Behind the scenes with Wendell Boertje

by Blog

Wendell Boertje is the conductor for Knoxville Handel Society’s performance of The Creation at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on April 29 at 7:00 PM. His career offers insight about pursuing life goals and motivating singers in music ministry.

Timing is the unseen factor that sometimes decides your path. Wendell Boertje learned this firsthand when he arrived on campus at Moody Bible Institute as a young man, weighing the option of music or pastoral ministry as a career path. Growing up in a pastor’s home with musical parents, Wendell was given opportunities to develop musically by playing piano and organ in his father’s church. He left for college undecided. The music proficiency placement test occurred first, and he was accepted on probation. Wendell proceeded with a music major. Upon receiving a BA in organ, Wendell considered teaching on the secondary level; thus, he began a track at Wheaton College of Music toward a Bachelor’s in Music Education. For a time, Wendell taught in middle school and high school.

Wendell directing a choir in his early years

At Southern Seminary, Wendell was influenced toward church music by Donald Hustad, with the concept of combining music, teaching and ministry in the local church. Pursuing a Masters’ degree in Conducting, Wendell took his first church as an “experiment.” The rest is history, as they say. They made great music; he taught in church and at conferences and was Adjunct Professor at Southern Seminary. Timing again was everything. No longer an experiment, he found that Music Ministry gave opportunities for pastoral care, training in theology, and creative worship.

Wendell conducting a Messiah concert. Far left is Mike Bundon, who is tenor soloist for The Creation.

Asked what he had learned in directing volunteer choirs, Wendell replied, “They want to be taught, to develop, to improve, to grow musically, theologically, socially…They want to belong, to have a sense of community and fellowship. They want to be loved and guided by love, not the law! They want a strong, positive identity. They want to be led by example!”

Choice of The Creation for Knoxville Handel Society’s upcoming concert flowed from ideas expressed by the community after the performance by KHS of Messiah, Parts 2 & 3, under the direction of Guest Conductor Donald Neuen last spring. Wendell continued, “It (The Creation) is respected, loved by musicians and choristers. Haydn founded his concepts of writing on Handel’s oratorios and writing. It is fitting that Knoxville Handel Society present Haydn.” Wendell had directed The Creation before; the Central Baptist Bearden Church Choir had performed it in Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. He had also sung The Creation under Don Neuen previously in Coral Gables, Florida. The Creation was an obvious choice for Knoxville Handel Society.

The motivation to continue in music leadership derives from Wendell’s philosophy that music must be prepared, shared and received. He finds the greatest satisfaction in making music in that order. He adds reflectively, “I‘m not sure I can just be the receiver of music.”

Wendell’s conducting style is no less than what he expects of the choir: energy, life, total engagement. “Don’t let your mind wander!” is a frequent admonition. When vocal technical production meets musicianship, you have Art, as he reminds the choir.

How many hours have been given to preparation of The Creation? Wendell replied quickly, “Months!” He began in December reading background literature on Haydn—everything he could find. The last few weeks he has worked every day, sometimes as much as 4-5 hours per day. His role is not only to prepare the choir, but three soloists and 30 instrumentalists. Performing it as Haydn envisioned it is the mantel the conductor wears. Wendell wears Haydn’s mantle as he steps to conduct Knoxville Handel Society Choir and Orchestra Sunday night, April 29 at 7:00 PM. The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is the ideal venue for this work—a sacred space designed for God’s glory, to host a work written for God’s glory.


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