Each semester, I am grateful (while at the same time slightly terrified) for new beginnings: for a particular set of courses, a unique gathering of students, and interesting subject matter, whether new to me or long encountered. And while I understand well how the process works, I am also always rather amazed by the first day of class and the gradual filling of the classroom with the individual students with whom I will share a course. Simply put, each course is a gift.
Joining SAAT for this semester, the nature of my courses as gift is even more pronounced. The academic dean and music professors determined the course offerings and schedule, gifted me with a particular set of courses for my visiting semester, and advised the students who would join together in these courses. I simply received the gift of my course assignments, prepared for them as best I could, and entered into the new semester along with my students.
(A side note. I do not know if my students believe me or not, but I at times employ the language of gift for particular course assignments. I especially do so when I intentionally choose one piece of music for students to dwell with for an extended period of time. When teaching Baroque music history, I give each student their own church cantata by J. S. Bach to engage for most of the semester. This semester in Music History III, Nineteenth Century to the Present, each student will receive first a piece of Romantic music and then one from the twentieth century to encounter for half a semester. I offer these pieces as gifts and hope they are received as such.)
Briefly, here are the particular courses I have been given this semester.
Music History I: Medieval through Early Baroque. In Music History I, six second-year music students and I engage with music from Medieval chant to the seventeenth-century composer Heinrich Schütz. The course is very similar to one I have taught many times at Trinity, Music History I: Medieval and Renaissance, and the course materials are even the same (J. Peter Burkholder’s A History of Western Music and the Norton Anthology of Western Music). The course is challenging for students both because they are new to the academic study of music history and because the Medieval world and its music are so foreign to us. One gift for all of us early in the semester is teaching and learning how to chant the Psalms. My students this semester are chanting well already after just two class meetings, and are doing so in both English and Bahasa Indonesia!
Music History III: Nineteenth Century to the Present. Music History III likewise lines up with a music history course I have taught many times at Trinity, covering the same time period and likewise using the same course materials, the Burkholder and the Norton Anthology. This semester, I join eleven third- and fourth-year music majors in the course, and we are already working together to try to understand the contexts and music of the Romantic period. One of the gifts of this semester is SAAT’s cohort model, by which students in the music major take most of their courses with each other. That means these particular students know each other well, are comfortable with each other, and are used to learning together with each other. It is also a gift that they have graciously and enthusiastically welcomed me into that learning this semester.
Seminary Choir. In addition to my two music history courses, I am grateful to be directing two choirs at SAAT, while their regular director, Prof. Samuel Tandei, is on leave. The Seminary Choir is a large ensemble (about 80 singers), required for theology students for four years (!) and music students for three years. In this choir, I receive the gift of SAAT’s vision for educating ministers, theologians, and other workers for the Christian church, a vision that recognizes the vital importance of musical training for church workers. I am also grateful for the gift of the students in the choir and their enthusiasm for singing. Our repertory this semester includes Mark Hayes’s “Grace,” Gilbert Martin’s “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Michael Costello’s “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” and Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria” (mvt. 1).
Vocatus Ensemble (Chamber Singers). The Vocatus Ensemble includes about 20 singers and is composed primarily of music students in their first three years at SAAT. And here the students and the nature of the ensemble are both gifts: the students read music well, sing well, and work diligently, and the fact that it is a small ensemble of trained musicians means that we can push ourselves to learn challenging repertory very well. The pieces for the semester include Philip Moyer’s arrangement of “I Want Jesus To Walk with me,” Alice Parker’s arrangement of “Wondrous Love,” Keith and Kristen Getty’s “Speak, O Lord,” Roy Hopp’s “Many Colors Paint the Rainbow,” and William Byrd’s “Praise Our Lord, All Ye Gentiles.”
So these are the gifts of my new semester at SAAT. I have taught for enough years to know that the idea of courses and students as gift is easier in week two than it is in week ten, but I hope this writing reminds me that my courses and my students are always gifts. It is my privilege and duty as a professor to receive and serve them well, with grace and excellence and joy.