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Since I first posted my reflection about Rich Mullins on the 10th anniversary of his death — and especially since reposting it here a month ago — I’ve been surprised who found it, read it, and was compelled to share with me their relationship to Rich. Many were fans of him, like I was. But a few actually knew him or had met him, and have gotten in touch to tell me about the personal impact he had on their lives.
One of the coolest such connections came from an email I received just this weekend. It was from Dr. John W. Taylor, a professor of music at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, where Rich went to school in the early 1990s (he was already a successful touring musician at that point, but wanted to get a degree so he could fulfill his dream of teaching music on a reservation).
Dr. Taylor was Rich’s academic adviser at Friends and one of his major professors there. He shared with me some stuff about Rich, and I was enthralled. It was such fascinating stuff, I asked him for permission to relay it here. He graciously accepted.
Some highlights, with Dr. Taylor’s comments in italics:
About Rich’s skill playing the french horn (Dr. Taylor directed the band in which Rich played at Friends):
I must say, he never became a great horn player — and he would laugh as he would be the first to admit this was true.
About what led Rich to pursue his music education degree:
He was learning to teach music correctly so he could work — for no pay — at a reservation in the southwest. He did not need a teaching license to teach there, but he wanted to learn how to teach music well so he could give the best to the students there.
About Rich’s struggle to balance his success as a musician with his studies:
Many people do not know that I actually asked Rich to leave Friends University after his first year at Friends. I did not know him at all, and I was not aware of his career… Rich was traveling on the weekends, and was missing playing horn in the pep band at some football and basketball games. I was not aware of why he was traveling on weekends (it was to perform). One day, walking down the hall, a student told me that Rich was in a magazine she was carrying — it was CCM Magazine. I was a bit surprised. I asked to borrow the magazine, and discovered a multiple-page layout in the center featuring Rich.
The next day, I called him into my office. I told him that I now knew about his career and why he was gone so often. I told him he had a decision to make — focus on school and miss obligations to travel, or leave school. He told me his record label had control over his schedule, and that he could not risk making them upset. I told him he was making much money for them and he could dictate his schedule to them more than he imagined. He then left school.
I was surprised to see Rich back in the fall. I called him into my office on the first day of school and asked him what he was doing there. He told me he had taken my advice, and that indeed the recording people were willing to work on his schedule. He did not miss school again to travel. At the same time, while he was here, he played many large concerts, including special appearances for royalty and leaders of countries. The high expectations we place on our music education students were the same for him, and he lived up to them.
About Rich’s skills as a teacher:
I supervised Rich’s student teaching in a lower SES middle school band here in the city. (He also taught in a lower SES elementary school.) I carefully picked a Cooperating Teacher who was somewhat of a free spirit, like Rich. The kids in the band program loved him. Most importantly, he became a very fine novice music educator, and would have been great teaching at the Reservation. It was my hope to come and observe his teaching someday after he graduated. As we all know, that day never came — he did graduate, but he was gone before he could settle in permanently as a teacher at the Reservation.
About what Rich loved — and didn’t love — about Friends:
He told me once that he liked the fact that all the music faculty at Friends didn’t know anything about his music career — and they did not care about it. As you mentioned in your blog, he liked the anonymity, and that he was judged by faculty by his school work. He also told me once it was hard to be a student here because there were groupies among the students.
I love the fact that Dr. Taylor was less-than-satisfied with Rich’s academics. Where was this long-haired guy going on weekends? Why isn’t he showing up to play his french horn at the football games?
And Rich’s excuse for missing these weekend games? He was performing on the piano and guitar and hammered dulcimer in front of thousands of people, who were paying for tickets and traveling for hours to hear his music. That’s hilarious. Even more hilarious is the fact that Dr. Taylor — Rich’s advisor — only found out about the “side gig” when he saw a giant Rich Mullins magazine spread.
Such great stuff. Thank you, Dr. Taylor, for sharing these inside facts with me — and especially for allowing me to rebroadcast a private email to a larger audience. It adds so much depth to the Rich Mullins story…