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Retiring prof to push aside the clock while creating music

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–In a discipline often controlled by a metronome’s ticking, it’s not surprising that church music professor C.L. Bass looks forward to a retirement free from the tyranny of tracking time.

But the time-ticking device Bass wants to free himself from is not the metronome, but the clock.

“Calendars and clocks have dominated my life for 44 years, and so I am going to look forward to the time when that is not the case,” said the distinguished professor of music theory and composition and chairman of the music theory department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

He intends to rest, read and perhaps travel. But the end of his full-time teaching career does not mean the end of his music.

“I have several [composition] projects on the burner already,” Bass said, adding that one anthem is due in September.

Bass almost didn’t join Southwestern’s faculty. In 1977, he was happy as a music professor at his alma mater, Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. But the persistence of the seminary’s music school dean at the time, James McKinney, and a timely call from friend and Southwestern professor Joe King, which Bass believed to be an answer to prayer, tipped the scales toward Fort Worth.

At Southwestern, his approach to teaching has been to begin with students’ interest and then expose them to more styles of music and to help them get the most from their abilities.

“I hope that I have broadened their horizons to see that many kinds of music can be used to praise God,” Bass said. “I encourage using the best that you have available to offer whatever it is, whatever style. What I’ve tried to do is teach them how to discern what’s good and what’s not.”

His aim has been to prepare students to minister with their mind, talent and heart.

“It would be like the ideal doctor. In a way you want a doctor who is caring but you also want a doctor who is very competent,” Bass said.

With a mother who played the organ at church, Bass was exposed to music early and constantly. But his desire to pursue a college teaching career did not come from family members, none of whom had more than an undergraduate degree.

Perhaps sensing Bass’ love for “the academic side of life,” teachers throughout his life, like Gail DeStwolinski, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, and William J. Reynolds, a longtime Southwestern music professor, encouraged him to pursue a doctorate and minister through teaching.

Bass never took a class from Reynolds but has known him ever since Reynolds did a revival at Bass’ church in Midwest City, Okla. Bass, a teenager, was substituting for his mother on the organ. Reynolds has made a habit of “dropping in” on Bass.

When Bass submitted a composition to the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources), Reynolds, who was with the board at the time, asked him, “Are you the same kid who played the organ at the church in Oklahoma?”

Later, when Bass was on the OBU faculty, he recalled, Reynolds dropped in and said, “I want to encourage you to pursue your doctorate. You really need to do this.” At Southwestern, Reynolds was a constant visitor, always encouraging and supporting Bass.

In addition to an undergraduate degree at OBU, Bass has a master’s from OU and a Ph.D. from North Texas State University in Denton. He began teaching as an OBU sophomore and has taught ever since.

Bass is a prolific composer and writer. His works include 200 anthems, two short dramas, one book and three cantatas. His cantata, “We Have Seen the Lord,” was performed by Southwestern’s Oratorio Chorus in April. It was the first time the cantata had been played by an orchestra.

Music has been more than Bass’ ministry to others; it has ministered to him. He recounted the despair he felt when his roommate and teaching colleague was killed in a traffic accident. They had just traveled by car through Europe for three months and were going in separate cars to a football game. Shocked by the loss, he also did not know why God had spared him.

A high school choral teacher at the time, Bass found consolation in music. He wrote what he would later publish as “Cast Thy Burden Upon the Lord.” The music affirmed for him that “God sustains, and he’s always there.”

Bass thanks his wife, Charlene, who understood when to allow him to sit alone “hacking away at the piano” struggling to find a sound that matched the image in his mind.

“I want to thank my wife. Without her, much of what I have done would not have been possible. I’m grateful to her, and I love her very much,” Bass said.

As he retires, Bass said he will miss “the joy of explaining the discipline of music to my students,” but he intends to continue the fellowship he has with music school colleagues.

“We have a wonderful relationship. We’ve enjoyed each other, we laugh, we get frustrated,” he said.

Bass expects to drop by the music faculty’s weekly “stew pot” lunch fellowship and hasn’t ruled out teaching as an adjunct professor. But, he reminds himself, “I don’t want to be ruled by the clock.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: C.L. BASS

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  • Matt Sanders