The Columns

Faculty Focus: Shane Lynch Associate Professor of Music, Director of Choral Activities

— by on June 23rd, 2016

Shane Lynch

“I love having intelligent students who are passionate about a wide variety of topics. I might make a little side comment in rehearsal about nothing in particular, and somebody will go do 30 minutes of research and come back and ask me questions about it.”

What do you teach at W&L?
I conduct the University Singers, our top choir here, the Men’s Glee Club and Cantatrici, the women’s choir. I also teach conducting and vocal music methods for our music education students.

When were you first interested in music?
Really it’s been as far back as I can remember. My older brother is also a musician, so I remember watching him sing in the school choir, and I was really fascinated by it. I started singing and playing the piano at a pretty young age.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in music?
Like lots of people, I went to college with the eventual goal of attending med school. As well as my degree in music, I also have a degree in physics, with a minor in chemistry. But I knew that music would be an important part of my life. As a young man, I routinely heard, “Oh, you’re good at math, science — medicine or engineering would be a real job, you can’t do music, you’ll never feed yourself.” It was well-intentioned advice, but it also was completely wrong, based on stereotypes and a lack of fundamental knowledge. But if you hear that message enough from people who do care about you, you start to believe it must be true.

I completed all my pre-med requirements, got to the point where I could shadow doctors and discovered that I hated every last second of it. For me, it was wrapping my head around the fact that I could actually follow a career in music and have a good life. It wasn’t a dead-end career with no job and no money — there actually was a real and wildly rewarding life path. There’s not necessarily a path if you don’t have talent, but I’m not sure how much of a career there is for anyone in any field if they don’t have the talent to pursue it.

What do you enjoy most about W&L?
I love having intelligent students who are passionate about a wide variety of topics. I might make a little side comment in rehearsal about nothing in particular, and somebody will go do 30 minutes of research and come back and ask me questions about it. So I really enjoy working with bright, motivated students.

You led the University Singers’ Ireland tour over spring break. What pieces did you perform?
We traveled through Ireland in April. We did a loop that took us up into Northern Ireland, and then we came back into the republic. It was the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising, so it was a really great time to be in Ireland because there was so much going on related to that. I’ve done a lot of international touring, and this was probably the best international tour I’ve done so far.

The choir sang a lot of different works. We did a full Bach motet, “Komm, Jesu Komm,” which is well-known and fun to perform. When you perform abroad, it’s also nice to honor your hosts by singing their music and then sharing some of your music, so we did a set of Irish music, which included works in original Gaelic by Michael McGlynn. He’s the director of Anúna, a professional Irish choir, and we were able to work with Michael on his pieces while we were there. We then did some works of Americana. I wrote a piece that we performed that was entirely designed around the Easter Uprising. It used poetry by Joseph Mary Plunkett, who was the architect of the plan for the failed Easter Uprising. He famously married Grace Gifford, the love of his life, seven hours before he was executed for his role in the uprising. It was fun to use his poetry, which is very evocative. The piece got to be a little bit on the weird side, but it was very appropriate.

What kind of music do you like to listen to in your free time?
I actually don’t listen to a lot of music in my free time because I spend so much of my professional life listening to it. You know, it’s like professional golfers don’t play a lot of golf in their free time. But I actually do listen to a pretty wide variety of stuff when I am listening, anything from kind of old Billy Joel sorts of things to Adele. My daughter is a big fan of hers, so we listen to a lot of Adele.

Do you have a favorite genre of music?
It’s probably really a cappella choral music, what I do for my career. I just feel like it’s the strongest art form we humans have ever created. It’s probably one of the oldest art forms, as there were probably people singing with one another tens of thousands of years ago, and it’s stuck around. I think it’ll stick around as long as humans are around.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I like woodworking and construction. I actually helped put myself through school learning how to build homes and furniture. I still do a lot of that – it’s just more fun to do it for myself now, and it uses the physics-math side of my brain. I enjoy golfing with my children and I curl, or at least I did before I moved to Virginia.

– interview by Wesley Sigmon ’16

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