At Palm Beach Atlantic University on April 3, 2012, they will celebrate their annual Founder’s Day. Part of the festivities will be a time to honor the legacy of their longtime choral director extraordinaire Dr. Ray Robinson. I use the word ‘their’ as a mere formality. For three years as a music student at PBA and I had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Robinson’s direction.
I entered PBA in 1992 as a piano major. I knew God had called me into some area of ministry, but I delayed it to pursue a major in accounting. You heard me right—accounting! Those of you who may know me at all know that this is not me in the least. But in going on my timing, God brought me to the end of my rope. I was at a major crossroads in my life. Knowing God had called me, but being scared to death to change course, God took away all drive (and my grades reflected it) for accounting—and I would be miserable if I didn’t change course ASAP.
After withdrawing from school and coming home working as a janitor at minimum wage for three months at my dad’s job at Florida Power Corporation, God opened up PBA, thanks to my pastor Chris Whaley (now pastor at First Baptist Church, Longwood, FL) who took me on a visit to PBA, his alma mater.
Classes began in January 1992 with a J-term to get me caught up for the Spring semester. But then the Spring semester hit. And that semester was a defining time.
I could go into the particulars of Bob Burroughs, choral composer extraordinaire, teaching me theory (and how he helped the light come on), or with Mrs. Marlene Woodward-Cooper tearing this pianist apart and putting him back together (oh, the agony!).
But in regards to Dr. Robinson?
At that time, all music majors and minors were required to meet at a Presbyterian church up the road for a non-credit class called Oratorio Chorus. Each semester, we would work on a large choral work to perform toward the end of the semester at a huge church that served as a highlight in the community in Palm Beach. Why? Not simply because the PBA Oratorio Chorus was singing, but because Dr Ray Robinson was directing!
A year later, Dr. Robinson allowed me to sing in the Concert Choir. As a pianist, I was allowed to sing in it because “well, you’re a good general musician—sure, come on and sing.” And so it began—sitting under his baton in Oratorio Chorus and Concert Choir, along with learning how to use that baton in three conducting classes I took from him. We ate, drank, and slept music!
While Dr. Robinson would get frustrated with us at times (deserved), he helped build community. He would take us from 80-90 plus students singing individually to having all of us in each of our sections take pride in us doing it well, doing it right, and doing it together! About three weeks in when we really began to get the flow of that large work, something would click in and off we went.
Through his patience and diligence, I left PBA a far better musician than I entered. But there’s more to it than that. Dr. Robinson’s door was always open to us. Always! He wanted us to be solid followers of Jesus Christ! The times when he would ask me to help him pick up some books from an area church to bring back or when we would go to his house to do some trimming on the hedges were sly ways to pull me aside and talk to me in transit to see how college life was treating me and how my walk with Christ was progressing.
I graduated from the PBA School of Music and Fine Arts in December 1994 and immediately went to Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a sad parting, but necessary. God had used these professors at PBA to prepare me for ministry—and it was time to move on. But I always took them with me in the lessons they shared and the way they cared about me. They worked tirelessly to help us succeed.
Thank you, Dr. Robinson! While I didn’t always look forward to those Monday nights learning these songs in those wooden pews until 9:30 pm, it was worth it. Congratulations on this honor!