When I was in first grade I was bitten by the composition bug, and I banged out “Baalk Baalk Chicken Baalk” on the new upright piano in the family living room. Looking back, it sounded a lot like “Chopsticks”—but with words…poetically powerful, barn-yard type words. The compositional muse quieted in seventh grade, as I turned my attention to memorizing existing pieces—the classics for piano lessons, of course, and then assorted 80’s ballads in a failed attempt to woo women. Well, junior high girls. Journey and Toto were my go-to’s.
Years later, I earned degrees in philosophy, political science, and secondary education at Augustana University (Sioux Falls, SD), and moved to the Minneapolis area where I taught middle school geography. Luckily I shared my classroom with the music teacher, so I took advantage of the out-of-tune Baldwin piano with the sticky low C that sat in the corner—creating all sorts of little musical ditties to help students learn geography (in retrospect—my first stint as composer-in-residence).
After eight years of teaching and singing, a colleague and I co-founded Learner’s Edge—an education company now in its eighteenth year of helping educators world-wide better their craft and improve student learning. I taught several courses and workshops on how to integrate music and the arts into the classroom, with special emphasis on how to compose songs to improve retention.
In early 2009, I began working on my first album, which began as a smattering of prelude pieces created for my wedding the year prior. The resulting Renewal—a collection of piano-based acoustic arrangements of traditional hymns—was released in 2010. The compositional bug had bitten again. I began working on a second album, 12.25, shortly thereafter—and began pulling old chord charts of Christmas arrangements I had been noodling on since college. 12.25 was released in 2012. The album projects were transformational experiences—as much as I had enjoyed both teaching and creating a business, nothing provided the sheer joy and feeling of aliveness as creating music and hearing it come to life. I transitioned out of the day-to-day work at Learner’s Edge in 2013 in order to pursue music full-time.
And what a whirlwind since. A college friend and choir director in the Middle East, Melanie Brink, heard I was interested in writing choral music and asked if I’d consider writing a piece for her upcoming TAISM international high school choral festival. I was thrilled—and admittedly more than a little nervous—and several months later my first choral piece, Kooloona Wahed (Though Many, One) was born. It was clear to me that choral music would be my defining interest as I moved into my new career in music; looking back to my own formative experiences in high school and college choir, it seems more like a “coming home”….than a “leaping out.” I soon enrolled at Vermont College of Fine Arts, graduating in the summer of 2017 with an MFA in music composition. Recent highlights include being awarded the American Prize in Choral Composition (2019), and my appointment as Composer-in-Residence with the world-class, award-winning Wartburg Choir. When not doing freelance projects, I work part-time in the music ministry at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN—where I have been choir and production accompanist since the late 90’s, and where I now am able to compose and arrange music for a variety of services.
I’m drawn to all sorts of music and text (both in and out of the choral world), but am particularly interested in the conversations that are happening at the intersection of faith and music. Much of my own work thus far has been an exploration of the blurring of the line between sacred and secular. In the words of a current text I am setting,