I have always been one to idealize people that I love and respect, and I tend to place them on a pedestal and use them as examples that I try to emulate. For me they are heroes, and we all need heroes in our lives so we have someone to make us better people. I have many heroes that I hold dear and stubbornly support. Superman is one of my most long lasting heroes from childhood, and as many of you know, Robert Shaw is, by far, my choral hero. I will never be a Superman, but I have a suspicion that it would be much easier to emulate that superhero than it would be Robert Shaw. More on Robert Shaw as the year goes on. For this week, I’d like to discuss why Eph Ehly has come to be one of my choral superheroes.
I attended a question/answer period hosted by Tim Sharp and a panel of three choral musicians at last year’s ACDA National Convention in Okalahoma City. Eph Ehly was one of three on the panel. Ah yes, Eph Ehly! I got to know Mr. Ehly several years ago when we stayed in the same hotel during a big snowstorm in Norwich, Connecticut, essentially closing down the Sub Base in Groton Connecticut and canceling that years’ New England Music Festival concert. Eph was our guest conductor that year, and the students were mesmerized by his work on the podium. The ACDA concert panel discussion allowed me to once again listen to Mr. Ehly state his opinions and astute observations about choral music and his career in this field. His words and basic philosophy had not changed during those intervening years since Norwich, and I found myself hanging on to his words. It got me thinking, as I often do, about what we do as choral educators.
The next day, while strolling through the Exhibit Hall at the convention, I came upon a book that Eph had written. Naturally I purchased the book and when I ret urned home I read it front to back, hardly putting it down until finished. I have not been so intrigued and focused on a book since my high school years when I read Tolkein’s “Trilogy of the Ring!” I spent every free minute reading it, aware that this book contained rare and insightful wisdom that needed to be part of my working day and personal life. I reread the book, this time with pencil in hand, underlining here and there and making notations in the margins. I would like to share a few moments in this book with you. Maybe you will purchase this book and read it yourself. It will change the way you look at your own life, and it might change the way you view your life in front of your choirs on the podium.
It is my understanding that after Eph retired from his longtime position as Director of Choral Activities at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, he was asked to write his memoirs, and although he started, he soon found that it was just not his “style”…it felt self-serving, or as he put it, too “vainglorious.” So instead he wrote a story of a man, “Hogey,” which was a composite of him and his father. He continues, however, telling a story about his personal experiences with his two grandchildren through the prism of his own career and life. It is a story worth reading for its humanity, love and passion; a passion for music, for life and for friendships. This story sheds more light on the power of music and our professions than one could hope for in one small 246 page book.
There are reminders for all of us that we need to be constantly made aware of. There is one particularly poignant chapter for me…Chapter 7, in which you will find bits of information like “To diminish the act of teaching is to diminish the person.” In one place, while reflecting at his ranch in a rural area of the country, he said “what happens out here is that people become inner-directed while their eye is outer-directed. It may seem like a contradiction of sorts, but it happens. Open space conjures an awareness of creation as one giant ensemble. It is like comprehending the song, not just the notes. Too often, performers don’t see the song for the notes. Out here, a person diminishes in importance as an individual, yet expands in importance as a member of the ensemble. Out here, one feels like a member of the universal community. Aristotle said “Good and effective ensemble is when its members have a commendable knack of subordinating themselves to the benefit of the whole.” He then goes on to integrate this idea into an almost religious concept! There is more in this chapter, but if this catches your interest, you will want to read the rest.
I would love to write more about this incredible human being and his work, but this has gone on too long already, and maybe the intent of the book can be summed up by the last paragraph on the back cover. “As you journey with Hogey, you will find yourself invigorated and saddened, entertained and challenged, laughing and crying, and, ultimately, reminded of what truly matters in a life—not just the life of a choral conductor/educator, nor even the life of just the life of any music educator, but the life of one who strives for balance, contentment and joy in all aspects of that life.” Please get this book and read it. The name of the book is “Hogey’s Journey; A Memoir by Eph Ehly,” published by Heritage Music Press, ISBN 0-89328-220-0. It will change the way you look at your profession, job and life. Read it……………