Saturday, June 26, 2021

Rearranging the Furniture

When I was a kid, I used to love to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom. I would move the bed, my dresser, my stereo, and other important items in my life around to different places in the room about every 6 months. To me it represented something new, something different and fresh. And I always enjoyed walking in to a little surprise for the first week or so of the newly arranged furniture. When I moved into my first apartment, I did the same thing.  About every six months, I would move things around.  Now that we live in a house, have kids, and very busy lives, it doesn't happen as often. But, I still really enjoy the process of rearranging and redecorating. It keeps things fresh, less predictable, and a little bit exciting. My thoughts today are less about furniture specifically and more about changes in our lives. A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a pastor at my church.   We were talking about some impactful personnel changes at the church and I told her about some other areas in my life where important people were coming and going. She said to me, "Wow! You are really rearranging the furniture right now!" Boy, was she right!  I have thought about that comment a great deal since then.  I have been keenly aware, over the past 18 months or so, that many of the stable friendships, relationships, and long-term pillars of my life have been shifting around a bit. This can be very disorienting. And, truth be told, it has been for me. But, in the midst of that shift, there is also good to be found.  There can be excitement, daily surprises, and potential for a fresh start. Let me see if I can explain.

School and Work

At NCSSM, I have enjoyed a very stable set of collegial relationships within the Music Department for about the past 12 years. My dear friend Dave Stuntz has been our part-time Choral Director and collaborator for 15 years. Philip Riggs, Grammy Award-winning Music Educator, has been NCSSM's Band Director and probably my closest professional colleague for the past 12. The three of us are all about the same age and had developed an incredibly stable and comfortable working relationship and rhythm over the years. Phillip announced his retirement in January of 2019 (and came back to NCSSM on a part-time basis for the 2019-2020 school year before retiring fully in May of 2020). Dave retired from NCSSM in May of 2020. We ran a search and successfully hired two amazing music educators to fill these positions. Carolina Perez and Chad Cygan have turned out to be magnificent colleagues and will carry on the great traditions we have in the music program at NCSSM for sure and certainly create new traditions of their own. But, that doesn't mitigate the shock to the system of two of my best friends and peers moving on to the next phase of their personal and professional lives. It changed my everyday life in profound ways.  

Blacknall Church

I didn't mention earlier that Dave Stuntz was also the long time Director of Music and Worship at Blacknall Presbyterian Church in Durham. I am a member of Blacknall and have participated fully in worship leadership as a violinist with Dave at the piano for the better part of the last 20 years. Dave also retired from Blacknall at the end of 2020. I was part of the search committee to replace Dave and we hired a wonderful music minister, Wen Reagan, to fill that role. Again, Wen is wonderful and I have enjoyed working with him so much. The church music program is in very capable hands.  But, it is different. It is still sort of a shock to the system every time I participate in worship leadership. To top that off, the head pastor at Blacknall also retired this spring. Allan Poole has been a incredible leader of our church for many years. He was there long before we began attending Blacknall in 2001. His steady voice, deep wisdom, and steadfast faith have been a constant in our lives for the past 20 years. We and the church will miss him greatly. The church is certainly in good hands with the remaining staff and I am sure that another wonderful pastor will be selected by the search committee. That doesn't change the fact that my furniture is being rearranged.


Many of you also know that I am deeply engaged in the work of both the American String Teachers Association and El Sistema USA. Around the 1st of this year, Monica Schultz, the CEO of the American String Teachers Association, announced that she would be leaving to take another position. I served on the search committee for that position and was pleased to be part of the committee who selected Lynn Tuttle to take over at the helm of ASTA.  Our organization is in good hands moving forward.  Additionally, my dear friend, longtime colleague, and former orchestra student at ERHS, Katie Wyatt, has recently stepped down from her position as CEO of El Sistema USA. I am currently treasurer of that organization and have worked very closely with Katie for the past 15 years on both the work of El Sistema USA and before that, KidzNotes here in Durham. Katie and I will certainly stay in close touch following her departure from El Sistema USA, but still, the furniture is being rearranged. Incidentally, El Sistema USA has selected a wonderful interim CEO in Angelica Cortez, and that organization is also in profoundly capable hands moving forward.

Home and Family

Here at home, my wife and I celebrated the graduation this spring of our youngest son, Cael. He had a tremendous high school career and is ready for the next step in his life. But, for any of you who have seen your youngest child graduate and prepare for college, you know that it isn't easy to think about those big steps. Particularly for the youngest one. It is different when it is the last one. To top it off, he is going a long way from home. He will be attending St Xavier University in Chicago on a baseball and academic scholarship. We are so excited for him and for his future. But, it doesn't change the fact that my furniture is definitely being rearranged at home, too.

So, today I have been thinking a bit about rearranging the furniture in my bedroom back when I was a teenager. I always loved that feeling of newness when I would walk in the room after rearranging it. I loved that little surprise of things being different. Of course, we all need stability and predictability to some degree. But, in the end, we have to embrace change and find the positives in it. As for the changes at school, I am so excited about the future and these wonderful music educators who have begun to take the lead on our program at NCSSM in Durham. They are bringing new ideas and new energy to the program.  I can now turn my attention to our new NCSSM institution opening in Morganton in the coming months.  Additionally, I am able to grow as a leader and supervisor in my new role as Fine Arts Chair for the two institutions.  There are a variety of surprises in my day and for now, many things are fresh and unpredictable.   At church, there is new energy as well. I have been participating in the new worship band format and am really enjoying the process.  We are learning songs and the congregation is being stretched with new ideas, a new way of doing things, and new leadership voices. While the search for a new pastor is only just beginning, this season will cause our congregation to stretch a bit. We will need to lean on each other more and the community will only grow closer. In my professional organizations, change is always part of the process. Boards change regularly. Volunteers change.  Staff changes. Leadership changes. My personal goal is to continue to be a steadfast presence in these organizations and to make the change a little bit smoother. Here at home, the changes are simply part of family life. Kids grow up. Seasons change. As parents, we must savor each season but embrace the change when it comes.  We must find the excitement in the new situation and embrace the possibilities.  

Through social media, I have noticed many folks rearranging the furniture in their own lives. I am noticing so many job and career changes, marriages, babies, folks changing cities, buying new homes, and other important life changes.  As your furniture is rearranged, I certainly wish you clarity to see the excitement of the new day and peace to accept the changes in your life. I will do my best to embrace the freshness of the newly rearranged furniture in my own life as well.


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