:15 pm Eastern

Music at Midday, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

June 21-26, 2020
Worship Organist, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, Lake Junaluska, N.C.

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Because it is

It is increasingly difficult in our society to defend those disciplines that on the surface don’t make us more viable in business and military sectors. But most any reader of this blog knows that music and all the arts are an integral part of any successful society’s fabric. We keep discovering – or reminding society that we have already discovered – that music has huge extrinsic value. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, raise social awareness, heighten collaborative skills, raise math scores, create lasting relationships, thrill the mind and soul, boost brain cells, and banish cancer cells.

Music is also intrinsically valuable. We need to study music just because music is a great thing, and not just for what it does for us. It is worthy of study on its own merits, not just those merits that “contribute to society.” Rain dances, ecstatic expressions of gratitude, parades, ceremonial marches, fight songs, hymns, concerts, recitals, lullabies, movie scores – music is all around us and is worthy of our rather undivided academic attention. If we can keep that message alive, we can stay alive.

Yeah, so the arts are important in our lives. And you and I agree that all artists should be paid handsomely for our work. What we provide is just as sustaining and nurturing to society as anything else. However, I know that I’m howling at the moon to think that a recently earned Ph.D. in Art History is going to make a living without a day job or attachment to a university, archive, or museum.

While I recoil in horror at those who would strip our society of music and the arts, sometimes I use language similar to theirs when I question the usefulness of an organist who can play the complete works of Naji Hakim from memory but can’t sightread a four-part hymn or keep it at a steady tempo. I question the usefulness of fresh grads complaining about having to take a church job to make ends meet until they land the teaching job they feel they deserve with all those degrees. I question the depth of education of someone who can talk about Buxtehude’s summer vacation activities in exquisite detail but can’t compose a coherent, properly spelled memo about appropriate wedding music in the church they serve.

We keep hearing that our children need courses in accounting, business management, personnel management, computer science, business Mandarin Chinese, and standard Spanish if they have the remotest prayer of “making it in the world.” Children have been conditioned to question, “Am I going to need this after graduation?” Facebook buzzes with memes about ‘look, Ma -- I didn’t need to use Algebra today’ and how ridiculous Common Core sounds to people. And yet I myself use much the same language when I ask, “How in the world does he expect to make it as an organist if he can’t play a hymn?!” If I say that organists need to learn service playing or else wither on the vine, I also have to remember that my parents nearly pulled me out of the NC School of the Arts because it didn’t offer courses in accounting, business, or typing. (I nearly lost my place at the table in a conservatory – for TYPING class?)

Pipe organs in Medieval Christianity were mechanical novelties. And since the mechanical brains of society tended to be monks, the organs resided in monasteries. Organs didn’t accompany services until later. Therefore, would it be more historically accurate for me to complain that anyone who doesn’t know how to build an organ is not worthy of a degree in organ performance? Or fast-forward to today, where the organ is being eschewed in many churches: am I wasting my time teaching students how to play for church while fewer churches these days need their services? Do I need to be asking ‘is this important?’ myself?

Service-playing courses have made their way into many previously all-performance conservatories. In other places, entrepreneur-related courses are showing up in music curricula. Almost too little, too late, but we’re getting there. (Hear that? I sound like my parents.) If they’re going to survive, students need to know how to set up a CV file, how to network, and how to advertise. And if they’re one of my students, then they also need to know how to spell, write, shake hands, smile, do their own taxes, and sightread. Not every organist needs to know how to accompany an oratorio from the piano reduction, and not every organist needs to be able to memorize the complete works of Ned Rorem, but the vast majority of all organists will need to be able to dabble in both. It’s music either way, and music is beautiful.

I’d say that as a society we need to stop playing the my-discipline-is-more-important-than-yours game. We (you) need to stop conditioning our (your) children to question the importance of a particular study in their schooling. It’s important because it is. It’s important because it exists in the world in which you live. And if it exists, then it has a history, and history is also important. It’s important because we can learn from it. It’s important because some of us are inspired to go create more of it. It’s important because someone in your classroom, with whom you have to live for a time, finds it important. It’s important because it was created by some of your fellow human beings. It’s important because a ninth grader has no idea how to answer the question of importance yet. It’s important because J.S. Bach made it so. Shall I go on?

As for my learning accounting, business, and typing? Thank goodness for TurboTax, real life, and Mavis Beacon, respectively.

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