Dr. Eliezer Yanson joined the JSU Music Faculty last August as Director of Choral Activities. He is excited to be directing the A Cappella Choir, Chamber Singers, and Civic Chorale, as well as teaching Choral Conducting.
- Where are you from?
I was born and raised in the Philippines but lived in North Carolina and South Carolina prior to moving to Alabama.
- Why/how did you decide to pursue music (or more specifically, conducting)?
Music has always been a huge part of my life growing up. My dad is a preacher, and my mom is a music director. My mom “forced” me to take piano lessons when I was eight. Yes, there were times I wanted to quit, but I am very glad my parents did not let my immaturity decide my own path. I’m grateful for their wisdom and guidance, especially in exposing me to music, both choral and instrumental, at a young age. I attended Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC, where I majored in piano performance. It was not until my junior year that I started to consider pursuing the choral conducting field, thanks to my inspiring university choral director and conducting professor, Dr. Warren Cook. After receiving my undergrad degree, I remained at BJU to study church music-conducting under Dr. Cook. I went back to the Philippines after graduating with my master’s and taught at a bible college just outside Manila. I came back to the US and taught music at a private Christian school in North Carolina. In 2006, I started my doctoral work in choral conducting at the University of South Carolina with Dr. Larry Wyatt. I graduated with my doctor of musical arts degree in 2010.
- Did you always plan on teaching?
Not really, although I toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher in 4th Grade. I had plans on becoming a medical doctor, businessman, journalist, church musician, and concert pianist.
- What brought you to JSU?
When I came to interview for the director of choral activities position, I was impressed by the warmth and friendliness of the faculty, staff, and students. Everyone was so welcoming. When I rehearsed with the A Cappella Choir, the singers’ desire to learn and work hard was evident. Although I am more of an ocean and big city person, the mountain views and hills that nearly surround the beautiful JSU campus are lovely.
- So far, what has been your favorite thing about working at JSU?
I love my students and the opportunity we have to make music together. My music colleagues are very supportive and encouraging as well. Although we are spread apart because of Mason Hall’s ongoing construction, we are all eager to be back under one roof.
- What is your favorite choral piece?
This is a tough question. Of all the works I have conducted and sang, Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah rank high on the list. Schubert is another composer whose works I love. One of my goals is to conduct all six of his Latin masses. I have conducted Mass in G, Mass in B-flat, and Mass in C (twice). Dan Forrest is my favorite American composer to date. His major work, Requiem for the Living, is a magnificent work. I am looking forward to performing this piece with the A Cappella Choir and Civic Chorale in the spring.
Forrest’s Entreat Me Not to Leave You is also remarkable. I got to hear the world premiere of this piece in Argentina performed by the Salt Lake Vocal Artists under Brady Allred. After the choir sang, there was complete silence for about five seconds. Not wanting to look around because of the tears running down my cheeks, I found out that I was not the only one affected by the beauty of the piece and the performance. People around me were also crying. Since then, I have conducted this piece twice, and it’s a difficult work.
- Are you currently working on any creative works?
The beauty of my profession is that it calls for creativity daily in choral rehearsals with my choirs. I am blessed to work here at JSU where the arts are encouraged, emphasized, and supported. The A Cappella Choir and Chamber Singers recently performed their respective concerts this fall. The Chamber Singers also sang for the residents of Legacy Village, an assisted living facility here in Jacksonville. The A Cappella Choir participated in the Alabama American Choral Directors Association Collegiate Choral Festival along with 13 other Alabama colleges and universities.
I also took the A Cappella Choir to Oxford High School and sang for the choir and band students. I have also collaborated with local high school teachers and worked with their respective choirs. Future guest conducting appearances, adjudicating opportunities, and workshop are in the works.
- What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?
My Carnegie Hall conducting debut with the all-freshman Bob Jones University Singers in 2015 was special. In 2018, I returned to Carnegie Hall as guest conductor and led a choir of nearly 120 in performing works by Mozart, Schubert, and Dan Forrest with a professional orchestra. Additionally, conducting Handel’s Messiah with the BJU Choirs (about 150 singers), BJU Symphony Orchestra, and soloists is a career highlight. This performance was awarded 3rd Place in the American Prize in Conducting competition (College/University division). In case anyone is interested, here’s the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVHfjx_n0vA.
Also, being a father to Isabella (9) and Andre (7) is something I am very proud of. They are budding musicians. Both take piano lessons from my wife, Martha, in addition to Isabella taking violin and Andre taking cello. Amidst all these accomplishments, I could not have done these without my loving and supportive wife. She’s a better musician than I am and serves as a freelance collaborative pianist to JSU music students and faculty.
- Do you have any advice for JSU musicians and singers?
1. Learn to say “no.” You don’t have to be involved in every ensemble or extra-curricular activity so that you don’t allow yourself ample time for personal study, growth (practicing on your instrument), and rest.
2. Find time to exercise. Music majors are among the busiest people on campus. Going to the gym, running, or playing sports gives one an outlet to help cope with stress.