It is rare when a composer finds success in both academic and church marketplaces. John Leavitt has distinguished himself time and time again in both these arenas. As a pianist, conductor, educator and composer, John has reached audiences around the world with his artful, yet approachable music. From Carnegie Hall, and thousands of other notable venues, his music has spoken with elegant excellence. Take a moment and get to know a little more about this impressive musician as he answers our “COMPOSER OF THE MONTH” questionnaire. Following the interview, you can link and listen to some of John’s latest publications.
What was the music of your youth?
I began piano studies at an early age, so the music of my youth would include the masters (Bach, Beethoven, & Mozart), but I loved popular music as well, all the way from the Ragtime era (watching Mickey Finn on TV) to Big Band (played in high school) and rock ‘n roll.
Tell us about your background and how that inspired you to pursue music as a career?
I was raised Lutheran and attended a Lutheran Parochial School. The school’s music program was excellent and quite advanced. And while most of what we sang was sacred music, we even put on operettas as I recall. My Pastor had me involved in my church’s music program by the time I was in the 6th grade. I was playing the organ and accompanying the church choir while in high school. My piano teacher started me during my high school years as a student piano teacher, teaching beginning piano students. I accompanied my high school choirs, which had excellent choral directors. So, living all of these rich musical experiences as a child, it seemed a Divine choice had been provided for me.
What music do you listen to now?
Everything that I can. But I’m partial to movie soundtracks (John Williams, Alexandre Desplat). And I just got the new Don Henley Album, “Cass County” the new Alison Kraus Album, “Windy City,” and the Simone Dinnerstein piano album, “Bach: a Strange Beauty.”
Tell us about your faith journey and how it influences your musical choices?
I’d have to say my faith journey and my musical life were completely interwoven. Many of my friends in the church youth group played band instruments. Because I played the piano and organ, my friends would ask me to write things so that we could make music together. After college, I found there were no Lutheran church music positions available where I lived. So instead, I served a variety of denominations in my early working years, which included Methodist, Congregational, Episcopal, Christian Disciple, & Presbyterian, before a position in the Lutheran Church became available. This proved to be a terrific education and broadened my perspective of the Church, her music, and the infinite and rich variety of customs in the various denominations.
Name four things about yourself that would surprise people?
I can name one: While I love to perform and am comfortable on stage, I tend to prefer small groups or one on one to socialize. I’m usually standing in the corner at concert receptions.
What projects are currently on your horizon?
I’m excited about the release of my new collection of spirituals, “Bound for Glory,” which Hal Leonard will release this summer. I’ll be conducting this music in Ireland in June 2018 in Galway and Dublin with a Festival Choir with many of my friends. I’m also working on a new Christmas Cantata.
When are you most creative?
My most creative time is first thing in the morning, when I write before the distractions of the day kick in.
What’s your sacred space?
My sunroom is where I work, and my piano is adjacent to that. 🙂
Which composers/arrangers inspire you?
Bach, Gershwin, Rachmaninoff, John Williams, Richard Rodgers, Dave Grusin, Nelson Riddle to name a few.
What do you do when you’re not composing?
I’m a news junkie, and I love to read. I’m just finishing up David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers.”
Where do you see church music going in the future? Are there trends you think are important in the current culture of sanctuary music?
I’m encouraged that there are many churches, music directors, and church music programs that are continuing traditional church music while breathing new life into their programs by supporting new music. I think those programs that balance the traditional and the new are probably going to be the most steady. And I believe that choral music will continue to be an important part of both the church and our society.