Teacher Sean Ivory composes and creates music

Payton Field, Assistant Managing Editor of Marketing

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The sound of voices ringing throughout a theater, an audience full of thundering applause, and an overall feeling of pride and accomplishment. For teacher and composer Sean Ivory, this is everyday reality.

Since 1992, Ivory has been an impressive teacher at FHC, passing on his musical tutelage and knowledge to many eager students. His passion for music and performing began at a young age; he played a variety of instruments and wrote short, innocent compositions of music.

Although he spends many hours teaching high school students, Ivory also is the director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus, an adjunct music professor at Calvin College, and a principal conductor of the Calvin Oratorio Society and the Campus Choir.

But Ivory is not your typical teacher. In his rare occasion of down time, he composes original music inspired by poems, Bible verses, and other published works.

“My days are very busy,” Ivory said. “I spend my days teaching, and when I have a break, I write my music.”

According to Ivory, he has many published works, some in partnership with another composer named Paul Caldwell. Some of his works include “Go Where I Send Thee,” “ANi Ma’Amin,” “John the Revelator,” “Beneath the African Sky,” “Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down,” “Psalm 150,” and more.

“Every single piece is different and some are a lot easier to crack, whereas others take a very long time to write,” Ivory said. “I let the text drive and tell what the music is going to do. The texts of poems usually suggest their own structure and logic, so I try to match that musically.”

One of Ivory’s more recent compositions- based off of the poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”- was particularly difficult and time-consuming to create.

“I definitely did a lot of writing and then deleting,” Ivory said. “I did that until I felt like it was ready. Once I got going, the piece began to write itself, and it turned into something really beautiful.”

In order to create a song based off of “The Peace of Wild Things,” Ivory had to get permission from the author. He wrote the author a letter, and soon after, the author wrote him back and granted him permission to begin the creation.

According to Ivory, the poem has a very deep and powerful message in its words. It hammers at a subtle and different aspect of our lives. It says that peace exists in wild things.  It is about needing to find a place to center yourself in the midst of the dark world we live in. The poet goes to the water in the woods, sits, and communes with nature.

“I had this feeling that I wanted the composition to perfectly embody what the poem was trying to bring across,” Ivory said. “I have so much respect for the poem, and I didn’t want to do something that would tarnish the way that it was written.”

When the poem was finally finished and sent to a choir to perform, a whole year had passed. Ivory sent the poem to the Saratoga Young Voices, and in May of this year, they performed it at their 10th anniversary.

“I went to Florida to hear these girls perform my piece, and I just broke down,” Ivory said. “They did it very beautifully, and it confirmed for me that it went well and worked.”

In the future, Ivory hopes to create more compositions of poems and have them performed as well. He hopes to produce more poems by the same author and turn them into compositions.

“Hearing my music performed by an actual choir is something that I will always remember,” Ivory said. “I was just so overwhelmed with how well it went and how [good] it sounded.”

In weeks past, Ivory had a graduated student compose a medley of songs for his choir to sing at their past concert. According to Ivory, it made him realize that hard work pays off.

One thing he wants his students to take away from his experiences is that if you work really hard and do your best, anything is possible.

“Of course composing takes a lot of practice and knowledge of music,” Ivory said. “But, I think that if you have passion for something, anything is possible, and that’s what I really want my students to take away.”

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