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Nancy Shelton Exhibits the Essence of Encouragement

March 1, 2011

The Profile in Excellence award is given by the OBU Alumni Association to a former student who has "demonstrated recognizable accomplishment in his or her profession, business, avocation, or life service in such a way as to bring pride and honor to the University." Each year, Profile In Excellence recipients are featured in OBU Magazine.

OBU alum Nancy Shelton, a 1970 OBU graduate, is a 2011 recipient of the OBU Alumni Association's Profile In Excellence Award. The award is given to a former student who has "demonstrated recognizable accomplishment in his or her profession, business, avocation, or life service in such a way as to bring pride and honor to the University." Each year, 12 Profile In Excellence recipients are selected, and each is featured in an article in OBU Magazine.

Nancy Shelton's own musical talent grew from encouragement she received on Bison Hill. She passes on that spirit to her students and congregation.

As a young teenager, Shelton attended a musical recital and it changed her life - and has affected the lives of countless piano students and church members in the years since.

An organist and music assistant at First Baptist Church in Muskogee, Okla., for 34 years, and a private piano teacher even longer, Shelton continually shares the passion that so inspired her as a child to seek a life in music.

When she was in eighth grade in Muskogee, she heard Oklahoma Baptist University professor Clair McGavern present a recital at the Oklahoma School for the Blind, where Shelton's aunt taught. After the recital, she was on a quest to learn music under McGavern's instruction.

"The next year I began studying with another teacher who knew Mr. 'Mac,' and also had gone to OBU," Shelton said. "The encouragement was there. I received a small talentship, but enough to let me know that OBU was where I was to go."

McGavern was an innovative professor at OBU, teaching on campus from 1949-74. The annual Concerto-Aria Concert, born from the desire to allow OBU piano majors the opportunity to accompany an orchestra, was the brainchild of McGavern and Dr. Ron Lewis, professor emeritus of music. Started in 1974, it gradually evolved into a university-wide event which includes both instrumentalists and vocalists.

Arriving on Bison Hill, Shelton donned the traditional beanie, which identified her as a freshman. But she almost resented upperclassmen at the time, because they stopped her from enrolling with Mr. Mac.

Despite the disappointment of missing courses taught by McGavern, Shelton began a foundation of learning at OBU that has had an impact on her life since college. She said she knew the professors at OBU took an interest in her, and they inspired her to always do her best.

"The encouragement I received has given me the assurance that I have something to offer to other people," Shelton said. "The friendships formed while in college have continued through the years. I have been proud to say that I'm a graduate of OBU. My musical education was a high quality that required my best."

Planning for her second semester on campus, Shelton asked McGavern if she could study under his tutelage.

"When I asked him about switching to him, my comment was that I was too close to a dream coming true," she said. "He taught me so much more than music and how to be a better pianist. He instilled in me the desire to always do my best work and work to that point, no matter what I did."

Several other professors also offered a lasting influence that Shelton carries with her today. Kathryne O'Bryan Timberlake, professor emerita of music who taught at OBU from 1952-93, helped Shelton realize the importance of knowing theory and how it relates to other areas of music. To this day, Timberlake's lasting influence compels Shelton to ensure her students understand what they are playing.

Dr. Don Clark, professor emeritus of music, taught at OBU from 1967-2002. He was Shelton's voice teacher, and he took her education to new heights - at least musically.

"He was patient with me, convincing my mind that I could actually sing the high notes," she said. "His encouragement helped me enjoy singing even more."

Shelton said it was in Dr. C.L. Bass's music history class that she "finally learned how to study" through his clear instruction about what was expected. She said the methods of the professor, who taught at OBU from 1965-77, helped her know how to make the grade not only in his class, but in her graduate studies as well.

"It was his organized approach to teaching that helped me prepare for the comprehensive exams for my master's degree," she said.

After graduating from OBU in 1970, Shelton taught junior high choral music and strings in the Muskogee Public School system before going to seminary. She earned both a master's degree in music with a piano emphasis and a master's degree in religious education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Attending seminary, she said, was somewhat like a Bison Hill reunion since so many OBU classmates were on the Southwestern campus.

"It was while I was at seminary that I began to realize I wanted to teach piano," Shelton said. "I had a few students there who had some of the same challenges I had as a young student. They were working on hymns, and I realized they needed to play them correctly. From that point on, I took teaching seriously."

Shelton served as a teaching fellow her last two years at seminary. Following graduation, she returned to Muskogee, where she began teaching piano for the children's home associated with Bacone College. She taught two days a week at three of the cottages on the Bacone campus and had a few private piano students. Within a year, First Baptist Church of Muskogee approached her about becoming their organist. While her personal studio grew, at church she eventually assumed the role of music secretary and, later, music assistant.

She continues inspiring students with the lessons she learned at OBU four decades ago and sharing the gifts of her music and leadership with her church. Today, she finds the most challenging aspect of working at the church is to keep up with the advances in technology in the office and the overall changes in church music. In teaching, her biggest challenge is keeping up with her students' busy schedules.

"I still try to encourage them to do their best, so find it important to know how to make the best of what practice time they might have," she said.

Shelton stays active in the Oklahoma Music Teachers' Association and National Music Teachers' Association. She serves as theory chair for Oklahoma, and is a member of the National Guild of Piano Teachers. She frequently serves as a judge with the organizations.

In her line of work, the true reimbursement for her care and effort often come with time.

"The most rewarding part of my work at the church is seeing kids I had in children's choirs through the years still being active in the church music program, as well as encouraging their own children in music," she said.

In her private studio, the rewards come when her students pass the initial learning time to actually begin making music. She also appreciates when her students learn - as she did on Bison Hill - the value of theory and how it applies to the music they are learning. Several of her own students have gone on to play in churches, which is most rewarding to Shelton. They go with a healthy dose of encouragement from their instructor.

"OBU was instrumental in showing me the importance of showing the ones around me that I really cared for them as individuals," Shelton said. "It helped me with the 'book knowledge' to enable me to do a better job, but most importantly, I learned the importance of caring. The teachers gave me a never-ending desire to continue learning. My students are surprised when I tell them I learned something from them."

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.