David Schwoebel is one of those composers who is truly respected and appreciated by his peers. In a creative arena where egos and agendas proliferate, David approaches his craft with integrity and a spirit of service. He is a friend to all, and his gift of encouragement is legendary. His music is at times sweeping and expressive, and at moments serene and introspective…but always a beautiful reflection of the sacred. David was kind enough to answer our composer questionnaire, and his answers reveal his commitment to music, ministry, and mission
WHAT WAS THE MUSIC OF YOUR YOUTH? I was (and still am) the typical church music nerd! I grew up in a Christian home where my mom always played the piano and sang the alto parts of countless children’s choruses, hymns, and gospel songs. After a few years of tinkering around with the piano on my own, I began the now out of print Progressive Series of graduated lessons and music theory in the third grade. As the piano skills, harmonic understanding, and improvisation skills increased, I found myself regularly accompanying school and church choirs, as well as playing for all the worship components of my home church’s Sunday morning services. There’s nothing like learning by fire how to adapt an accompaniment when a soloist drops a beat or two! Upon the invitation of a good high school friend, I began to participate in his church’s Sunday afternoon youth ensemble and youth choir that regularly sang standard choral literature in evening worship. It was under that fun-loving, positive, and energetic minister of music/mentor I sensed the real joy and full range of music ministry. Over those years, I also accompanied free voice lessons he gave his choir members, served as his pianist when he was sight-reading stacks of new anthems, and even played for the church’s adult choir as needed for seasonal concerts and various state events. A huge memory of my involvement under his greatly admired leadership was playing for his combined groups as they did the musical, BEGINNINGS, with Ragan Courtney present to narrate. (Also, I did have a brief time of playing the solo snare drum at the start of middle school. However, I quickly grew weary of lugging the drum case down the long hallway to the band room and gave up the rock and roll drummer’s dream!)
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW THAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE MUSIC AS A CAREER? Since I had truly enjoyed being active in church music during my high school years, I chose to serve on a church staff with a dynamic pastor/mentor while a student at McKendree University in Lebanon, IL. I entered McKendree as a music education major with an emphasis in piano, but didn’t enjoy the Junior year precursor class to actually student teaching. My pastor/mentor and academic advisor proposed music ministry and suggested I switch to a Bachelor of Arts in Voice and Organ Performance since I had taken private lessons every semester. Duh? In those two separate moments, the light went fully on and I have been fulfilling my calling ever since. Because my high school minister of music/mentor attended there, I completed my Master of Church Music degree with an emphasis in Composition at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO NOW? I’m not in the car very much, but when I am, I like to listen to classical stations or CDs. I enjoy the structural “cleanness” of those sounds and admire the rich interior lines orchestral writers craft in their work.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAITH JOURNEY, AND HOW IT INFLUENCES YOUR MUSICAL CHOICES. I have loved and served the same God, but have led a fairly eclectic denominational life. I grew up in the Nazarene tradition, dated several United Methodist girls in both high school and the college church where I served, eventually married one of them after seminary, and have now served four Baptist congregations for almost 38 years. The stylistic variety of congregational song in those denominations has afforded me a wide foundation in writing thanks to working with true choral classics and doing annual gospel sings. I write a bit more on the formal, structured side, but feel I am a compilation of all the things I have heard and experienced in worship and ministry along life’s way.
NAME THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE.
1) I love working in my yard. I landscaped it to always have something in bloom with color – even in the winter season. My dad always jokingly said I have never had a “real job,” as when I wasn’t at church during the college Summer months, I put the mower in the trunk and mowed 19 lawns each week.
2) I am a compositional program dinosaur. I still do all my final copy work by hand with pen and staff paper.
3) I regularly work out at the YMCA. I love Peanut M&Ms too much….
WHAT PROJECTS ARE CURRENTLY ON YOUR HORIZON? The “day job” keeps me pretty busy, but I have a handful of choral commissions due in the Fall and Spring 2019. I enjoy the challenge of taking all the unique variables of a request and crafting music around the chosen text that hopefully works in the moment like a fitted suit. As a lover of hymnody, I do have a personal long-term goal of composing another collection of organ interlude/free accompaniments, as well as some solo piano arrangements and handbell works.
WHEN ARE YOU MOST CREATIVE? I speak through new texts at any and all hours to find its natural rhythm. However, I like to put the pencil on the paper chasing those phantom notes early in the morning. Once those creative juices get going, and my mind focuses on the options surrounding every word and their notes, I can easily work through the day and even into the late night. Once I get consumed, I stay after it like that for days to the bitter end!
WHAT’S YOUR SACRED SPACE? I have several places where I enjoy writing. My first choice is to write at home where the view is beautiful and space is quiet and free of interruptions. However, if the office schedule requires it, I work in the church’s choir room where I can mentally hear the sounds of the singers I might actually be writing for. Of course, if the accompaniment is organ, I must write in the sanctuary. There’s nothing like a pipe organ in a large empty room to roll out some massive, inspiring sounds.
WHICH COMPOSERS/ARRANGERS INSPIRE YOU? I truly have too many to name – plus, I don’t want to risk accidentally leaving an admired friend off the short list! Ha! Their diverse educational backgrounds and day to day experiences enable each of them to bring a distinct touch to and offer a fresh edge in the marketplace. These people remain diligent students and are resourceful to find unique texts that speak uniquely in today’s world. They give great time to construct heartfelt, memorable, intuitive melodies that truly highlight those wonderful texts and display intelligent musical decisions with solid, consistent choral craftsmanship from the first to last measure. Years of hands on experience has made them thoughtful about the limits of the human voice and need to allow it to always be relaxed, flowing, and thus, beautiful to hear. I’m always grateful they easily show they understand the true capability and potential of the piano, or other accompanying forces, and provide innovative and supportive accompaniments.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT COMPOSING? No choice, …church!
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 think many leaders are re-realizing that quality corporate worship requires large group connection and personal involvement. Thus, I feel choirs of every size are going to remain strong long-term for several reasons. There are many positive Facebook posts about the value of choirs to the church’s overall ministry and benefits to individuals involved. I know that point to be a fact as I have seen it in action in my ministry. I also believe that deep down people want to add things of high quality and rich substance to their life. They want to sense the quiet reward of contributing to something beyond their individual self’s effort. I firmly believe those outside the church looking in to such a healthy organization will be drawn like a moth to a lightbulb by true excellence and undeniable energy. It is a win-win for churches to have choirs be effective in both musical content and community fellowship!
WHAT IS YOUR #1 TIP FOR ASPIRING WRITERS? Put the sounds of good choral recordings in your ears, study all sorts of musical scores to do the most intelligent work possible, take piano lessons if needed, and stay after it, as no one in the world has your exact skill set, or experiences, nor writes like God has equipped you to do!
Editor’s note: Here are some notable David Schwoebel pieces for you to enjoy.