The following is a speech I wrote several
years ago for our campus convocation. It has little to do with
multi-cultural music, but a lot to do with our journey as musicians and
trying to define how we communicate our art. Finding our path
in life is never easy but the journey itself can be the most rewarding.
Teaching at the University level was not something
that I had in mind when I was younger. When I think back, thoughts of
being a pharmacist or a sports broadcaster were also part of my dreams.
But throughout my life, my main goal was always to become a professional
trumpet player. As a young student, I spent hours each day practicing
At age 11, I began spending 8 weeks of every summer at the National Music
Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. In addition, my parents took the time
to drive me an hour and a half each way to Mankato State University for
my weekly trumpet lessons. My senior year of high school I attended and
graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy, a private high school for
But it was during that year that my trumpet playing began to change.
I was at the point where I was playing in ensembles and practicing nearly
6 hours out of every day. We had our school wide concerto competition
coming up and I was really prepared. I performed my piece two weeks before
the competition. Still to this day it was one of the best performances
of my life. Then came the competition. My concerto was in four large
parts. I performed the first section very well. Then I started the second
section and after a line or two, my mind went blank. I had a memory slip,
one that would change my life forever. From that point on, my trumpet
playing skills lacked the confidence that they once had. My lips would
give way to tiredness and my mind was a mess.
I continued to play the trumpet, but at the same time I was singing as
well. I had always been a singer, but I never really thought about singing.
When I was young, and still a soprano, I would go around the house singing
Mozart’s Alleluia, a piece I often heard from our living room while
my mother was practicing with some of her high school students. I’m
sure the high school students did not appreciate a little 5th grade boy
singing the final high C with ease.
I began my college education at Oberlin
College Conservatory of Music. I was admitted as a voice major, though
I continued to take trumpet lessons for a few years as well. I am sure
at one point I had ambitions to be a professional singer and during my
first college years, I really was not sure what I wanted to do. At one
point, my mother said to me, “Peter, maybe you should think about
being a choir director.” I believe that my response was something
like “Yeah, right Mom.” But little did I know, my mom was
I tell you the story of this journey because many of us do not know what
we are called to do in life. The calling maybe an opportunity that is
given to us, and sometimes it is an opportunity that is related to a
current or past experience. If we are lucky enough to act at the right
moment, then we may also discover that our passion has finally been found.
When I conduct, I place myself into space that is filled with only musical
ideas. Time virtually stops, my confidence level is very high, there
is no second guessing of myself, and I maintain 100% concentration without
even trying. The idea of giving and receiving is in full force. What
effect then does this act of re-creating music have on both the mind
and the spirit?
Peter Berger writes in his book A Rumor of Angels:
Human life gains the greatest part of its richness from the capacity
for ecstasy, by which I do not mean the alleged experience of the mystic, but
any experience of stepping outside the taken-for-granted reality of everyday
I feel very lucky that I have been able to find the capacity for ecstasy
and perhaps more importantly, found the ability to share that with my
students. I constantly urge my students to make sure that they do not
let any opportunity of the heart or spirit pass them by. As this new
year goes forth, I would encourage all students to find the passion in
their own lives and begin the technical as well as emotional process
that allows you to share it with others.
Often as faculty members, we do not realize times or situations that
have a direct effect on our students. Several years ago I walked into
this theatre late one night and found one of my former students Jeff
Davis working hard on a specific lighting design for our Holiday Music
Festival performance. I asked Jeff what he was doing and at the time,
I received a rather technical response on how the shadows would be placed
on my head and how it would relate to what the audience would see.
I was writing this speech I asked him one more time and he said the following:
“We were on our way to Portland on my first choir tour, and we stopped
at Taco Bell for lunch. As I was waiting in line to order I saw you walking
down the corridor to the bathroom. While you walked, your hands and arms were
conducting. I remember thinking "Wow! I wonder what that music sounds
like," meaning, the music in your head that you were conducting. As many
beautiful sounds as you were able to pull out of all of us (Actors and Chemists
included), we obviously had our less than beautiful moments. I imagined that
the music you were conducting on your way to the bathroom didn't have those
same undesirable sounds, and I have ALWAYS been jealous that I can't hear music
that is that perfect.”
“With that particular lighting concept I wanted the audience to feel
like we were all given the gift of a few moments inside an amazing musical
mind. We could see you conducting, but we could not see the rest of the choir.
I wanted it to look like we were spying on a private moment when nothing else
existed but you conducting the music in your head.”
My response as a professor, is that I am thankful that I was able to
open up a level of thought that was far greater than anything I had originally
Learning comes from both example and experience.
But students should
know that not all learning will take place in the classroom. In fact,
I once heard the following, “Do not let your classes get in the
way of your education.” Now, that does not mean that you don’t
need to go to class. But it does mean that learning will happen whenever,
and wherever, you allow yourself the experience.
In closing, I normally
am not a lecturer. In fact, the less a conductor speaks the greater the
ability to communicate during the musical process. As I prepare for choir
each day, I may consider how I am going to teach notes, the concept of
how to listen, how I might connect with a particular student during the
rehearsal, or how we can move one step closer to performing as an entire
When I do lecture, however, it normally comes at a moment that is called
fondly by my students as “family time.” It usually comes
to the surface at a time when progress has been halted, or it may come
as a result of one of those many musical moments that has just taken
place and I want to make sure the awareness of the mind and spirit has
been felt or understood by all.
What ever the case may be, I cannot emphasize
enough how the search for learning and the art of music-making can help
us transcend the “ordinary” in our every day lives.
Peter Wordelman is Professor of Music at Eastern Oregon University in
La Grande, OR.
With several weeks passing since the event,
come to appreciate the NW-ACDA divisional convention from three perspectives:
as part of the planning team, as choral director, and as a parent of
a participating student. Each of these roles reminds me why I’m
a member of ACDA, and why I’ll always be part of this great association.
I’ve served on the NW-ACDA Board for nearly four years. In all
that time, I’ve yet to see anyone act in any way but professional
and committed to seeing that all that is done is done with members in
mind. There was debate – passionate debate – regarding tens
of topics and concerns and contingencies. The session ideas, the venues
for performing choirs, the distance to travel between sites, even the
weather, were all considered and weighed.
I came away from the convention wholly filled, realizing
that not every contingency could be anticipated, but knowing that every
effort was made to make the convention seem seamless. For every cramped
student-motel-room (a Hilton problem) there were a dozen things most
of us never realized that had come together because of careful planning
and superior implementation. My thanks and appreciation to Mike Frasier,
Scott Peterson, and the entire NW-ACDA Board for jobs well done.
I’m always impressed and pleased with the level of performance
from the choirs at ACDA conventions. This one was no exception. I’m
proud to be associated with consummate professionals whose labor of love
is so eloquently expressed in singing. I feel quite spoiled to learn
so many new ways of looking at our art; ways to conduct and gesture,
new music to consider, loftier goals to set and strive to reach. As a
choral director, I find that I would be less able to give all I should
to my choirs without my membership and association with my friends in
My son sang in the Men’s Honor Choir. What a thrill! It’s
a great pleasure to have him sing at all, of course, but especially as
connected to ACDA for it brings a special aspect to his participation.
All the more so when, while returning home, he would mention this moment
or that moment. Some were the funny things that happened with his new
friends. Many were the new ways of looking at the choral art from a student
perspective. As a parent, I’m so grateful for NW-ACDA and the wonderful
planning and implementation that made for a life-long memory for my son.
Whether planning, conducting, or parenting, this organization
has given me another opportunity to be thankful for being a part of it
Thomas L. Isaacson
NWACDA High School R&S Chair
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