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In the thirty-third episode of the “Saturdays at Seven” conversation series, Todd Ream talks with Michael D. Wilder, Dean of the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College. Wilder opens by addressing the ways music contributes to the cultivation of an imagination and how music is inherently part of human flourishing. Such details also include underappreciated composers as well as the role music plays in a student’s education regardless of the student’s formal course of study. Ream then asks Wilder about his own musical training, his performances as a clarinetist with various orchestras, what he received from such efforts and, most importantly, what he hoped to give. They then turn to Wilder’s recent service as President of the National Association for Music Education and ways partnerships can be forged between the academy, the government, and the Church. Ream and Wilder close by discussing examples of how music education is being made available to members of previously underserved or unserved populations.

Todd Ream: Welcome to Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. My name is Todd Ream. I have the privilege of serving as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review  and as the host for Saturdays at Seven. I also have the privilege of serving on the faculty and the administration at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Our guest is Michael D. Wilder, Dean of the Conservatory of Music and Division of Arts and Communication at Wheaton College. Thank you for joining us.

A growing number of Catholic and evangelical authors argued in recent years that the purpose of Christian higher education is to cultivate a Christian imagination or risking oversimplification here, a vision of a rightly ordered world. In what ways, if any, does the study of music contribute to the cultivation of a Christian imagination?

Michael Wilder: Well, where to start, right? It impresses me that our world, certainly within the academy but much more broadly too, is an intensely logocentric world. And I suppose this is proper with the place that we understand of, of words and such in Scripture, but we’re, I think, fatigued with this sort of obsession with a logocentric stance.

So music comes along and immediately invites both those who directly create the music, those who experienced the music and so on, to something that is a bit of a relief, isn’t it? Not just instrumental music, but music that has words as well, offers you opportunity to reflect, to embrace a whole language and elements that are complementary to this logocentric sort of perspective, but also gives you a break.

And music is often nearly always, in some ways, experienced in community. And so in community, imagination flourishes both, through opportunity, but also through the need for imagination and creativity. So I think music just comes along and it’s so compelling. 

It’s also I think undeniable that to be human is to be quite deeply musical, both as far as how we’re wired and as far as our interests and desires, and so music is there in every culture studied historically, and I’m pretty sure will always, always be. So, as the playground, the support, the breeding ground, the respite, related to imagination and all other human characteristics, music’s just one of the best. We run to it.

Todd Ream: Thank you. For the non-music major then, what practices would prove essential to the cultivation of such an imagination? What can music offer for the student who doesn’t study it full-time? 

Michael Wilder: You know, to the point maybe I last mentioned, which is this whole notion of being human is to be musical. And we could talk about that really for the rest of our time, I think, because the ways that humans are designed and this musical element are just really quite staggering. 

Thinking about that, there really aren’t non-music majors. If you’re talking about human beings we’re all majoring in music. We are not just music consumers and music creators. We’re insatiably interested in music. Just, just ask people about music and get them going about what interests them, what gets them revved up, what soothes them, what challenges them, all the ways that music works. 

So I think it’s, it’s as much a part of, maybe in some ways, more a part of those who aren’t pursuing degrees or professions and all of that, because some of that can be pretty distracting to music making. It can be sort of be a challenge.

And then if you go to Scripture there’s just no mistake to be made about God’s instruction to us relates, related to music, not only the end of the book where we, we read of— you know, I tell people sometimes if you’re not into music, you don’t want to go to heaven, you’re gonna have the biggest headache ever. Because as I understand the description, it’s gonna be pretty nonstop. 

Now, maybe you’ll be healed of this aversion to music. Who doesn’t love music? But you know, you get to heaven. Maybe that’s all fixed when you get there, but there’s no question that dozens of times we’re told to, in fact, we should probably stop right now and sing something together because the instructions are so pervasively there that to sing. 

And that is, I think to all of artistic expression is God’s desire. It’s not just an invitation for us as humans to sing. It’s a mandate. We are told, offer praise, offer gratitude to God and do so musically. Not exclusively musically, but don’t ignore this. It’s a really important part of the equation.

Todd Ream: For those who don’t study music too, I like your argument that we’re all music majors in our own way and in some capacity. But for those who formally don’t study it in that capacity, often part of their distribution requirements include a class that could be described as music appreciation.

But perhaps should they be encouraged to learn to make music in some capacity, whether as a co-curricular or as a curricular activity that we should heighten their investment, maybe even in that? 

Michael Wilder: Yeah, I’m sure we’d have some interest in a class about food that really just hoped to make us appreciators of food and that we’d study it. We’d, we’d read about it. We’d, we’d watch other people eating, but we wouldn’t ever taste anything in this class would be a little silly, wouldn’t it? 

I mean, I think the experiential component of food or music is absolutely essential. And I’ve always had a bit of an aversion to the appreciation title and the notion of, well, we’re really here to sort of cultivate audiences for the, for the professionals or we’re here to, to try to somehow get you to appreciate music.

And to the average person in one of these classes, they may be consuming 8, 10, 12 hours of music as they walk in the door. Already sort of an insatiable appetite for music. Please sit down and I will try to somehow teach you to appreciate music. It’s just ridiculous. 

You know, it’s back to the food example. It’s like, well, I know you’ve maybe never eaten anything delicious. Let me somehow help you with this and, and educate you on the value of food in your life. 

Todd Ream: As someone who’s taught a course entitled food, faith, and culture, I’ve never thought about the parallel here, but we spend a fair amount of time eating in that course. And it would seem nonsensical to not eat if we were in a course like that as perhaps it would be in music. So, yeah, thank you. 

Michael Wilder: Well, and in that, in that same course, maybe you never prayed either. I mean, wouldn’t that be kind of silly? Let’s just talk about faith or sort of figure it out. And I mean, there’s a place for it, I’m sure, but why would you not have that experience? 

Todd Ream: Yeah, I think it just heightened the sense of the investment and thus the way it fires the imagination in that sense. 

When seeking to cultivate such an imagination, what composers in the Church’s history would, argue, prove most indispensable?

Michael Wilder: Well, I don’t, I don’t want to, I don’t want to dismiss the question, but I think it’s all of them. I think it’s all of the composers. I think it’s every created sound that is indispensable to this. 

To say otherwise, it’s to say that the created sound by a given composer or performer or the spontaneous musician in one way or another, is to say that that their creation, that individual’s creation, is without value. And so I think it’s all of them. 

Now, who would I point to presently that I think is maybe most interesting or most important? Um, that would be a tough one too, but I would say a couple of examples that came to mind. I really appreciate Keith & Kristyn Getty’s, SING initiative and their commitment to, to bolstering the song of the Church, trying to, to encourage and strengthen the Church’s voice in singing and many examples of how this project’s being done. But one of them is to encourage a capella singing in the church. 

And just Sunday I was in a church setting where multiple verses of a, of a piece of music with a whole variety of instruments. There was a pipe organ, there was a banjo, there were you know, there were percussion instruments, all manner of things. And one verse might have made use of, of a portion of them. Another verse, all of them. 

One verse, everything’s out instrumentally. There’s nothing amplified and there’s no acoustic instrument being played. It’s the voice only of the a cappella singing of the congregation as one element in that particular piece of music. So, so powerful. 

We hear ourselves. We hear those next to us. We hear ourselves collectively. I think the project’s really terrific and doing some, some really great things. And there are many others like it. I don’t, I don’t highlight that one to say that it’s the one. 

Um, and then I think as far as historically composers and currently composers, there are just so many people working valiantly at creating music. I got a little bit more to say about this later, maybe if we talk about a couple of other questions, but I think Morten Lauridsen for us has done some really amazing work in the academy, yeah, and in the concert hall. 

Really resetting the stage in some ways with several “O Magnum Mysterium” and “Dirait-On” and these “Lux Aeterna,”, and really important voice and represents a whole group of other people that I think are an important voice too. So yeah, I could probably talk about that all day. 

Todd Ream: Sort of tweak the question or turn the question on its head then, that I asked, is there a composer in the Church’s history whose legacy you think is still underappreciated, in terms of what she or he may have contributed in this sense? 

Michael Wilder: Well, sure. I mean, we’re, we add to our layers of appreciation as we continue. And you, you can’t, you can’t talk about this without talking about Bach, of course, but I’m going to, I’m just going to say that as the obvious. 

Um I would share my experience just this past week. Um, this isn’t directly in the Church but the work of Gustav Mahler, I think is really, really sizable. And it’s as much in my life, probably personally that way. But I think this Mahler symphony, these Mahler symphonies and his wrestling with what he called the heavenly life and poetry and the ways these are interfaced one with another. And this is 1901, 1903 Mahler “Fourth Symphony” being written. This is a way back.

But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that sometimes we sort of pick on ourselves a little bit as far as composers, like dismissing some composers because they’re deceased or because they represent a certain part of the world or certain traditions. We don’t do that with architecture. You know, we don’t say, well, this architect isn’t really of interest to us anymore because they’re deceased or they’re from a particular school of design or something. 

I would encourage a full embrace, and for me, Mahler would be a great example of one of the composers that would be embraced in that consideration, and I think this “Fourth Symphony”, with its fourth movement that is thoroughly rooted in poetry around a, a perspective of heaven and his intent through this composition to lead us there. 

It turns out we had the Chicago Symphony on the campus last week presenting Mahler’s “Fourth Symphony.” And over the weekend and, and I, my wife and I were so compelled. We made our way downtown to hear it a second time on Sunday. Um, it was paired with a brand new premiere by Liebermann, “Flute Concerto,” the second by Liebermann. And between the two, between the two, it was just staggeringly meaningful to us. Really, really great. 

Todd Ream: If I may, you mentioned a couple of contemporary composers early. Is there one who is perhaps underappreciated in your, in your opinion maybe perhaps not known to those who would be listening that you would encourage us to, to give another listen to, or perhaps pay attention in terms of their legacy?

Michael Wilder: Sure. You know, the, the recent work of Terence Blanchard and, and the, the work of the Metropolitan Opera in, in, in offering the very first African-American composer in the, in the Fire Shut Up In My Bones premiere was just stunning and I absolutely commend his work and, and others who are really helping us understand some of these fair–

Well, this is the first time for the Met to do this and they have a couple times since. So we’re really, really grateful. I don’t know what took so long exactly, but I’m really thankful. There’s so many reasons I’m glad to be alive now in the present set of conditions that we face, many challenges to. 

Let me get back to your question though just to bring this close to home and you can do this at your institution and others can too. I’d commend the composers that are on this faculty at my school. They’re doing remarkable work. Some of them really getting a lot of attention and maybe some that aren’t getting as much, but deserving of it. 

To have a community like this, residential, where composers are able to work directly with performers and in a Christian context, this is the best. And we repeat this over and over across the land. And I want to do all I can to encourage that in Christian institutions, a context but certainly in all of them. 

This is where composition can really thrive. It’s not maybe as much in some churches as it was at one point, maybe not as supported by the government as it could be at some points in history and, and other places in the world. But the academy is a place that has continued to really host and nurture the work of composers. So I’m grateful for that and want to do all I can to encourage it. 

Todd Ream: Thank you. That’s very encouraging to hear. Appreciate it. 

If I could, I would like to turn the questions a little bit to you and your background and your contributions as a musician. And first I want to start by asking just a very simple question, perhaps on the surface, why the clarinet?

Michael Wilder: I’m one of four children and I’m sitting in my family’s home and my older sister was playing the violin in the orchestra and she was in the sixth grade and she had a folder, one of those folders that have photographs on it of various instruments and I looked at the clarinet and I said that’s mine. That’s what I’m gonna play and it was as simple as that. Simple question and a simple answer. And I’ve been playing that thing now almost 60 years ago. I made that decision so… 

Todd Ream: Did you, did you know at what point beyond just wanting to play that, that you had a gift for playing it too? 

Michael Wilder: You know, I don’t know that I would say to anyone that I have a gift in playing the clarinet. I’ve spent a lot of time blowing into that thing and I’m really, really thankful for it. Really thankful for the ways that clarinet has given me uh, and, and, and my wife and others have, have, have offered, has offered an invitation to repertoire that is just outstanding. 

So we spent, what, 27 years as members of the Wichita Symphony which is maybe 10 concerts, triples or pairs of concerts through the season and such. You have a full-time job at the same time, but a lot of playing. And we were able to engage with nearly all of the major repertoire, and boy, there was just night after night that I was just so grateful to be there. 

Turns out if you’re in the clarinet section, you’ve got a really good seat for, for concerts and for rehearsals. You get to hear a lot of music sitting in that chair and experience it, just so thankful. And I love the clarinet. It’s a great instrument. I love that it’s wood and metal together. It’s range I think is wonderful and lots of things about it that I love. 

I also hate it. I mean, you kind of have this relationship where you’re trying to sort of beat this thing into submission and you know, make it do what you want it to do. It’s, it’s both/and. 

Todd Ream: Can you describe a sense of joy you experienced when playing the clarinet? 

Michael Wilder: Some of the most significant experiences of my life have been in a symphony orchestra with a clarinet in hand. And yeah, I could go down a long list of those. But I remember when I was offered my first professional position, I was 20 years old. 

And it’s actually back to my Mahler Four Symphony story because this was the first piece that I was a part of in the Des Moines Symphony in Iowa as the bass utility clarinetist. And I didn’t know the piece and I’m learning this piece as we’re rehearsing it and I was just, I was swept away, swept away and then, yeah, so it sort of goes from there. Lots of experiences which were really another world. 

It’s so interesting. Maybe this happens with food and other things. I’d finish a long day in teaching and other activities at the college I was serving and I’d go to a rehearsal and I’d sit down, and as the rehearsal began, I would be reminded, oh, oh, I forgot, this is what music is. 

I mean, it’s, it’s to, it’s to have that piece of chocolate in your mouth. It’s just, you have to close your eyes. It’s so delicious. And you, you remember again, oh, this is, this is different than I would have described it in words or that I kind of had in my memory. Do you know what I’m saying? 

Todd Ream: Thank you. What do you hope then others experience in terms of a sense of joy when they hear you play and hear you play as a member of a symphony orchestra?

Michael Wilder: There’s a vicarious element to arts experience from those who are, who are in the audience, let’s say. So you and I, let’s do it in sports. Like you were watching Wimbledon and you watched for a while and you’re kind of like, give me that racket. I think I could do this because you’re experiencing it right? Vicariously through the other person. 

I’m hopeful that whatever the barriers are for people that come to a performance or experience music in one way or another are removed and that they are able. I am not a dancer, but I love to go and experience dance. And I’m, if it works, I’m there, I’m dancing actually.

And there’s, I’m sure there are plenty of people, scientists and researchers who can explain this as to how it actually works, but there’s something in there that I’m hopeful for. And so I want to remove barriers, remove barriers for those who attend performances and who are a part of experiencing music and the other arts too. 

Todd Ream: In addition to earning bachelor’s degrees in music performance and music education from Iowa State, you earned a master’s degree in music performance and a doctoral degree in music education from Michigan. How would you describe the relationship then between the calling to perform and the calling to educate?

Michael Wilder: Yeah, they’re inextricably linked. I had a very strong conviction early on that I wanted to teach. I wanted to help people, encourage them in musical and artistic development, but I wanted to do it from my, from a knowledge base or experiential sort of perspective that wouldn’t make me necessarily the expert, but would put me round the same side of the table as the person I’m engaging with as a student or as a colleague.

So if I were to boil it all down as to my sense of calling and my own life, sort of how I’m wired and was allowed just one word, I think it would be encouraged. I want to come here or wherever I’m called each day and encourage other people in their work. That often, back to the previous topic, I think that often involves removing barriers and trying to get obstacles out of the way for people’s flourishing. 

Sometimes it’s money. Sometimes it’s building a new curriculum textbook. I don’t know what it would be, all sorts of things, supplies, but there are barriers to human flourishing. And especially if we get a little further with this in a fallen world, there are a lot of barriers to human flourishing. And so I’m, I want to do what I can to help get those out of the way.

Todd Ream: Thank you. You mentioned a few minutes ago that you served with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. You also served with the Wichita Ballet and have served with organizations such as Camerata Chicago, just to name three of those, would you please describe a performance in which you experienced a sense of joy greater than perhaps in other performances? Is there one that stands out in your mind? 

Michael Wilder: Yeah, there are many. There are many. I mean, how, if you’re doing Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” and we’ve done all the work to make this journey into that fourth movement and you’ve got this chorus standing on its feet and we’re ready to tear the roof off this place there’s just no denying that this is really larger than life in so many ways. 

And yeah, I can, I can get pretty emotional thinking about so many opportunities like this and I’ll connect it again to the end of the book. I think this is just a small taste of what it’s going to be to be in heaven and to be around this throne with this remarkable music making happening so there’s a reason that we resonate with all this. I think we’re wired this way and yeah, looking to, looking to make most of it while we have these opportunities. 

Todd Ream: From an audience perspective, then, is there a time when you and your colleagues perhaps were performing and the response that you received indicated that there was a greater sense of joy that was given to the audience than perhaps maybe you even anticipated or thought might be the case?

Michael Wilder: A couple weeks ago to Philadelphia and to DC it’s been on the road and you know, I’ve, I’ve received a lot of messages from people who have experienced it. This is the full Messiah. It’s two and a half hours. There are a couple of inserted pieces as well but it’s partially staged. And with a fair number of creative elements, but at the heart of it is to try to enliven the text.

People were absolutely bowled over in tears through the whole of the performance. I mean, there were just so many ways that these what seemed somewhat relatively small gestures and blocking using the whole hall and a number of things that were creative. We’re just so grateful for all that was accomplished through the project. 

And I’m really thankful to have been a small part of supporting it and trying to put the thing together. 

Todd Ream: The full two and a half hours, you say? All three? 

Michael Wilder: And nobody was complaining. Nobody was complaining. Yeah, all three. All of it. The whole story. 

Todd Ream: Yeah, that’s, that’s wonderful. That’s quite an undertaking too. You’ve served on the faculty now at Wheaton since 2008. And you presently serve, as we, as I indicated earlier, as the Dean of the Conservatory. If possible, can you describe an average day?

Michael Wilder: Yeah, I don’t know that there are average days, but I will say this. I’ll go back to the notion of trying to encourage people and to assist. There’s certainly lots of opportunities in this job that are pastoral. When you deal with humans you deal with humans and we all have really great moments of victory and celebration and we have moments of hardship. 

And this is a position in which there’s a fair amount of prayer nearly every day with others and finding our way together. It’s an opportunity to listen with care doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’m always trying to develop a better ability to listen. 

To cast a vision and all of that but I think as much as anything is to help the collective wisdom, the collective perspective gets itself sorted out. I really love a lot of this work that I am with people and I’m able to offer to them support and concern all that goes with it. 

So, yeah, the typical day is not so much, but that’s kind of nice too. There’s a lot of variety and plenty, plenty of challenges, but plenty of opportunities too. It’s a beautiful mix. 

Todd Ream: In what ways, if any, is the calling to the Christian academic vocation unique for the music educator? Is there a way of defining such a vocation that might have particular threads or dimensions to it that might be different from those in the humanities or the social sciences or the natural sciences?

Michael Wilder: Well, I don’t want to really let this secret out, but to be involved with music and the arts is such a rare privilege because well, for lots of reasons, but one of them is back to maybe something I mentioned earlier. I think this is to be human. 

Among the most absolutely valued treasures that we have as people, is that which is musical and artistic and I can prove it. I mean, go to the three month old or the six month old or the 12 month old. These begin emerging very, very early. And humans are very responsive because this is how they’re wired. 

We sometimes run the risk, not to pick on this sort of logocentric nature of what we do in the academy, but we sometimes risk losing sight of this. In fact, good grief, we talked for a while about STEM as though the arts weren’t a part of this core sort of I’m really glad we put the A in there and got back to steam. But it’s a huge privilege to be involved in this. 

One of the most precious gifts that we have is people and to— I walked back, we have a community school here, our youngest students in the conservatory are three and four months old. And I walked by and see what they’re doing with their parents and good grief. What? This is a sacred privilege. You know, it’s just, it doesn’t get any more exciting to me than that. 

So, and you know, I’ve read the book. There’s no question how He feels about music and the arts. And there’s no question about how He feels about children. I mean 

Todd Ream: Are there any virtues in particular that you think are more important than others to cultivate with such a sense of vocation?

Michael Wilder: Well I think, I think there’s, there are many virtues worth attention for sure, but one of them is the obligation that we have in community. And so again, I think the notion of the arts and the treasured commodity that they are is often abused. It has been hijacked in the performance world for money in many cases in ways that I think we’ve gotten out of focus there. 

So plenty to pay attention to there, but yeah, this is really high value as to people and understanding them and what makes them tick. 

Todd Ream: Thank you. You also presently serve as the president of the National Association of Schools of Music. What contributions have you sought to make while serving in that particular role?

Michael Wilder: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a really high privilege for me to be at the table as we consider music and higher education and try to get our arms around the broader issues and challenges and such. There’s no question that in higher education in general, certainly including music and the arts, that resources are of real concern both financially, but otherwise you know, who comes to the table, who maybe has not been as welcomed at the table as far as as far as higher education. 

I think all of these are really important questions and I’m thrilled again to be alive today in the midst of the questions that we’re wrestling with. I think a number of things that we can point to that are really important related to how this all works in higher education.

Todd Ream: Thank you. We sort of are transitioning to ending our time together then today. I want to ask you about the relationship that music education shares with the Church. And in particular, the Church has proven to be one of the greatest patrons, if not the greatest patron of the arts in history. How would you describe the present state of that patronage, though, today?

Michael Wilder: You know, it would be hard. I would resist the urge to try to generalize because I think the Church is so varied and you know, certainly within this country, but as we look globally. It’s very, very tempting for me to look at my own experience with a couple of dozen churches and to sort of put together an aggregate sense of things.

But I will say this, if we look at the academy and at the Church and at the government, related to patronage, I think all three have historically been really important and are important today. I, for one, am very interested in ways that we take down the separations between those three where possible.

As example, I think the Church is just one of the finest. It’s a professional presentation, that sort of thing, and I would certainly, this won’t surprise you, would welcome the Church and its agenda into the academy and putting them together in a place that embraces faith as it is a part of a human experience in life is really a golden opportunity.

All of that said, I’m really interested in projects that have a foot in both or all 3. You can’t have three feet, but you know what I mean, trying to connect the three. I think these are really quite beautiful. 

And in fact, we’ve got a little project here at the school that’s a Center for Sacred Music that essentially is a commissioning agency for new sacred choral works. They’re simply based on Biblical text as the sort of guiding principle. I’m quite excited at how this initiative will do a bit of what I’m talking about. Just as one example, there would be many other examples, of course, other places.

But we’re pretty jazzed about how this might work and to bring about new works that are based on Biblical text sacred works for choral ensembles. I think it could be really very exciting. 

Todd Ream: Could you offer an example of what it might look like then for the Church, the academy, and the government to participate together, to work together, as you were alluding to?

Michael Wilder: Yeah, I think it’s about partnerships and about ways that these dots can be connected. And this is something that really gets me going and many people who are in positions like mine, I think. How can we create conduit between? 

And of course, the very best way to do that is to work together, to do projects together. So, whether it’s government funding or institute, the academy funding, these things, or the Church for that matter, where are there partnerships? Where could our core purposes and missions align such that we could work together?

And this, this all of a sudden invites, I think, global opportunity that could be really quite outstanding. I was with a leader of a music program in Norway this past week, and we were exploring a little bit of folk music. Folk music in Norway and, and more broadly in Scandinavia, and folk music in this country and in dreaming a little bit about what if there were four or five global points at which we could find people to bring together, related to folk music and this folk music, to get to your question, certainly might have connections to the Church as it shares music one way or another?

We’ve got the same humans in both places, right? There are all three places. And then with the government, as far as what it values, what’s most important in advancing the human cause, I think there could be something quite exciting in there somewhere and compelling, not just for those who are professional musicians and all of that. But people who are drawn to folk music and the historical place of it and the cultural sort of value more broadly. So, who knows? Stay tuned. We’ll see what we might come up with there. 

Todd Ream: Thank you, yeah. Implicitly, you’ve already addressed this, but I want to ask it in an explicit sense now here. In what ways does the Church need music educators? And in what ways do music educators need the Church? 

Michael Wilder: Yeah, what a great question. I’m sure I’ve driven this home maybe too much, but the whole notion that humans are hungry for music engagement, turns out is really pretty pervasively as music makers, as actually creating music, whether sung or instrumental or otherwise, whether also a part of dance and a broader, I don’t know, celebration and artistic expression.

I think the, the opportunity for instruction, for the development of skills, for places, the spaces that are necessary, for some projects artistically are really beautifully offered by both Church and academy and the broader culture as supported by government or those gathered together to try to nurture the community, which small, local or more broad.

I think these really are a lot of opportunities that can be cultivated. And not only help people directly with something they value and desire. But bring them together. It creates community. It strengthens relationships. It does all the sorts of things that each of these groups, the government, the Church and the academy hold this high value.

There’s a lot to that, I think, and it’s just a question getting those people together that can lead or can somehow envision that sort of collaboration, which is happening in many places. We need to be watching it, so that we can embrace what we’re learning in other places that might be applied to our own settings. 

Todd Ream: You’ve already talked about a few of these, but as perhaps our last question, then, are there a couple of examples that you would highlight where this is happening and the ways in which they’re working together, you would argue, is commendable in terms of also what may come from their experiences together?

Michael Wilder: Yeah, I’m really very grateful. And some of this is more local. So I hope it doesn’t sound as though I’m sort of pushing my own agenda here. 

Just really grateful for places where we see need or opportunity being addressed by those in these three larger sorts of groupings of organizations. One that I would point to here locally is a special needs attention that both the College has expressed through programmatic offering and otherwise in the Conservatory of Music. We’ve got a really wonderful program called Beethoven’s Buddies, which brings in people with particular needs and gives them musical experience and training, which really is powerful. I mean, encouraging them. There’s a program in a Chimes Program that’s again, within the special needs, a group of offerings. Right across the street then his College Church with, with one of the largest special needs populations served in that type of setting, in a church setting. 

And then within the community special projects, there’s a resale shop. There are other ways, that STARS program. There are other ways that this same group is being encouraged and their unique needs facilitated. Of course, then come along college students and faculty and community members and people who are a part of the Church and the government who see this and join together. So this would be a small, well, it’s not small, I guess, but it’s an example here locally for which I’m really thankful. 

And ways this can be replicated again, sort of adding to that collective wisdom, how can we share information? What sort of forums allow us to be generous in, in learning from others who are in maybe similar work and, and sharing what we may have discovered here in the work that we’re doing. 

Todd Ream: Thank you. Beautiful model and a beautiful model that not only obviously is yielding fruit for those interested in and studying and focused on music, but perhaps one that can be replicated in other areas and efforts that we make in the academy too. That’s, yeah, wonderful. Thank you. 

Our guest has been Michael D. Wilder, Dean of the Conservatory of Music and Division of Arts and Communication at Wheaton College. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom with us. 

Michael Wilder: A real pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

Todd Ream: Thank you for joining us for Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church.  We invite you to join us again next week for Saturdays at Seven.


Todd C. Ream

Indiana Wesleyan University
Todd C. Ream is Honors Professor of Humanities and Executive Director of Faculty Research and Scholarship at Indiana Wesleyan University, Senior Fellow for Public Engagement for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Senior Fellow for Programming for the Lumen Research Institute, and Publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.  He is the author and editor of numerous books including (with Jerry Pattengale) The Anxious Middle: Planning for the Future of the Christian College (Baylor University Press, September 15, 2023).


  • Refreshing and energizing — with statements like “there really is no music majors as we all are” and “if you don’t like music, Heaven will not be the place for you…” “we add to our understanding layers of appreciation [for musicians],” (paraphrased). I can only imagine students greatly appreciate Michael, an all-encompassing love and convincing for music. Also, of course if he loves the Gettys, he must be on top of his game (they pack our Museum of the Bible venues every time). I am curious given his love for G. Mahler if he has a preference for the attempts to finish his 10th Symphany beyond Adagio (I think played with his other symphonies last year in the Carnegie Hall tribute). Thanks for pointing us to the African American work. Love the focus on his own college’s performers. Great question between calling to perform and calling to educate. Loved his realistic look at removing barriers for help with human flourishing. If I were on faculty with him, I’d certainly want to sit in on his classes and/or performances.

  • Without the music embedded in the text of Tanach, it is impossible to read it. It is not logocentric. The command is to hear – not to abstract truth or give orders. The entire work is a song. I would point to the work of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura for the decoding of the te’amim — not by any means without some special pleading on her part, but notably with an inductive approach that has definitively uncovered the original design of these hand signals. I have thousands of examples here. Perhaps you can begin with this non-aural example.

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