Music department hosts live webinar with composer Dan Forrest

By Payton Clark, Arts Editor

Technology and timing allowed for the OBU music department to hear from their first composer guest speaker through FaceTime on April 21.

The OBU music department and National Association for Music Educators hosted a webinar Q and A with composer Dan Forrest. At 6 p.m. in Stavros Hall, students sent in questions and led the session that was open to the public with invitations to choirs and directors around the area.

Assistant professor of music education Dr. Kathy Scherler first heard of Dan Forrest through the Oklahoma Choral Director’s Association and her time as a director.

“When I taught at a previous university, we had performed some of his work and I thought his music was gorgeous,” Scherler said. “There are some good composers out there, but something about his music really speaks to you.”

Forrest’s faith and effort crafting his skills are also qualities Scherler believed would teach her students.

“His ability to express the text through choral music is the greatest part of his art,” Scherler said. “He does that in a way that makes the text come alive.”

While other composers come and go, Scherler believes Forrest’s work is timeless and always improving.

“Every few years, we have someone who is inspiring, and lots of directors will buy their material making them a fad, but that hasn’t happened for him,” Scherler said. “He’s remained quite popular in the last 10 years, and he keeps refining his craft and it seems that his work is getting even better.”

Forrest first contacted Scherler through Facebook about an academic article she wrote, and he agreed to speak to the OBU music department.

“I knew he would have a lot to say to our music educators because they all will probably be performing his work at some time and they’ve all sung his work already at OBU,” Scherler said. “In our monthly NAFME meetings, we try to enrich the curriculum we have already in our elementary, secondary and instrumental methods courses, through scheduling events at our meetings.”

The event was in Stavros Hall to accommodate all of the students and guests from the Shawnee music community invited.

“I’ve also involved Dean Mathews, Dr. Ballweg, Dr. Vernon and Dr. Hinson in a collaborative effort to ask them if they have any questions they’d like us to propose on any specific piece they wanted to discussion to be focused on,” Scherler said.

With students submitting questions before and during the event, led by student NAFME officers, Scherler wanted the webinar to be focused on the students and Forrest.

“The idea was that I wanted him to know it would be a student led meeting where they’re able to ask him specific questions,” Scherler said. “He wanted it to be organic for students to be able to share their opinions and hear things that would spark more dialogue.”

Scherler believes the students’ experience with Forrest’s music will enhance the experience for them.

“There are students that have become very emotionally attached to his music,” Scherler said. “I hope that they’re more inspired after the interview to listen and investigate more of Forrest’s work, and to be inspired to continue to work with and collaborate with different composers in the community.”

Junior vocal music education major Jennifer Watson has been familiar with Forrest and his music throughout her time in choir, but recently began to learn more about him at OBU.

“I have heard his name before just by being a part of the choir world,” Watson said. “But I started investing him through his website and YouTube when I learned that the OBU chorale will be preforming his most recent major work, Jubilate Deo, which is based on Psalm 100.”

Through this special webinar event, Scherler hopes students will understand Forest as a person as well as a professional musician.

“Overall, I hope that the students learn that composers are real people and what a career as a composer is like,” Scherler said. “Composers are very accessible, because we live in a world where we’re able to get in touch with people easily over the internet and social media, and there are ways to communicate in a professional manner that is respectful of the craft and the artist.”

Through the webinar with Forrest, Watson was glad to be able to hear his story and his professional experience.

“I really loved getting to hear his perspective and story,” Watson said. “The story in particular interests me, as I can look at qualities that he emulated on his journey to becoming respected in his field and apply them to my life.”

Scherler notes the importance that supporters have had in making famous musicians so popular.

“We need to remember to support our own composers now,” Scherler said. “Of course we have the great masters of composition, and we would not be the musicians we should be without learning about them, but we wouldn’t have those great masters if they didn’t have patrons and people to support them during their time.”

Scherler believes that musicians often put other musicians and composers in a “hierarchy of humanity,” where they aren’t seen as real people.

“We are intimately familiar with them because of the way they write and express their music, and we make them otherworldly,” Scherler said. “I think it will be just beautiful for our students to know this is just another person like them who has gone on to accomplish great things that they can do as well. It would be inspiring if they took that away from this experience.”

With an opportunity to hear from a professional composer like this, Watson said she appreciated getting to know Forrest as a person rather than just a professional.

“I simply wanted to get to know him as a person-to hear him speak about life,” Watson said. “As I said, I was very impressed with the questions OBU students had submitted, and Dr. Forrest’s responses felt like we were having a conversation and actually getting to know each other.”

Overall, the webinar with Forrest was a successful event enjoyed by many.

“I was looking forward to the meeting, and I found that I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would,” Watson said.

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