Reflections on Retirement
The reflections of Naomi and Jacob from the past couple of weeks are very articulate and delightful thoughts from two extraordinary young graduate students who will soon commence their professional callings.
The reflections you are about to read are from the senior member of the Master Chorale by at least a decade, apart from my friend and bass section mate, Don Wilson. Unlike Naomi and Jacob, I have fulfilled my professional calling and now experience and contribute to life from the place of retirement.
Retirement offers opportunities to pursue a wealth of interests including travel, study, community, and service. In 1984, 25 years prior to my retirement, I cleared my calendar to meet the commitments of the demanding schedule of the Atlanta Symphony Chorus led by Robert Shaw. While it was a wonderful and educational year, the demands of my own work and travel schedule forced a withdrawal from ASOC before the final May concert. In 2009, my retirement year, I finally had the time to commit to the discipline of weekly rehearsals and concerts without work conflicts.
My first concert with AMC was at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers near the beginning of our 2011-2012 season. My favorite recollection from that night was singing Randall Thompson’s “Ye Shall Have a Song” from The Peaceable Kingdom in that resonant Abbey Church. By that early October Saturday I was fully committed to the then Sacred Chorale and Eric Nelson’s superb leadership. The Master Chorale continues to fulfill a 55-year calling as I engage in a personally satisfying and high level of music performance each week.
Retirement also has a dark side that Robert Frost expressed in his poem Provide, Provide:
No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.
Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, Provide! [i]
One answer to that dark side of retirement is to successfully Pass the Baton. More than a decade ago, I passed the baton for the leadership of The Salvation Army Southern Territory Music and Music Education Department and our Southern Territorial Band to an outstanding young musician, conductor and educator who was promoted from within the department. He has been the right man, in the right place, at the right time.
At the request of my successor, I have been afforded the opportunity in retirement to team teach an intensive instrumental Leadership course at our annual ten-days summer Music Institute. Each summer a full class of intermediate and advanced college level students, including international delegates, arrive to embrace the two-year program. (We regret that the 2020 course has been cancelled due to the pandemic crisis). My co-teacher, Steve Kellner, is retired from the “President’s Own”, the US Marine Band where he was the principal euphonium for almost 30 years. We complement each other in teaching different aspects of the curriculum which includes a combined daily conducting lab, separate classes in conducting technique and score preparation, planning and conducting rehearsals, worship planning, instrumental music resources, music leadership in the context of The Salvation Army, and a combined class with a guest instructor. Mentoring relationships remain a strong aspect of the curriculum as we pass the baton to our next generation of instrumental music leaders.
This season of my life is encapsulated by one of my favorite choral compositions sung during my high school and college years: Ippolitov-Ivanov’s “Bless the Lord, o my soul.” When I was in St. Petersburg, Russia several years ago, I heard the Male Choir of St. Petersburg (Vadim Afanasiev) sing this classic of the Orthodox Church at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. (You may wish to listen at the following URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svki8H3nBIE). This wonderful setting of Psalm 103 brings alive to me the words of the Psalmist which are a powerful answer to Frost’s pessimism:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless His holy name.
bless the Lord, O my Soul,
and do not forget his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems you from destruction,
who crowns you with steadfast love
and tender mercies,
who satisfies you with good as long
as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Written by Richard E. Holz who sings in the bass section of the Atlanta Master Chorale.
[i][i] Frost, Robert. Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays. The Library of America, 1995.