October 19, 2017

Meet My Choir Director

Note from CM: When Gail and I started attending Risen Lord Lutheran Church, we were blessed and encouraged by the music. The liturgy was simple and beautiful, and the quality of musicianship high. We were impressed with the choir and soon joined. This was a personal joy for us, for Gail and I met while singing in a choir and hadn’t had a chance to do so together for many, many years. Another reason we found joy was that our choir is led by a gifted, devoted, outgoing and fun director named Dan Anderson.

Dan has been teaching for nearly three decades. He is a graduate of Indiana-Purdue University in Fort Wayne where he studied voice with Dr. Joe Meyers and conducting with Mr. John Loessi. Mr. Andersen taught high school choir for 18 years and now teaches middle school choir at Center Grove Middle School Central. At the high school level his choirs were well known throughout the Midwest, consistently receiving first division ratings at Concert, Jazz and Show Choir contests. His Middle School choirs have also received first division ratings at ISSMA competitions as well as being featured at the IMEA State Convention. He has many former students who are actively involved in careers in music, many in education. He is also active as a clinician, festival conductor, judge, and as the music director at Risen Lord Lutheran Church in Greenwood.

I wouldn’t think of doing a series on Church Music without including him. I think you all will enjoy his unique perspective on making music in schools and churches, and I hope his enthusiasm will be as encouraging to you as it has been to us.

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1. Dan, I wanted to include you in our Church Music Month on Internet Monk because you have some special perspectives I think our readers would enjoy hearing about. First of all, give us a brief sketch of your life, training, and work, and how you came to understand that music was God’s choice of vocation for you.

I was raised Catholic. I grew up listening to my dad sing in the church choir, which he did for 70-some years! I also grew up listening to all kinds of music on my home. My dad would play jazz or classical music, and my oldest brother was listening to Cream, Blind Faith, Led Zeppelin, the original Eagles and many others while my sister listened to the Beatles and Sonny and Cher. As a seventh-grader I got my first drum-set and decided I was going to be the next Buddy Rich (I did see him live three times, and I even have his autograph). While in high school I sang in the concert choir, swing choir, the singing group that lead mass in school and also the church choir when I could. Music was as much a part of me as anything could be. I listened to music as much as I could, and LOVED live music.

At the end of my junior year of high school I was discussing college with my high school choir director, Fr. Fred, and told him I wanted to do something with music. He told me I should teach, because I would never be a soloist. This is interesting for two reasons. One, he wasn’t trying to motivate me to work harder, he was stating fact — I did not have a solo voice at all…yet! Two, I started getting paid to sing while in college, and continued for over twenty years to make money singing.

I don’t think I really realized what God’s purpose for my life was until I was teaching school. I have spent the last 30 years ministering to young people, and trying daily to change lives.

2. You grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. What was the church music like in your younger years? As you’ve gained experience in different settings over the years, what principles have you learned that influence how you view the role of music in worship and fulfill your duties as a church musician?

I think the church music I grew up with was as diverse as the music I listened to in my home. Our church had a beautiful pipe organ, which the organist played fairly well. The choir sang traditional choral music. We sang traditional Catholic hymns. We were also in on the ground floor of the guitar masses of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The Catholic Church was really struggling to find a musical identity. I enjoyed singing all styles, and was able to connect and worship with all the music I was exposed to in the church. I think it may have been sometime in the late 70’s that contemporary Christian music was developing. I’m pretty sure (if I’m not mistaken) the band Petra was getting its start right in Fort Wayne where I grew up. However, I’ve never felt much of any connection to “Contemporary Christian Music.”

I have been lucky to be a music director/choral director at 4 churches, three of them United Methodist and one ELCA. I have also been the tenor soloist at a few churches, most notably at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. Through all of these experiences I learned how important music is to the worship service, and to the worship experience of those attending. Little by little I began to realize that the anthem wasn’t something that should stand alone. I started to realize how important it is to do everything I can to make sure the hymns, and the anthem, and the prelude and postlude, etc… all pull together around the theme of the day, whatever that may be. One of our jobs is to almost overwhelm the congregation with the theme, by making sure we tie into the readings and message, so each person in the church has the opportunity to make a connection every Sunday.

As a teacher, I know that students have many different learning styles, and my responsibility is to try as many different ways to teach the same topic, so every student can learn it. I view the worship service the same way. Some connect with the readings, some the message, and some the hymns, and some the other music. It’s been a real challenge, and learning experience for me see past 4-5 years at Risen Lord Lutheran Church, trying to make this happen every Sunday for everyone who comes into our church every Sunday. The great thing is, it never gets dull or boring, and I believe it doesn’t for our congregation either!

3. You have a special passion for choral music. In many segments of the church today, choirs no longer have a place in church services. Why do you still believe in them? What is their special contribution to congregational worship?

I think saying I have a passion for choral music is like saying a fish has a passion for the water! I AM a choral musician. It’ not just what I do, it’s who I am. I have been in or directed a choir constantly since I’ve been in middle school. I am a Life Member of the American Choral Directors Association, and have been very involved with the Indiana Choral Directors Association.

Choral music has its origins in the early church. Some of the greatest composers in history composed for the choir. Many of the great composers of our time compose for the choir. The choir is one of the most versatile musical organizations there is. There are currently more than 43 million Americans singing in over 270,000 choirs all over the United States. Choral music isn’t dying, it’s thriving!

I feel like we would be doing an injustice to our congregation on many different levels by not having a choral group or two (or more!) this isn’t to say that the choir can’t perform different styles of music. Our choir sings traditional choral music from Bach to Hobby. We also sing bluegrass, (we have a choir member who is plays hammer dulcimer extremely well and she accompanies us on occasion) rock, gospel, and pretty much anything that is quality, that will help our congregation connect with the word for that Sunday. I guess I’m lucky that I am serving a church that is so open to such a wide variety of styles in music, because I can bring my own background to my job and serve them even better!

4. Finally, you bring a unique perspective because of your role teaching music in the public schools. How has working in both “sacred” and “secular” settings enriched your experience in both?

Well, since teaching Middle School choir really isn’t that different than directing an adult church choir 🙂 — it’s a pretty smooth transition. I’m able to teach in both positions, and I love to teach! There are things that I will try out on my students, and then do with my adults or vice versa. I continue to learn about the adolescent voice, and have learned quite a bit about the aging voice, and how they are fairly similar in many respects. I also do a good amount of ministering in each.

Every summer I spend countless hours picking out music for my six choirs at school and my church choir for the year. It’s easily over 100 hours. The principles of picking out music, and what I’m looking for are basically the same. Many times I will find some great music for my church choir in the school resources and the same for the school groups. I have also been able to bring students in to sing with the adults which is good for everyone involved!

I’ve never shied away from performing sacred music with my school choirs. I also spend a lot of time with the texts of the songs that they are performing. Being able to explain the meaning of a piece of sacred music without “preaching” the meaning is a fine line that I have gladly walked for 30 years. I feel like I have a better ability to help a choir understand the text of a song because of this.

Comments

  1. Mike, your first paragraph sounds as if you and Gail joined Risen Lord Lutheran Church because the music was good ( I am sure this was not the case!!).
    This prompts my question: how many of you would be ready to join a church where the “music ministry” is limited to an old lady playing the organ or MP3 files of the hymnal?

  2. Very, very interesting, and thank you for this perspective and interview! Wonderful that you are working with MS kids; they are truly at a unique time in their life.