Lofty Ambitions: Employment Success for Meadows Organ Students
Thanks to excellent training and relationships with Dallas churches, protégés of Stefan Engels are filling organist positions while pursuing their degrees
Joshua Zenter-Barrett (Master of Sacred Music ’17).
Ever since his 2014 arrival from Leipzig, Germany, Meadows’ Leah Young Fullinwider Centennial Chair in Music Performance and Professor of Organ Stefan Engels has worked to establish relationships with several Dallas churches so that his students can widen their career opportunities. His efforts have reaped rewards: All of Engels’ current and former students hold part-time or full-time positions as church organists and music directors.
“The experiences my students have had with their church positions in Dallas have been most valuable,” says Engels. “Financially it is important for them to have the income from these jobs but, of course, artistically and musically, it is, on many different levels, very beneficial for them to be employed while they are in school.”
As the reputation of the organ program at Meadows grows, Engels is fielding more calls from church music directors seeking to hire his students. “In the last two years, directors of music have come to me and told me they really want to have a student from the SMU organ program as an organ scholar or as an assistant or associate organist,” he says.
Inah Park ('17), organist at First English Lutheran Church in New Orleans, La.
Engels’ protégés can be found from Texas to Canada, including local positions in the lofts of the Church of the Transfiguration, Church of the Incarnation, Highland Park United Methodist Church, St. Thomas Aquinas R.C. Church, Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church and more.
“I found Professor Engels to be an attentive teacher, who was mindful of my needs as a working church musician while also pushing me to grow through the music I studied,” says 2017 Master of Sacred Music summa cum laude alumnus Joshua Zentner-Barrett, organist and music director at Kanata United Church in Ottawa, Ontario. “He was the kind of teacher for whom I wanted to work hard, who saw all the angles of being an organist (not just the playing), and who was supportive outside the studio environment. He undoubtedly did help me in my career because he allowed me work on repertoire suited to my career goals and didn't force me down a concert/performance path.”
While most of the organ students are concentrating on studies and work as organists in places of worship, many also perform in concerts. For example, the Dallas American Guild of Organists (Dallas AGO) holds a series of “Neighborhood” concerts as community outreach events, in which two or three of Engels’ students typically perform. Several have performed in multiple concerts in the United States and abroad. Many have won considerable recognition and awards in competitions such as the First Asia International Organ Competition; Pistoia International Organ Competition in Italy; Mikael Tariverdiev International Organ Competition; International Moscow Organ Festival; International Chopin Roma Competition; Korean Association of Organists Organ Competition; Arthur Poister Scholarship Competition; Fox Valley chapter of the American Guild of Organists’ Regional Competition for Young Organists; and more.
In addition to a robust music program, multiple beautiful organs on which to play and employment opportunities, Engels believes that Dallas itself is a plus. Home to the country’s largest contiguous arts district, Dallas provides opportunities for students to hear and interact with the Dallas Symphony (of which several Meadows faculty are members), Dallas Opera (the CEO of which is an SMU Meadows alumnus), Dallas Chamber Music Society and more, as well as enjoy master classes on campus from organists such as Olivier Latry, Janette Fishell, Ken Cowan and others.
Engels’ background and training also bring added facets and influences to the program. Born in Germany and educated in Germany and the U.S. (he received his Artist Certificate from SMU Meadows in 1995), Engels joined the faculty of SMU from one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious musical institutions, the University of Music and Performing Arts “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy” in Leipzig, Germany, where he had served as professor of organ from 2005 until 2015. Prior to that he was associate professor of organ and chair of the organ department at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., from 1999 to 2005. Over a 12-year period, he recorded a 15-CD set of the complete organ works of late-Romantic German composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert, becoming the first organist in the world to do so. The CDs, released on the Priory label, have been reviewed to the highest international critical acclaim: “… this series will surely stand as the greatest project the gramophone has achieved in organ music for very many years…” (Choir & Organ); “ … some of the most creative and complex organ music ever written has been released by Priory in this groundbreaking series of Karg-Elert’s complete organ works … there is much to marvel at here …” (prestoclassical.co.uk)
Read more about SMU Meadows Division of Music Organ Department and Stefan Engels, Leah Young Fullinwider Centennial Chair in Music Performance and Professor of Organ.
Read about graduate admissions for SMU Division of Music.