Norman F. “Trip” McGill III, a member of the Erskine College Class of 1982, has commissioned a setting of Psalm 89 in recognition of Erskine’s 175th anniversary. He attributes much of his success in music to the education and opportunities he gained during his four years in Due West. Here, he talks about why he commissioned the composition, pays tribute to the faculty members in whose honor the piece is dedicated, and reflects on his Erskine experience.
Tell us a little about your background and career.
I am the Choral Director at Ashbrook High School in Gastonia and have been for the past 27 years. This is my 33rd year of teaching choral music. I am also the Co-Director of the Bonclarken Music Conference for the ARP Synod and have had experience working with clinicians and commissioning music in the past.
What are some of the thoughts and experiences that prompted you to commission this piece?
My experiences have been teaching and knowing that I could not do what I do on a daily basis without having the instruction from all five of the music professors who were at Erskine College while I was a student from 1978 to 1982!
Can you tell a little about the faculty members honored by the commissioned composition?
Professor Emerita of Music Cortlandt “Corky” Koonts was my organ teacher. Mrs. Koonts and her husband, J. Calvin Koonts, did a Winter Term (Interim when I was there) course, “Fine Arts in New York City.” I had never traveled anywhere really, and certainly never on a plane! The Koontses took me on my first “real trip” on an airplane and exposed me to New York City. Every other year, I take my Ashbrook Chorus to New York City and my students benefit from what I learned from Dr. and Mrs. Koonts. I do think about the many things she taught me every Sunday when playing the organ at First ARP Church in Gastonia. Mrs. Koonts also gave me the opportunity to be the Children’s Choir Director at the Due West ARP Church during my sophomore, junior, and senior years at Erskine! Where else could you teach your professor’s children?
The late Professor Emerita of Music Shirley Lampton was my piano teacher. She also taught piano to children in the community—Brooks Kuykendall among many—and as I watched her teach each day until late in the afternoon, I learned patience. Miss Lampton also adopted me through the Due West ARP Church’s “Adopt a Student” program and I wish I knew how many Hershey Bar Chocolate Pies she put in my room in Robinson Dorm! (By the way, we never locked our doors—we didn’t have to!)
Don Lester was the choral director at Erskine and he gave me my first real experience in a choral group. I was in the band in high school so this was my first time in a choir other than church choir. Don Lester exposed me to choral music and I even was awarded my first solo with his group.
The late Professor Emeritus of Music Dr. John Brawley was the theory and history professor as well as director of the Wind Ensemble. I played in Wind Ensemble while at Erskine and learned many things about theory and history, but the thing I remember and learned the most from Dr. Brawley was that he used to bring strawberries (fresh ones that he had picked) to theory class with chocolate and confectioner’s sugar to dip them in. I just remember how special that made all of us feel when we had a test and had those strawberries! Today, my choral students look forward to Capri Sun drinks and Nutrigrain bars on exam days and also Krispy Kreme doughnuts on occasion. All thanks to Dr. Brawley!
Tony Dunlap came to Erskine my senior year and was the director of the Choraleers and Mixed Chorus. Tony also taught Music Education methods classes and really helped to prepare me for the music education field. Tony and his wife were so kind to me and treated me like family in that last year of my days as an Erskine student.
Who is the composer of the piece and what made you choose this musician?
I chose Rollo Dilworth to write this piece of music—a setting of Psalm 89—because he is an incredible composer. We have had him at Bonclarken Music Conference on several occasions. He was commissioned to write our piece of music for the 50th Anniversary of the Bonclarken Music Conference in 2011. Most of all, Rollo is one of the most gracious people I know. He is a fine Christian young man who is a master teacher and who cares deeply for those with whom he works. He sort of has the personalities of the five faculty honorees I mentioned all wrapped up into one person!
Why Psalm 89 in particular?
I chose Psalm 89 because it talks about God’s faithfulness to all generations. It talks about singing and music, and since all five of these folks in my life were so faithful, gracious and had an important part in my musical and spiritual life, it seemed fitting to use this text.
Please tell a little about how your time as an Erskine student helped you discern your vocation.
Erskine College and my experiences at Bonclarken Music Conference over the years really prepared me for my career as a choral teacher. I would not be able to do this work without having had the inspiration of Erskine faculty members and Bonclarken. Other elements of my experience were the town of Due West, the Due West ARP Church, singing in the choir at the Due West Church, playing the organ at the Erskine Seminary for three years during the times when the students would preach, serving with the Student Christian Association, and helping in the Admissions Office. About that Admissions Office experience—where else would they let students take a college car and send them off for a weekend to speak at an ARP Church about Erskine! Thanks, Genie McDill, Roddy Gray, and Bill Lesesne, for trusting those of us that you sent out to speak!
Looking back over your years as a student and an alumnus, any final words?
There are so many things that I could mention, but the relationships that I was able to be part of—and still am part of—would be the most important part! And now, 33 years later, I look back and see how those relationships are so much a part of who I am.
I see folks I went to school with at Erskine every summer at Bonclarken. I work with current Erskine students on summer staff at Bonclarken. I teach at Ashbrook High School and have an Erskine alum, Ben Reschly ’07, on staff. I just can’t explain the importance of the relationships that are built on the Erskine campus and how they intertwine through the ARP Church in all of the work that I have the pleasure to do each day!
It was God’s plan for me to have this experience and for the “Erskine Experience” to continue and be part of the “Bonclarken Experience” and also the “Ashbrook High School Experience.”
It was truly God’s plan for me to go to Erskine!
The Erskine Choraleers performed the composition commissioned by Trip McGill during the Fall Choral Concert Oct. 16 in Memorial Hall. The composer, Dr. Rollo Dilworth, is professor of choral music education at the Boyer School of Music and Dance, Temple University.