For those who don’t know: my father recently retired from Cairn University School of Music after forty years of service. Below are the words I offered at his retiriement celebration.
Seventeen years ago, I completed my last Chorale Tour with my dad. Since then, I’ve gotten married, sung in a few church choirs, done some conducting of my own, and had a couple of kids. Given that I’m so far removed from the college choral experience, it would seem only natural that I’d consider his retirement an unmixed blessing; after all, he’s of age, he’s worked hard, and now I’ll get to see more of him…and my children will get to see more of their Granddad.
The truth is, though, that when he quietly informed me and my family last spring that this would probably be his last year, an enormous lump rose in my throat and has remained there ever since. Because the truth is, something beautiful is coming to an end.
The Chorale under Dr. Shockey is something uniquely wonderful. Every year, my dad inspires a new group of students to sing music more challenging than many of them have dreamed of attempting, and through him, they learn to love that music more than they have dreamed of loving something. His love for music, his commitment to excellence and to raising the bar far above what is generally expected to come out of a private evangelical university, his dedication to his students, and most of all, his love for the Lord, have encouraged generations of students to strive to be a better version of themselves: harder workers, stronger musicians, better friends, and more devoted Christians.
You can almost see this when you listen to the Chorale singing — the way they watch him is more than just a disparate group of people following a conductor’s hand motions. We saw it on April 21st, when scores of alumni joined the Chorale to sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” one last time. My dad means a lot to so many people, and if you know him, you know why.
To me, it seems as if there would be a temptation to coast through one’s last year, or years, of professorship. If my dad has encountered any such temptation, he hasn’t shown it. For musicians, of course, it’s already understood that weekends are not one’s own. In addition to the performances he has led, though, my dad has done so much more than what his position requires.
He is constantly – and I do mean constantly – bringing students to operas, recitals, concerts, and conventions; supporting his colleagues by attending their concerts; inviting students into his home; and going to recitals, not just of his own voice students, but of almost every student he knows personally. It is this love for people – an outpouring of his evident love for the Lord – that, in the end, is why people love him so much.
My dad has poured more of himself into his work in forty years than many people would in sixty, and his retirement is well-deserved. Still, I can’t quite grasp the idea that I will never again hear the Chorale under his masterful direction. Truly, his home concerts have been among the highlights of my years as a stay-at-home mom; things of beauty whose joy lingers in my ears long after the last notes of the Benediction.
However, we are not to lay up our treasures on earth, and I am trying to let go — just as my dad has, so graciously and humbly. Instead of clinging to what would have inevitably ended someday, I am choosing to be thankful that I had the privilege of singing under his direction; that I am lucky enough to have a father who, in every aspect of his life, is such an example to me of walking with the Lord; and that, having left an eternal impact on so many colleagues and students, my dad will be able to breathe more deeply than he has for years.