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Seminary-trained composer’s creativity glorifies God, while winning awards

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When Dan Pinkston reads Psalm 33:3, “Sing to him a new song,” he takes it quite literally.

Pinkston has been busy composing original pieces that not only reflect his Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary music education and diverse musical heritage but also are drawing international acclaim.

Starting at Southwestern in communications, Pinkston early on felt a call from the Lord to transfer to church music, making the switch after his first semester. He earned a master of music in 1997 and a doctor of musical arts in 1999.

Born in the Ivory Coast to missionary parents, Pinkston was introduced to an eclectic range of musical genres growing up. He listened to African music overseas and rock music at school and was trained in classical music in college.

He began composing songs in junior high, he said, but never really learned much about music until he went to college, which made him wonder whether he could pursue a master’s degree.

But the Lord’s call was in that direction, Pinkston recalled, adding, “It was one of those things I knew God would help me with.”

Though he had to take a year of college-level composition while working on his master’s, his efforts have paid off. The adjunct teacher at Dallas Baptist University has compiled a string of awards for his compositions.

Those awards include first place in a competition organized by the American-Romanian Team for the Arts and a special recognition award from the National Federation of Music Clubs. Pinkston was also named Southwestern’s President’s Merit Scholar for Church Music in 1998.

Recent awards have honored both sacred and secular pieces by Pinkston. This summer, he won the Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity’s composition contest, and his piece, “Shadow Dances for Piano,” will premiere in July at the University of Georgia.

A sacred piece receiving national attention is Pinkston’s “Nunc Dimittis: Now let your servant depart in peace.” A work for choir and piano, its text draws from the song of Simeon in Luke 2:27-32. The selection won the 1999 composition contest of the American Choral Director’s Association and will premiere at the ACDA convention in Oklahoma City in March.

Another sacred work for piano and choir by Pinkston, “Magnificat: My Soul Magnifies the Lord,” won the Austin ProChorus contest this spring. It is based on Mary’s song in Luke and reflects Pinkston’s desire to draw compositions from prayers in the Bible.

C.L. Bass, Southwestern professor of music theory and composition, said Pinkston’s intelligence and hard work showed while Pinkston worked on his master’s degree. Pinkston had told Bass that he didn’t know how to read music when he began his undergraduate work at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas. But that did not slow Pinkston down — he worked through two semesters, capped by a senior recital.

“Dan is a very intelligent man to begin with,” said Bass. “He takes charge of his own education. He’s not one of those who waits for someone to fill him up with knowledge.”

Pinkston also is continually writing new pieces. Bass said Pinkston always showed up for class prepared or with an idea for a new piece.

With the variety of music Pinkston has listened to, he classifies it less on type of music and more on quality.

“The more I learn about music, the less restricted my listening habits are,” which helps him as a composer, he noted.

Pinkston sees himself as a “contemporary classical composer” and said he often combines styles in his works. “There is possibility for worship in every genre,” he said.

Whether composing in a classical or contemporary style, Pinkston said his goal is to pursue “excellence and truth” and to express what he feels toward God and toward life.

Pinkston is “amazed and grateful” for his seminary training, saying, “The more I learn, the more I know I don’t know.”

Believing the Lord is calling him to be a theory and composition teacher, Pinkston would like to teach at a Baptist school though he sees working at a secular school as a potential mission field.

Other projects for the near future include recording a CD of instrumental hymn arrangements featuring clarinetist Michael Thrasher.

    About the Author

  • Cory J. Hailey