Renowned conductor leads music master course on campus
“One, two, three, four, one, two, (pause),” Tori Parris mouths the words, sweeping a baton in graceful waves as she reviews her notes on the sheet music of Handel’s “Messiah.”
The 21-year-old Master of Arts in Music Education student from Gadsden, Ala., is practicing for her turn to conduct an orchestra and choir performing the “For Unto Us A Child Is Born” portion of the classic composition. She prepares for the possibility that the instructor will stop her and ask her to put a personal spin on the piece. One of the students before her conducted the sopranos to add a crescendo right as they joined the rest of the choir.
Parris has been completing her requirements for a weeklong conducting intensive — an on-campus course that packs a semester’s worth of material into a short timeframe.
The intensive was led by Dr. Tim Sharp, executive director of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) and an internationally known conductor. ACDA is the largest and most influential organization of choral directors in the world. The 58,000-member organization specializes in providing educational and mentoring opportunities for conductors serving in churches, high schools, and higher education settings.
As Executive Director of ACDA, Sharp has led orchestras and choir ensembles in every state and many countries around the world. Sharp conducted “Messiah” in Dublin at the churches where Handel originally performed the work.
“It has been really remarkable, just hearing the stories about where he has gone all over the world and his experience in different cultures, especially since I am wanting to travel (and teach music in different cultures),” Parris said of Sharp. “Having him to look up to and hear about the different practices from around the world has been really cool.”
Sharp has been coming to Liberty to lead this intensive since it was first offered five years ago. In addition to the depth of knowledge he teaches during the week, he hopes to show the students traits, such as confidence, that lead to a successful conductor.
“You have to have a personality that is engaging if you are going to be a conductor,” he said. “I want to show them my enthusiasm and passion for the subject matter and also for the music.”
He said he has been impressed by the caliber of students at Liberty.
“They are motivated, focused; they come here on a mission,” he said. “It is nice to work with engaged students of this level.”
Teaching is rewarding, Sharp added, because it is “a far-reaching investment.”
“We are changing lives one person at a time,” he said. “Those people are then going out and changing hundreds of lives. The intensity, the condensation that happens in this experience is amazing in terms of a world influence. I am so glad to be a part of it, and I am glad that Liberty is underscoring it.”
Parris, a worship pastor at a church in Alabama, said she jumped at the opportunity to take a conducting course.
“I have enjoyed the experience,” she said. “In a contemporary church atmosphere, I am never up there with a baton. Having the opportunity to conduct in front of a symphony is incredible.”
Dr. Vernon Whaley, dean of Liberty’s School of Music, called Sharp "an exceedingly gifted teacher, communicator, and performer."
"We are always privileged to have Dr. Sharp on campus teaching graduate conducting classes," he said. "He is a favorite of the students and brings to our campus a high level of professional instruction seldom afforded college students.”
Liberty students interested in taking summer classes on campus have the option to enroll in one-, two-, and four-week courses called intensives. These courses are offered by a wide range of disciplines and allow online students an opportunity to experience Liberty’s beautiful residential campus. Some online programs require intensives. Though the work is rigorous, intensives allow students to focus on a single course, rather than splitting their attention over numerous courses, as they do during a full academic semester, helping them to earn their degree more efficiently.
Parris is studying through Liberty’s online programs, so enrolling in the conducting intensive gave her a chance to visit campus for the first time.
“It is absolutely amazing; I am blown away,” Parris said of campus. She added that she was encouraged to attend Liberty by the dean of music at the University of Mobile, where she did her undergraduate work.
“I actually called and thanked him this week,” she said.