LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, January 21, 2008

Timothy Michael Powell, Part 3: An Expression of the Human Experience

This is the conclusion of my interview with Dr. Timothy Michael Powell, an accomplished conductor and composer. He is the Director of Choral and Vocal Studies at Lee College and directs the Lee College Chorale and the Baytown Community Chorus. Dr. Powell holds a DMA in Conducting from the University of South Carolina and was the 1999 National Choristers Guild Scholar, a 2002-2003 Fulbright Scholar to Bulgaria, and a 2002 Fellow with the prestigious South Carolina Conductors Institute. He received both his Bachelors (cum laude) and his Masters degrees in Church Music from Belmont University.

He was the Rhodes College Conductor-in-Residence for the 2004-2005 Season and the Director of the Honors College Choir at the University of South Carolina from 2001-2002. His compositions include numerous major works, including his "Wedding Mass" which will be premiered in Carnegie Hall in June of 2008, and his opera "His Terrible Swift Sword" which was premiered in April of 2007. Go to
www.DCINY.org for more information about the concert.

Dr. Powell is an active clinician and scholar and holds memberships in the Pi Kappa Lambda Music Society, The Texas Music Educator's Association, and the American Choral Director's Association. He serves as the Director of Music at St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Houston, TX. Samples of his music can be heard at

LM: Your MySpace site lists about two dozen musicians who have influenced you. Pick two or three and tell why and how they influenced you.

I think that Giovanni de Palestrina is my model for small-scale motet construction. His music is so beautiful and loses none of its emotional impact, even after 400+ years. Yet at the same time, there is a certain succinctness and crystalline sparseness of form, almost a conservatism, that allows the climatic moments to develop and emerge and then hit you over the head like a hammer. I'm thinking particularly of his piece In Monte Oliveti, which is a setting of this biblical text: "On the Mount of Olives, he said to his Father: ‘Father, if it be possible, take from me this cup: Let it be your will.’" There's a moment in the last line which gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

As for living American musicians, I would say that I have an affinity for composers like Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen, who are part of a neo-tonal movement in classical music. I think the text painting of Whitacre has been influential for me, and the large-scale motivic construction of Lauridsen's music has influenced my larger works, particularly the Wedding Mass. As for pop stuff, I'm definitely influenced by country and bluegrass. I spent some time in grad school playing in a rockgrass band, which was a great outlet for writing songs. The band, Salt Creek, produced a studio album which included a number of my songs. However, I feel like there is an approach to musical climax in my pop music that actually comes from groups like U2 and Coldplay. They have a rhythmic drive and energy that explodes on you that I just love.

LM: Does your faith impact your music? If so, how?

In the sense that I am a Christian and a composer, then yes, but I do not consider myself a "Christian musician" in the sense of the Nashvegas CCM world. I hope that my faith impacts all that I do, and I don't think it would be possible for there not to be some bleeding of my faith into my art. Art is quite personal. You can't create something artistic in a vacuum and also cannot expect that you can create art without exposing vulnerability. My classical music is almost exclusively Christian, because I set sacred texts for choir. That, however, is also driven as much by the practicalities of being a church choir director and an administrator of a collegiate choral and sacred music program.

I don't shy away from secular subjects, however. Music, and its composition, to me is an expression of the total human experience. I think that Christ is incarnate in the every day, as well as in the highest worship. He's present at the conversion of new believers, but also in the midst of the relationships between people, the suffering in the world, politics, war, hunger, etc. As such, I don't see much disconnect between being a composer who writes music for the church, and who also can write a pop song that doesn't refer to God at all, or in fact references taboo subjects like sex. My opera His Terrible Swift Sword, as an example, is based on characters from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath as well as the Biblical story of Job. It tells the story of a preacher who loses his faith after having an extra-marital affair under the temptation of a devil-like figure. It is certainly PG-13, and deals with very difficult questions about morality, faith, and providence. But so does the Bible, I think, and you have to ignore a great deal of messy stuff to believe that God doesn't have something to say about all of it (which He does), or that everything is black and white and cut and dried (which it is not).

Happy Martin Luther King Day. Enjoy the holiday.


Chandler Branch said...

Thanks for conducting and posting this interview with Timothy Michael Powell, LeAnne. In particular I appreciate Dr. Powell's response to your question about the impact of his Christian faith on his music. His perception of Christ's incarnation is refreshing and (seems to me) durable.

LeAnne Benfield Martin said...

Thanks, Chandler. I appreciated his thoughtful answers. Thanks for the great work you're doing at Soli Deo Gloria!



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