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Southwestern chair of conducting highlights 3 musicians’ passions

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When the newest academic chair at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was inaugurated, the event prompted attention to the passions of a retired professor, a current professor and a deceased graduate who made it all possible.

Southwestern inaugurated the $1-million Robert L. Burton Chair of Conducting during ceremonies at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary Feb. 15.

A. Joseph King, Southwestern professor of conducting and associate dean of the school’s performance division, was installed as the first occupant of the academic position, named for Burton, his former professor. Donations by Kathryn Sullivan Bowld, an alumnus who died in June, made the chair possible.

The ceremonies and luncheon that followed were filled with stories about King, Burton and Bowld and how their lives and ministries intertwined.

The honor of being named to the chair, which King called the highest he could receive in his career, was made even more special because Burton over the years has been his teacher, mentor, friend and colleague, King said.

“It has been a great privilege to know him and work with him for over 43 years,” King said. “I consider him one of my dearest friends.”

King thanked Burton, his family, the seminary and his students, noting that his students “are the ones that keep me excited about teaching.”

His emphasis on students and other people was noted as a mark of King’s ministry by Preston Bright, former adjunct professor of pastoral ministries at Southwestern.

Bright said King’s “influence is literally heard around the world” through his students’ ministries.

Elizabeth McKinney, associate professor of piano emeritus, called King a “Christian gentleman” and an optimist who always has a good word.

With his abilities as both a minister and musician, King “epitomizes what it means to be a minister of music,” Bright said.

“Music is far more than knowledge to Dr. King,” Bright said. “He has the capacity to touch the soul of musicians and the person in the pews.” He gives his best, and they return with the best they can, Bright continued. In all that King does, Bright said, “he communicates that he cares.”

King received his undergraduate degree from Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Okla. He was the first to receive a master’s and doctorate in conducting from Southwestern. Burton was his major professor.

For 16 years, King served as music minister at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, establishing a multiple choir program that became a model for other music ministers. At Southwestern since 1976, King has established the seminary’s handbell choir, wind ensemble and instrumental concentration in the school of church music curriculum.

Jack Coldiron, distinguished professor of voice emeritus at Southwestern and former student of Burton, remembered the distinguished professor of conducting emeritus as “a formidable teacher of conducting.”

Coldiron recalled that during conducting class, Burton would, with a wry smile, sit at the piano or keyboard and intentionally play the wrong key or pitch to test the student conducting at the time.

But Coldiron also remembered Burton as a consummate musician and conductor, inspirational teacher and motivator and a splendid colleague and friend.

Burton could take the most difficult score to interpret and move an audience, overcoming challenges such as the lack of female voices at the seminary, amateur musicians, lack of rehearsal time and poor venues for singing, Coldiron said.

“He did not settle for mediocrity,” Coldiron added.

Before coming to Southwestern in 1956, Burton served as minister of music at First Baptist Church, Brookhaven, Miss., and First Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn. He earned two undergraduate degrees and his master’s from Louisiana State University and his doctor of music degree from Indiana University.

During his 34 years at Southwestern, he chaired the music education and conducting departments, directed the Southwestern Singers and conducted the Oratorio Chorus in addition to his teaching duties. In December 1972, he conducted the Oratorio Chorus in a performance of “Messiah” before King Hussein of Jordan in Amman.

At the end of the ceremonies, Burton conducted the Southwestern Singers in several songs, which he said was wonderful to do again. The last time he conducted the group, he said, was 11 years ago.

Just before his retirement, Burton was the major professor for Bowld, who had returned to the seminary in the 1980s about 50 years after receiving her first seminary degree in 1933. She received her master of music with a conducting concentration in 1988.

Bowld, who died last June, served churches as organist and choir director for a number of years. She and her husband, William F. Bowld, also donated funds to educational and medical institutions. Bowld established organ and conducting scholarships at Southwestern and has funded two other academic chairs. She was also a major contributor to the seminary’s music library, which now bears her name. In 1983, she was named a Distinguished Alumna of the seminary.

By funding the chair of conducting, Bowld is a “helper of students” and a partner in the longstanding belief that Southern Baptists have had regarding the training of ministers, Burton said.

Rhonda Edge Buescher, former Southwestern professor who is now with LifeWay Christian Resources, compared Bowld, Burton and King to three healthy gardeners.

“They have centered their lives on Christ,” Buescher said, “and they have borne healthy fruit, and this fruit is kingdom fruit.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BURTON CHAIR INAUGURATED.

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  • Matt Sanders