Kedrick Nettleton, Staff Writer

This year, we’re shining a spotlight on the fantastic OKWU professors and staff members who dedicate their lives to helping students achieve their callings.

Today, we’re talking with Dr. Jonathan Stewart, Associate Professor of Music. Stewart received his B.M. from Southeast Missouri State University, his M.M. from Southern Illinois University, and his D.M.A. in Music Education from Boston University. He’s a passionate, energetic presence in the classroom, and serves OKWU as the director of Chorale, Relentless, and OKWU’s Instrumental Ensemble.

How did you end up here at OKWU? 

“I came to OKWU in August of 2009, so I had applied for the open music professor position sometime in early 2009. The funny thing was that I had heard of OKWU some two years prior and had really wanted to teach at such an institution of uncompromising faith. I, therefore, had also applied back in 2007, although there was no posted opening for music at that time. I had been active in music ministry in the Branson, Missouri area at the time and was thrilled to get the call to interview. Interestingly, the HR office called me from my 2009 application, yet Dr. Weeter called me from the 2007 application. I knew this because I had submitted two different phone numbers for these two different applications. In short, I came to OKWU because my wife and I had both been looking for institutions of faith for which I could teach. My wife found the OKWU music professor’s position posted on some obscure university jobs listing and thus, I applied, got through the interview and audition, and was hired. I felt and still feel so thankful for my ability to work for a place like OKWU!”


What does a typical day look like for you? 

“A typical day at OKWU often involves conducting two or three ensemble rehearsals, teaching a class or two, and sometimes the teaching of several private voice students. For classes, I often have plans already in place, knowing exactly what we will be covering for each given class time. For ensemble rehearsals, what is covered and how intense the rehearsal is depends on the nearness of upcoming performances – there are always two major performances each semester, as well as other smaller or specialized performances scattered between. Since we cover different repertoire each year and often each semester in every ensemble, constant evaluations and prioritizations need to occur to keep each group on track. Private voice lessons are all highly individualized, as each student comes in with a unique skillset and level in singing, and often unique final goals. As each student comes in each semester, an evaluation of where a student is technique-wise and what kind of repertoire is desired or needed to pursue professional or individualized goals greatly determines the course of the semester for that specific student.” 


What makes you passionate about your job? What’s your favorite part of the role? 

“I have always greatly enjoyed music and have a passion to take the student skills presented at the beginning of the semester or year and then, step by step, advance and improve to create a final performance product that both the student and I can be proud of. My favorite part of my position here at OKWU is my ability to see students come in with a certain set and level of skills, and then see them develop and grow in those skills throughout each semester and over the years of participation in OKWU music.” 


What do you hope a student gets out of one of your classes? 

“I truly hope a student may come in with an enjoyment of music, but leave with a passion and skill in music that will both provide lifelong enjoyment for them and be something that they will share with others. Music is a gift that we can not only enjoy, but can pass on to others via memorable performances and the teaching of others.” 


When did you know you wanted to pursue music with your life calling? Do you remember the moment you realized it? 

“Since I was quite young, I was strong in three academic areas: Math, Science, and Music. Though I liked both math and science, I truly had a passion for music – especially singing and then, eventually, conducting. My first vocal solo in public was when I was only four. To this day, I can still see and recognize several from that audience. However, it was not until late high school that I felt a call to study music, specifically voice, at the collegiate level. Although I learned to conduct while still an undergraduate, it was not until I was married to my beautiful wife Ellynn that I pursued conducting as my main skill. There were no music schools nearby that offered such graduate degrees. However, Ellynn suggested I simply go and ask the choral director at Southern Illinois University if he would consider offering a conducting degree anyway. Because of this request, I remain the one and only recipient of a Masters in Choral Conducting from that institution. It was at this point that I began feeling a call to conduct ensembles and later, to do so as a university professor.”   


What do you like to do in your free time? 

“I enjoy spending time with my wife and children, taking family bike rides, and flying kites” 


What sets OKWU apart from other places you’ve worked? 

“I had previously worked at state colleges and universities. As time went on, I realized that my faith was becoming an issue in teaching within a secular environment. OKWU is unique within my teaching experience as it is the first university for which I taught that my faith was not an issue. Aside from not being an issue, it is a place wherein I am encouraged to share my faith.”


What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken? 

“Although I have taken many great trips with my wife and children, among the most memorable trips was when my wife arranged a Christian Worldview rafting trip down the Colorado River, wherein a Christian geologist and astronomer provided much insight into the Grand Canyon and its importance to the Biblical account of Noah’s Flood. That was an awesome and adventure-filled three days down in the Canyon!” 


What was the first instrument you learned to play? 

“The first instrument I really learned to play was my voice, as I have sung since I was very, very young. Other instruments I have played are clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, and most recently, the ukulele.”


Who is your musical hero? 

“I don’t know that I have a musical hero per se, but my earliest favorite 20th Century composer was Igor Stravinsky. Franz Joseph Haydn, a very famous Classical period composer who was instrumental in creating the orchestral symphony as we know it, is also one that I really enjoy listening to and learning more about.”


If you could only have one superpower, what power would you have?

“I have enjoyed both flying kites and owning an occasional radio-controlled helicopter. So, if I had a superpower, it would be to fly, as this seems like it would be most enjoyable to be, as they say, ‘free as a bird.'”


What would you say to a student thinking about committing to an OKWU education?

“I would say to prayerfully consider all options, but to make sure that consideration is made of the spiritual aspects of seeking a university degree. Considering both academics and spiritual aspects, OKWU might be exactly what you are looking for. “

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