Grad heading north to pursue composition career 

May 5, 2010

Note: The following is the second in a series of two about soon-to-be graduates of Wayland who are embarking on future plans in the area of the arts.

PLAINVIEW – On his journey to the college diploma, Doug Brown admits a few moments of head-shaking. A path he felt sure he’d take suddenly veered. One he wasn’t considering was suddenly in the forefront.

For most folks, that would cause great consternation. But Brown said he persevered through trusting that God had great things ahead. He’s proven that to be true as he faces another milestone, earning his bachelor’s degree in music on Saturday as the first graduate in theory and composition from Wayland Baptist University.

The road to commencement has been rocky enough for Brown, who graduates just a year shy of age 40. But the road ahead has been another source of amazement for the Brownwood native. His next move is heading to upstate New York to attend Houghton College, pursuing a master’s degree in music composition.

Brown’s college journey began years ago as he attended Howard Payne University in his hometown after high school. After two years, though, it became apparent that he wasn’t ready for college, he said.

“I wasn’t emotionally or mentally mature enough at the time,” he said.

While working in Brownwood, though, he was part of a spiritual awakening at his home church and he felt God call him to write music.

“I didn’t understand that at the time. It wasn’t something I had nurtured at all,” he recalled. “I loved music and grew up in a home where music was a big deal. But to me it seemed like this was out of the blue.”

Temporarily, he set that aside, and soon met and married his wife, Jennifer, in 2000. After she finished her master’s degree in music, the couple moved to North Carolina and soon the topic of his education came up. He had been thinking about it again and Jennifer mentioned that it might be time to finally finish the degree. A dialogue he heard on a call-in radio show sealed the deal.

“This woman was talking about going back to school, and he kept asking her what the hang-up was. She finally said, ‘When I get out, I’ll be 40,’” he recalls. “The host asked her, ‘How old will you be in four years if you don’t go back to school?’ That’s when I realized I wasn’t too old and I could do this too.”

At 32, Brown started back to school at the University of Texas at Tyler, studying business. But he soon began researching options for music schools, preferring a Baptist school. He felt God reminding him about the music ministry and writing call, but admitted he didn’t know how those two things would go together. Wayland ended up in his top three finalists for schools – though none of the three offered composition at the time – then the task of finding Jennifer a job and getting all the other pieces to fall into place began. The next events were confirmation that God still had his plan in mind and Wayland was part of that plan.

“We left our house for an hour and when we came back there were five phone messages. One was from David Howle (then Virtual Campus director at WBU) calling about a job Jennifer had applied for, the next three were from my mom in Brownwood about a job we were checking into there and the last was Dr. Howle again calling back urgently for Jennifer,” he remembers. “He talked to her for an hour and hired her over the phone. We felt like God was doing something and we took that as a sign.”

Enrolling in 2006, Brown came as a church music major, thinking that was the path he would take. He mentioned to Dr. Gary Belshaw, associate professor of piano pedagogy and composition, about his interest in composing but noted that everyone was pretty vague about the future in music. As it turned out, the School of Music was putting together that very degree, to be launched the next fall.

“The next year, they announced the theory and composition major, and I felt like God was so good. He brought me here and he knew what he was doing,” Brown said. “I had to trust he was doing the right thing and it seemed like the right thing to do.”

He immediately switched majors and was the first to do so. Since he’d already been on the music route, the change wasn’t difficult to make. His courses, however, became dramatically different, with more theory focus under Dr. Ann Stutes, dean of the School of Music and the theory expert on campus, and more composition training. His primary mentor for that area has been Dr. Belshaw, who is a composer himself and penned the centennial anthem for the university as a commissioned work.

But Brown is quick to point out that he’s had many mentors along the way, and counts most of the WBU music faculty in that group of influential and helpful folks who have helped shape him and hone his talent.

“Dr. Belshaw has been a great help and I have learned a lot from him. He’s taken me to a new level and that’s been very valuable,” Brown said. “The School of Music here prepares their students to be ready for master’s work. They really take to heart the degree of difference slogan. They are looking for things to make their students better and the school better than others. My theory and composition classes have been phenomenal and have really prepared me to know things down the road for master’s work.”

Brown notes the camaraderie among students and faculty as a major driving force to student success such as his. Both groups want to see their peers succeed and they foster that mentality, rather than cultivating a cut-throat environment of competition among themselves.

“I’ve seen a lot of music schools, but I’ve never seen a group of music faculty where everyone gets along. They’ve got a good thing going over there and are a great example to other schools,” he said.

The university not only encouraged Brown’s writing talent, they also tapped into his leadership skills. Three years ago, he helped found a Wayland chapter of Society of Composers, Inc., serving as its inaugural president. He has held that role for three years and seen the group grow to 14 members currently.

He picked up a minor in business along the way with a goal of self-publishing his own work and perhaps that of other aspiring composers in the future.

From here, Brown is not sure what the future will look like. But he knows two things are certain. Wherever he and Jennifer end up, music will be a big part of both of their lives. In whatever role he has, he will be all about giving credit to God.

“My dream job would be to work for a church as a musician and write music as well, all for the purpose of glorifying God,” he said. “It’s like J.S. Bach used to sign his works: ‘SDG,’ meaning soli deo Gloria, or ‘to God only the glory.’ That’s what it’s all about.”