A Tribute and Memorial to Bill Brewer……….
I have sung under the baton of many choral directors and church musicians during my musical career. Some of them I have loved dearly, others I have quickly forgotten. It is a fragile thing for a musician to totally surrender themselves to a conductor. You must set aside your own feelings, thoughts and interpretations and give yourself wholly to those of the conductor. It is only in surrendering control that you can truly make beautiful music together. There are some conductors who demand that surrender and demand your respect. Those conductors are the forgettable ones. You never feel like a partner in the music-making with them, you feel like a pawn being used. There are other conductors who earn ultimate respect, who ask you to join them in this art of music. Those are the conductors who you would sacrifice almost anything to sing in their choirs. You audition time after time to be included in their ensembles. You completely surrender yourself in a rehearsal in the hope that you will be able to give them exactly the tone, intonation or interpretation they are asking for.
Bill Brewer was in that elite group of conductors.
I met Bill first when he was minister of music at a local church. He was as charming as he was charismatic. Our paths would cross from time to time in the church music world. Fifteen years ago, though, Bill found his real passion when he became Choral Director at Pellissippi State Community College. “Mr. B”, as he was known to his students, instilled passion for quality choral music. He encouraged budding musicians to follow their dream as teachers, performers and church musicians. His students loved him, and he loved them. He took their song all over the world, and in doing so created one of the best fine arts schools a community college will ever have.
In the fall of 2008, my path crossed once again with Bill as I auditioned for the Knoxville Choral Society. Bill was a long-time member of KCS, and for 8 years, he served as Assistant Conductor. Part of his job with KCS was to direct the Chamber Chorale. Bill encouraged me to audition for Chorale, and he ultimately chose me to be part of his ensemble. For five years, I sang under Bill’s baton in that group.
It was no easy task for Bill to conduct this small ensemble. Many of us were choral conductors in our own right. All of us were trained, professional musicians and singers who knew exactly what Bill was trying to accomplish chorally. Surrendering ourselves to the will of our director meant setting aside our own egos, no easy task for a room full of musicians. Bill understood that concept, though, and he never demanded we respect him. He humbly asked that we follow his leadership. Bill did demand that we work hard in rehearsal, but it never felt like hard work. Bill always had a story about “his kids” he would share. You could see the sparkle in his eyes when he talked about his choirs. There was always laughter in a rehearsal, because Bill laughed through his life. A friend described him affectionately as a “big goofball.” That was Bill.
Even more than the laughter, even more than the fine music, there was a continual, abiding love. My first year singing with Bill had been a difficult one personally. Bill chose a song for us to sing that season called “The Road Home” by Stephen Paulus. Bill knew I was searching to find the road that would lead me out of my grief and back to the love and laughter I longed for. There were tears streaming down my face after we sang the beautiful text the first time. Bill pulled me aside after rehearsal, took my hands in his and told me I had found the “beauty of where I belonged” and it was only matter of time until once again my heart would be filled “with love as the only song.” It was at that moment that Bill Brewer became not only my choral conductor, but my friend. A friendship that I have cherished.
The Road Home
Tell me, where is the road I can call my own,
That I left, that I lost So long ago?
All these years I have wandered, Oh when will I know
There’s a way, there’s a road That will lead me home?
After wind, after rain, When the dark is done,
As I wake from a dream In the gold of day,
Through the air there’s a calling From far away,
There’s a voice I can hear That will lead me home.
Rise up, follow me, Come away, is the call,
With the love in your heart As the only song;
There is no such beauty As where you belong;
Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home.
On March 18, 2015, Bill heard the voice of His Savior and followed the road home to ultimate healing. His legacy of music will last for generations. His legacy of love lives on in each of us that he touched and ministered to. Rest well, my friend. Soli Deo Gloria.