This is Part Two of a two-part series featuring interviews with Jeffrey Brillhart and Zebulon Highben, summer clinicians for the Augsburg Fortress 2013 Music Clinics. This week, enjoy some of Zebulon Highben’s thoughts on questions posed by Jane Knappe.
What do you miss most (or least) about working in a church as opposed to college?
I’ve always enjoyed parish work, both full-time and part-time, but it is quite nice to be in the same building as my wife on Sunday mornings. (She is a Christian Education director and working toward her M. Div., and until now we’ve always worked for different congregations.) I do miss the regular, weekly pattern of rehearsal and worship leadership that is the rhythm of the church choir. There’s something about it that feels almost monastic.
What gives you the inspiration to write an anthem?
I almost always start with the text. In the case of an anthem, I memorize the text and begin to speak it (and then sing it) to myself until a melody, rhythm, and form become apparent. With a hymn setting, I try to determine an overall affect for the arrangement based on the hymn’s imagery or the nature of the tune. In the case of a concertato, I figure out which stanza lends itself best to choral interpretation and provides opportunities for text painting.
What was the subject of your doctoral thesis?
My thesis was titled “World War II and its impact on sacred choral music: The lives and works of Hugo Distler, Jean Berger, and Heinz Werner Zimmermann.” I interviewed Zimmermann, who still lives in Frankfurt, and examined the biographies and choral works of each of these composers, focusing on how their lives and musical output were shaped by the events surrounding the Second World War.
What is your favorite part about being a choral director?
That’s an easy one: rehearsal. I love worship services and concerts, of course. The presentation of a well-prepared anthem can be a profound musical and spiritual experience. But my greatest joy lies in the daily work of rehearsing. I enjoy the collaborative effort to learn a piece, the struggle to grasp a particularly difficult rhythm or challenging pitch sequence, and especially those “Ah ha!” moments that come (like little epiphanies) when we overcome such a challenge collectively. It’s a wonderful feeling. There’s probably a metaphor in there for our life together in Christian community.
What would your desert island pieces be?
I can’t really answer this question: No matter how excellent the pieces or polished the recordings, I wouldn’t want to have a limited amount of music at my disposal. But, assuming I’m not stranded alone, I would want a group of folks who like to sing and some hymnals or sheet music. Making music brings people together and builds community…which would be important on a desert island, and more valuable than any recordings!
Thank you to Zebulon Highben for sharing his leadership insights and inspirations, and thanks again to all summer clinic participants! We hope your preparations for fall music will be rich and flourishing.