A Legacy of Community Engagement Through Music

This June, Dr. Paul Schultz will conduct his final performance with Northwest Repertory Singers, a community choir he founded in 2001. Schultz reflects on the meaning of his lifelong role as a choral conductor and teacher, through which he has always strived to bring people together through musical excellence.

 


 

Every Monday night, Mason Methodist Church in Proctor echoes with the voices of the Northwest Repertory Singers, Tacoma’s premier choral ensemble. Standing before them and conducting expressively is artistic director Dr. Paul Schultz, who has been doing so since he founded the group 17 years ago. On June 9, Schultz will conduct his final concert with the ensemble, which will then be passed into the hands of current assistant director Kyle Haugen.

In reflecting on his lifelong career as a choral conductor and teacher, Schultz emphasized the powerful ability of choral music to bring people together — both the singers and the audiences they reach, and how it positively impacts the community.

The choir’s 55 members, 80 percent of whom live outside of the Tacoma area and commute to rehearsal every Monday night, share a love and a passion for music. Schultz, who has witnessed the rewards of practicing music throughout his entire career, commented on how his singers are affected personally through their weekly practice. “I’ve watched people come to rehearsal completely exhausted from work or battling a serious illness, and leave completely refreshed emotionally,” he said. Participating in NWRS, then, often becomes more than an outlet for hobbyist singers; it is rather an act of self-care through a communal goal of musical excellence.

The profound impacts of practicing shared music, however, extend far beyond the singers themselves. “Martin Luther said that, next to the word, music is the most powerful source on Earth,” said Schultz. “Because choirs combine these two extraordinary things, they are able to communicate a message and move audiences in a way that is unique and special.” Responsible for the compilation and presentation of these musical messages — which can often be complex and deeply personal — Schultz believes it is important that he is “an educator, planner, listener, interpreter, communicator, and sincere lover of everything in this world that is beautiful.”

Under Schultz’s direction, the critically acclaimed group has performed 65 concerts; presented more than 550 choral works; and collaborated with 27 music groups, including Northwest Sinfonietta, The Coats, Total Experience Gospel Choir, and Tacoma Youth Chorus. Since the group’s inception, Schultz has placed a high value on NWRS’s community connections and loves collaborating with school, university, and community ensembles. His emphasis on the importance of engagement in the Tacoma community — which, beyond the singing itself, looks like the weekly donations members make to Nourish Pierce County (previously FISH Food Bank) — led NWRS to receive the Jim Smith Award from Pierce County Arts Commission in 2007. This award honored the ensemble for its contribution to the healthy development of the arts and the preservation of cultural traditions in the wider Tacoma area.

Beyond the collaborations and philanthropies that Schultz has incorporated into the choir’s identity are the performances that bring peace and healing to community members. The most important of these, Schultz said, was NWRS’s participation in the worldwide performance of Mozart’s Requiem on Sept. 11, 2002. Schultz sponsored and organized the Tacoma performance of this “Rolling Requiem,” which echoed through every time zone to commemorate the first anniversary of the September 11 attack. “It was one of the most emotional musical experiences in my life,” he said. “With the help of many people, we produced a 30-member orchestra; a 100-voice chorus; and four professional soloists, all of whom were volunteers. The 8:46 a.m. presentation was attended by more than 800 people, and when we finished the performance, there were nearly 5 minutes of complete silence before anyone moved. It was an extraordinary community event.”

Successor Kyle Haugen and Dr. Paul Schultz

Sharing in Schultz’s vision of community engagement is Haugen, who will become the artistic director in June. A Tacoma native, Haugen sees community engagement as the heart and soul of NWRS. “In the past, we have helped people pay their bills, made sure someone had a funeral, and scattered a man’s ashes in Commencement Bay,” he said. “I believe that there is something about choral music that leads us to engage in this way.”

He attributes impacts like these to Schultz’s prioritization of community outreach throughout the group’s history, and to each member’s individual dedication to the Tacoma community.

Haugen, who has also been able to premiere several of his own compositions with NWRS, considers Schultz to be a mentor and a friend. Schultz, who has known Haugen since he studied under him at the University of Puget Sound, looks forward to watching his former student flourish as NWRS’s next artistic director. “Kyle is an amazing talent, friend, and colleague, and I will give him all the support necessary to ensure the success of NWRS in the future.”

Schultz’s final performance with NWRS in June will feature a collaboration with Symphony Tacoma, a group that Schultz has worked with extensively over the years. The concert will focus on pieces beloved by both Schultz and the choir, either for their text, their composer, or their performance history in the group. His wife and son, who are also talented musicians, plan to compose pieces to be included in the program, as well. The performance will close out Schultz’s lifelong career as a choral instructor, during which he made a legacy for himself and impacted the lives of many.

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