Wednesday, October 31, 2012



-Hans Christian Anderson-

Hi Everyone,
Today, I'm honored to introduce you to another wonderful dreamer, composer, Douglas Buchanan. 

William Shakespeare called music the food of love. I consider music food for my soul.  And to be able to masterly arrange notes on a page of sheet music that have the power to touch a person’s soul is in my opinion a true gift from God.
But Douglas Buchanan does not only compose. He inspires young musicians by teaching music theory and composition at universities in the Baltimore area. And if that’s not enough, he brings both old and new music to life directing and performing in various choirs.
Doug,  I can’t thank you enough for sharing your dreams and wisdom with us. Please take a moment and tell us a little about yourself.

I'm a musician living and working in Baltimore. For most musicians who are making some sort of income with their art, "living and working" end up being two points on a spectrum of musical involvement. For instance, though I'm employed at several institutions, I am a volunteer in others. My primary job is serving as Director of Music Ministries (Organist/Choirmaster) for historic Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore, where I run the volunteer parish choir, a professional chamber choir, a parish children's choir, the St. Paul's Boys' Choir, and oversee the Ensemble in Residence program and the annual concert series. I also teach Music Theory and Musicology at the Peabody Conservatory, where I'm working on my Doctorate in Composition, and I teach Music Theory, Conducting and Composition at Towson University. However, I also volunteer with several organizations, including singing with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, along with my wife, Kelly. It sounds like a pretty hectic schedule (which I don't deny), but it's not much different than what most musicians are doing: performing, teaching, making music for causes or groups they believe in regardless of pay, studying. I've been fortunate in that most of my work is musical, and that I've had family that's supported me in pursuing music as my career (including our recently adopted puppy, who is a real boon in helping to relieve stress).

People of all ages have forgotten how to dream. What inspired you to dream?

My family, as I mentioned, was extraordinarily supportive of both me and my brother (who is also now at the Peabody Conservatory) in exploring those creative enterprises in which we were interested. We both experimented with violin, percussion, piano, composition, visual art, computer graphics, animation, poetry, storytelling, singing--music (and art in general) was and is our drug. Both our parents were, in some sense, countercultural--our mom (Carol Adams) is a vegetarian-feminist author and animal rights activist, and our dad (Bruce Buchanan) is a Presbyterian minister who specializes in urban ministries and interfaith relations, overseeing The Stewpot, a homeless day shelter in downtown Dallas, Texas. Pursuing a vision, particularly a vision in which we deeply believed and which may not be tangible to those around us, was part and parcel of our family life.

That being said, teachers play an incredibly important role for inspiration. To think about the literal meaning of the word, to "breathe in to," particularly to "breather life in to" someone, makes a lot of sense when referring to the teacher's role. Teachers who stick with you while you grow up (and here I give shoutouts to Paula and Jerry Stephens of Garland, Texas, and Ken and Mary Jane Cooper of Dallas), teachers who give long-shot students a chance (Roland Muzquiz, percussion director of Richardson High School), teachers who help you achieve your goals, even if they are at first impractical (Profs. Peter Mowrey, Bryan Dykstra, Jack Russell and Jack Gallagher of the College of Wooster), even teachers who keep their distance and let you grow into your own at your own pace (Prof. Michael Hersch and the late Prof. Nicholas Maw, both of the Peabody Conservatory) are certainly integral to a student's development.

I think the larger issue at hand is that we live in a culture that denigrates the dream, or, at best, re-frames the dream in Lockean terms where life and liberty are on the same grounds as the pursuit of property. This is frequently cited amongst my liturgical colleagues in terms of the increasing secularization of America and the "Western World" (if we can pigeon-hole international relations into such a title). As someone who grew up in a rather diverse area (I once noted in High School that a lunch table of me and my friends made up four of the five major world religions, and had important aesthetic and philosophical discussions with atheist and agnostic friends who to this day remain essential confidants), I firmly believe that we each must find our own path, and for some this is the secular world. So I disagree that the "problem" is secularization--what I see at issue is the de-liminalization of our culture. The liminal--that unformed, unknown space-between-spaces--is where dreams and creativity live and breathe. When boundaries become so desiccated that all that matters is the absolute value on either side, then dreaming withers. There seems to be less and less place for confusion, wandering, wondering and unsureness. Teachers--and I devoutly hope that I espouse this in my classroom, and to the musicians that I direct--therefore have the difficult task of not only inspiring the curiosity to ask "what?", but also the vision to ask "what if?". Helping others realize their dreams can inspire you to realize your own. I had the phenomenal opportunity to teach piano to a mentally handicapped man named Chris while I was in college. Chris was unfailingly cheerful and always wanted to learn. Some lessons saw little progress, but sometimes--like when he performed the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight sonata, from memory, with impeccable phrasing and articulation--served to inspire me as well.

We all place obstacles in our path which brings our dreams to a dead stop. I call these obstacles dream killers. What was your dream killer and how did you overcome it?

I wish there were only one! I have a terrible tendency of holding on to what has been said by people whose relationships I value. I think we all do that, most likely. I also tend to take on too many projects at once because I'm excited to work with other people who are excited to be creative!  I'm also terribly nostalgic. And, at times I also tend to be self-deprecating and overly critical of my own work. I don't know if I will ever overcome all of these--in fact, I don't know if it would be good if I did. Each of these aspects has a negative side, and a positive side (like yin and yang, the Force, or duct tape): while I may take comments too much to heart, it means that I value other people and will (hopefully) maintain long and mutually beneficial relationships and friendships; taking on many projects is great in terms of networking, but it also expands my horizons; nostalgia might prevent me from moving forward if I indulge in it, but it means that I am emotionally invested in memory and can draw from past experience; and being self-critical also ensures humility and, ultimately, a deeper realization of what I want to achieve artistically. I believe the key is not to eradicate parts of yourself, but to learn to live in balance with them.

I often refer to some of my childhood pop-culture experiences in my classroom, because I believe that these are the "myths" of my generation: LEGOs can be used to talk about building chords, warp tunnels in Super Mario Brothers can elucidate modulation from key to key, and the music from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars offer countless examples for ear-training. Here, I think Stan Lee (of Marvel Comics) has it right: his stories always demonstrate that cutting off parts of your psyche from each other only end in harm. For the X-Men, their mutations are part of who they are, and storylines in which characters try to escape these aspects of self inevitably result in tragic occurrences. For Bruce Banner, his situation is not just that he transforms into the Hulk, it is that he is "always angry"; he must attempt to live in balance with the different aspects of himself. As I see it, the quest of the person committed to creativity is not extraction or extermination, but balance.

How do you keep the dream alive under extreme adversity – external or internal?

Time to refresh is key, and none of us gets as much as we need or deserve (in my opinion). However, finding moments that are not just filling, but fulfilling (think the difference between fast food and a home-cooked meal) are necessary for long-term survival of the creative person. This is one of the reasons my wife and I sing in Baltimore Choral Arts. Though she sings in the choirs I direct, we relish the time that we can sing together as part of an ensemble and be involved in participating in the music, and not necessarily be in charge of it. I feel very lucky to be educating young people, from children to college students. There are always questions I'm not expecting (both on- and off-topic!) that keep my mind nimble, as well as keep me laughing! And, while I use my creativity and dreams to help me lead ensembles, classes, and performances, I also have to try to make time to work on projects that might be important only to me--these are, perhaps, the most important in the face of adversity or challenge. When my maternal grandmother died, I worked on composing a brief setting of the Lux aeterna, from the Roman Rite Requiem text. Though this was eventually performed (and so, in a deliminalized world, was therefore a "success"), the true success was in the emotional follow-through of the original vision that allowed me to constructively and creatively deal with and access loss, love, and memory. Someone will think your dreams are wonderful. Someone will also think your dreams are not necessarily worthwhile. When I have time for myself, I have to pursue (and have to keep reminding myself to pursue) those dreams that are first and foremost important to me. These dreams--the ones with personal meaning--are the ones that don't just fill the time, but fulfill the time.

When you reached the top, how did it feel?

Whenever a dream is fulfilled or a mountaintop experience achieved, or whenever someone connects with your work, it's wonderful--really, and truly, wonder-ful. However, because I am inevitably nostalgic, I tend to wish to move on to the next project to avoid the negative feeling of the loss of the moment of the dream's realization. Again, the key is in balance: it is important to realize our own successes, as they give us confidence and momentum, but it is also important to love the process of dreaming, to become as invested in the valley as in the mountaintop.

How did realizing your dream change you?

I think the realization of a dream can give confidence in one's self and one's vision. Again, balancing is in integral: self-confidence can be great ("I believe in what I am doing"), but too little can result in self-deprecation ("I believe, but don't think I can do it") or loss of vision ("I no longer believe in what I do"), and too much can create egotism ("I believe what I am doing is always right, regardless of the others or the situation"). Inevitably, realizing a dream can often boost my self-confidence, and I have to strive to fend off egotism after the peak as well as nostalgia or depression (not clinical, for me at least, though this is a common phenomena for many dreamers and creators) after the initial boost. Strive for the dream so you can realize it in your own way, but remember that it is part of a process, and not an endpoint.

What's next? What new dream would you like to reach for?

My ideas all too often overlap, and while this is frustrating because there are so few hours in the day, I hope that these dreams won't stop. So, first, I hope that there will always be new dreams. I hope that my work inspires dreams in others. I hope I can demonstrate a commitment to realizing a vision. I hope to foster creative environments--whether they last for an hour in the concert hall, or for a semester in the classroom--where people can wonder again and connect with one another. And I hope I can be honest and balanced with myself to pursue those dreams that fulfill me personally and inspire me to continue the process.

Below is a link to download two movie files; one of Douglas Buchanan conducting the In  Dulci Jubilo and another of him conducting a composition of his called O  Light and Universal Song. 

To listen to more of Douglas Buchanan's compositions and performances, visit his website:

Leave a comment:
I would love to hear about your dreams. Please click on the word comment below to leave me a message.


  1. Great post, Nancy! Hello Douglas--what an inspiration! I love the fact you considered your music your'drug'. Being addicted to something so positive and sharing it with so many people (and the younger generation you teach/work with) in turn, brings them a brighter hope in connecting their dreams to a positive force.
    All the best,
    Loni Lynne

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