Kaitlyn Hall, Copy Editor
New Pacific Lutheran University Department of Music chair John Paul is composing his own story.
Paul is replacing Dave Robbins, who has taught at PLU since 1969 and chaired the department for more than 30 years.
“I knew about the department—I knew the previous chair, Dr. Robbins, through professional activities, so I had very high regard for the department,” Paul said. “The more I studied it and looked at it, the more intrigued and excited I was.”
As a chair and instructor, Paul has much to share with students and faculty through his journey in music: he began composing in third grade, started working in administration at a video game company and has taught and worked as a music department chair for almost 15 years.
Paul began his composition career in third grade while learning to play violin. His teacher asked her students if they wanted to compose a tune for the violin, and he was quick to respond.
“Within the first week, I came back with some songs that I had composed, and she wrote it down and printed it out for the whole class,” Paul said.
His third-grade class played the songs at their concert. Paul continued playing violin and composing throughout high school, and started his undergraduate studies at University of Texas at Austin as a violin performance major.
In his sophomore year, Paul realized he could major in music composition and switched majors. He said college is a great place for students to explore and find vocation.
“I like that idea, because it’s exactly what happened to me: I found my vocation in college,” Paul said.
He finished his bachelor’s degree at University of Texas at Austin and earned a master’s degree and doctorate in composition at Indiana University.
Before Paul became a teacher and administrator, though, he composed music for video games.
“I was not necessarily a video game player, but I wanted to get experience writing music and do it full-time,” Paul said. “I always had the dream of teaching, but always thought it’d be great to get some practical experience before I [taught].”
Paul said he liked the idea of working as a full-time composer because he was paid for the things he loved to do. His last title was “Gauntlet Legends,” released in 2000.
After moving to Portland in 2000, Paul began teaching at Marylhurst University in Oregon. Within a year, Paul became the chair of Marylhurst’s music department, and worked there until coming to PLU this fall.
He also served on the board of directors for the National Association of Schools of Music, the organization that accredits PLU’s music program.
Paul has continued to compose. Paul’s most recent composition project is scoring “City Girl,” a 1930 silent film directed by F.W. Murnau. One of the last silent films, “City Girl” centers on a waitress from the city who’s abused by her father-in-law after moving to her husband’s family’s farm.
“You oftentimes think of silent films being antiquated, or dated, and you look at this beautiful imagery, beautiful acting and just this great, powerful story,” Paul said.
The original score for “City Girl” disappeared, and Paul was able to give it a new voice through a score targeted at a modern audience with elements of jazz and Bartok-like dissonance.
Paul is currently working on getting to know the department and its students and faculty, and hopes they can work together to support students’ needs.
Music department graduates are excelling in their positions, earning awards and singing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, N.Y., and PLU’s choirs have received international recognition and awards, Paul said.
“It’s amazing stuff happening, so let’s get the word out,” Paul said.
The potential of the music department is music to his ears. 🅼