Alums’ Work, ‘Shadrack,’ Chosen for All-State Chorus

OBU alum Tom Jordan was collaborating with another musician, OBU alum J. Paul Williams, who dashed off the fun, contemporary lyrics, "Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego go go go!" The text inspired Jordan to compose a piece titled "Shadrack," which has been selected for the Oklahoma All-State Mixed Chorus to be performed at the Oklahoma Music Educators Association's conference in January 2011.

"Paul thought that I would set it for children," Jordan said about his work with the late collaborator in 1999. "But I immediately felt that it was a fun, funky telling of the story, totally appropriate for more mature voices set unaccompanied for seven parts."

Jordan said he probably penned the song in two days -- the process happening quickly with just some "cleaning up" required to complete the piece.

After graduating from OBU in 1970, Jordan went to Brown University to mentor with the one composer that truly appealed to him at the time, Ron Nelson. Nelson was known to Baptists for his Baptist-commissioned oratorio, "What Is Man?" Jordan was accepted as a university fellow in the Music Department at Brown.

"What a culture shock, leaving Oklahoma for Rhode Island!" Jordan said. "I had a great experience studying with Ron, but more importantly, he pushed me into electronic music. We had a large Moog Series 1 synthesizer system, serial number 0004 or something like that. It was awesome, and everything just clicked for me."

Jordan received several grants which took him to various parts of the country to work with kids and synthesizers after he left Brown. That was his life for more than 25 years: the independence to compose, perform and be in a variety of educational environments working with people of all ages.

He produced massive public events as composer and performer. His monumental events have premiered for audiences ranging from 4,000 to 30,000 in attendance at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; on the Columbus, Ohio, riverfront; and on a 30-foot high scaffolding in downtown Fort Worth,Texas. His electronic music has been the catalyst for collaborations with dance, video, lasers, light sculptures, construction workers and even a 30-foot-long flaming dragon.

"Among my most impressive electronic music installations was a pair of pieces I created for a Fort Worth event," he said. "I created a set of works to be performed over a two-block stretch of the main boulevard with digital delay lines providing echoes of the music. It was like large waves of sound pouring over you as you walked in the street between those tall, reflective buildings throughout the evening of the event -- just as I had designed it.

As "artsy" as that piece was, Jordan said the big show-stopper was created for a construction site downtown.

"We had an array of scaffolding 30 feet in the air with choreographed dancers placed inside the scaffolding cubicles with construction workers in adjacent squares," Jordan said. "It was a fun, techno-pop piece designed to be repeated every hour throughout the evening. Every hour the crowd grew until we had close to 30,000 people cheering for more."

Jordan has remained engaged in education along his journey. He graduated from Duquesne University with a master of music technology degree. He taught at Butler University and the University of Dayton. He was composer-in-residence for Indianapolis Public Schools for four years. Currently, he serves on the music technology and composition faculty at Northern Kentucky University.

He has returned to composing choral music, much as he did as a student at OBU. He teaches and directs the computer music program at NKU, across the river from Cincinnati. He worships and sings at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church in Cincinnati where he conducts and writes for the choirs and directs a select men's ensemble. For a patriotic service, he recently completed a piece, "Let Peace Ring Out!" which was performed by two church choirs and an English-style Cincinnati Brass Band.

Jordan's collaborator, J. Paul Williams, died Feb. 17, 2010, at age 72 in Little Rock. After graduating from OBU in 1960, Williams served churches in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas as a minister of music for 35 years. In 1992, he became a full-time lyricist/composer and wrote more than 900 songs in collaboration with 61 composers. His songs have been sung by choirs across the United States and in four continents for such events as the unveiling of the Pentagon Memorial Benches, the commemoration of the Oklahoma City Bombing, on Normandy beach for the 50th anniversary of the Allied invasion and the dedication of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.

"Shadrack" was introduced to participants in the OBU All-State Chorus Workshop that was held July 15-17 on campus for about 270 junior and senior high musicians, said Dr. Paul Hammond, dean of OBU's Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts. The conductor of the chorus in January will be Dr. Rick Weymuth, who retired from Northwest Missouri State University.

"It is exciting to have one of my compositions performed by the all-state choir," Jordan said. "My years at OBU, the Bison Glee Club, Chapel Choir, and all of the other composing opportunities I had at OBU always resound in my memories when I get to compose for singers. Having my choral music performed in the Oklahoma All-State Choir affirms for me how excellent my music education was as a student at OBU."