By Alyssa Roat | Contributor
Al Harrison, professor of music and department co-chair, gave a stirring musical farewell to Taylor University in his Farewell Concert.
Or, as Harrison said in his introduction, "I think I prefer 'retirement concert' to 'farewell concert.'"
The event, which was held in Rediger Chapel on April 11 at 7:30 p.m., burst to life with an opening of Shostakovich's "Festive Overture Op. 96," played by Taylor University's Wind Ensemble.
The students in the Wind Ensemble had much to say about Harrison.
"He genuinely cares about the students and the music," said freshman Emily Knight. "He actually directed Wind Ensemble when my mother played in college!"
Knight is not the only one on whom Harrison has had an impact.
Senior Jaylin Gadel said she met Harrison during Welcome Weekend of her freshman year when she auditioned.
"He did so well calming down little freshman me before my audition, and has always made me feel so welcome," Gadel said.
Shostakovich's overture was followed by a rambunctious rendition of John Mackey's "Foundry," but the concert then continued in a more reflective manner with James Barnes' "Yorkshire Ballad," which was accompanied by a slideshow of pictures from Harrison's 38 years at Taylor since 1978, from black-and-white photos of the Rose Parade to more recent snaps of Christmas.
Harrison's colleagues also shared many fond memories. Professor of Music JoAnn Rediger has worked with Harrison for 22 years, ever since he came to her doctoral recital to hire her as a choral director. Rediger reminisced about traveling and performing together on tours, at graduations and inaugurations, and in Harrison's prison ministry.
But his musical career is not what she considered most important. His prayerful love and encouragement of students, Rediger said, will endure forever as his legacy. She shared that Harrison works with students closely, praying with them, encouraging them and helping them with schedules and whatever else they may need. According to her he appears to be tireless.
His tirelessness and love of students were demonstrated in the next selection for the concert, "Khan" by Julie Giroux, an energetic work he followed by recognizing the graduating seniors and officers. He continued to turn the spotlight on his students in the next piece, "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" by Camille Saint-Saens, highlighting senior Clara Loisch as a flute soloist in the piece, after which he announced even more awards and achievements of the students.
Harrison's colleagues in the music department expressed their excitement to attend the concert, but despite having much to say about his excellence as a director, musician and teacher, many were even more impressed by his depth of spiritual character.
"Dr. Harrison's love of the Lord and genuine love and compassion for Taylor students are outstanding," said Professor of Music Christopher Bade. "He has been one of the best role models for me as a brother in Christ and as a colleague."
Conor Angell, associate professor of music, said he learned much from Harrison as a Taylor music student himself. Assistant Professor of Music Eva Kwan shared how Harrison prayed and encouraged her through her interviews before she came to Taylor. Kwan said he is a great mentor to them all.
The vibrant "Danzon No. 2" by Arturo Marquez occupied the final spot of the night. Playful, Latin music flowed through Harrison as he conducted, demonstrating Rediger's observation that music is a part of him and he'll never be done with it, even after he retires.
"I will enjoy continuing to perform music and guest conduct," Harrison said. "At some point as a professor, you begin to realize the work here is not about you as a professor or a scholar, but is about teaching young people the art and craft of your discipline and mentoring them to become better disciples of Jesus."
The night was not quite over. After a standing ovation, Dean of Humanities, Arts and Biblical Studies Michael Hammond presented Harrison with a commendation from the president and provost, after which senior Mary Cyr led the audience in a closing prayer.
Concerning his retirement, Harrison said he most looks forward to spending time with his wife, Pamela, and their children and grandchildren.
"I give all honor and glory to God and to my savior, Jesus Christ, and to all the wonderful Taylor colleagues who have taught me so much about the faith journey, discipleship, friendship and musicianship," Harrison said.
Taylor University is currently conducting a national search for someone to fill Harrison's impressive shoes. But Knight doesn't want to think about that yet. She said he still has two jazz concerts and the wind ensemble pops concert before the end of the year. This concert is just the formal goodbye.