Faith and music: What John Fuss is about

September 27, 2013 • Local News

John Fuss st[auth] ands inside First United Methodist Church. (Vanessa Kahin Photo)

He once worked with the late, great Leonard Bernstein, before a series of fortunate circumstances and lucky twists and turns helped bring this musician to Roswell’s First United Methodist Church.

John Fuss has been director of Music Ministries at FUMC since August 1993. During his 20-year tenure at the church, he has brought a vision all his own to FUMC. This vision was created, at least in part, by his education at one of the nation’s leading institutions of music, the opportunities afforded him to collaborate with musical greats, and his desire to help members of the Roswell community have their own musical adventures.

Originally from Tulsa, Okla., the man with the soaring tenor voice showed a unique musical ability from an early age. His family attended First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where, at the age of 3, he got his start singing in a church choir.

Fuss attended Will Rogers High School, where he sang in the school’s top choir — an auditioned group limited to only 40 members.

At the time, Will Rogers High had more than 2,000 students.

Long before his high school graduation in 1967, Fuss knew he was meant to be a serious musician.

“I made the decision to go into music full time in ninth grade,” Fuss said. “I haven’t looked back since.” He first attended Phillips University in Enid, Okla., where he studied music for three years. Then, an opportunity for Fuss to attend Westminster Choir College — a private institution in Princeton, N.J. — arose in an unusual way.

Harold Campbell, who had been music director at Fuss’ church in Tulsa and who was also a Westminster graduate, was still at the church when it commissioned an anthem composed by none other than the director of admissions at Westminster.

“Campbell made sure I was home for the performance,” Fuss said. “(The) admissions director just happened to have the basic musicianship test on him. … Funny how that happened,” Fuss said, tongue-in-cheek. “The next year, I was at Westminster.”

At Westminster, Fuss was submerged in the study of sacred literature and the interpretation of musical scores. He had the privilege of singing with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Symphony. Fuss got to sing for Bernstein. He also got to sing for orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski.

“Those are experiences I would not trade for the world,” Fuss said of his time at Westminster.

Also at Westminster, Fuss met his future wife, Karen. She completed studies in music education and is now the chorus teacher at Sierra Middle School as well as the music coordinator for the Roswell Independent School District.

John Fuss completed a Bachelor of Arts in church music at Westminster in 1973. He then began his music ministry, which took him first to Longview, Texas, then Columbus, Miss., followed by Savannah, Tenn. He then did a brief stint in Edmond, Okla. Then, Fuss and his wife, Karen, and their two children, John Robert and Matthew, moved to Roswell.

It is at the Roswell FUMC that Fuss oversees several choirs; from the Cherub Choir, which is open to 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, to Silver Chords, a group comprised mostly of older adults.

Fuss knows the value of being able to sing with great musicians and travel to major centers of art and culture. That is why, he said, he is passionate about getting locals to places such as New York City — which he did in June 2010, when FUMC’s Chancel Choir was invited to Carnegie Hall to sing a Requiem composed by University of New Mexico’s Director of Choral Activities Bradley Ross Ellingboe.

“As a result of that experience, (Ellingboe) will be performing and conducting a New York City premier of his new composition, ‘Star Song,’ on May 25, 2014, at the Lincoln Center,” Fuss said. “Again, he extended a personal invitation to us to be a part of his (performance) and has waived the audition requirement for us, which I consider a high compliment.”

In addition, Fuss aims to conduct two major works a year, one during the Christmas season; the other, before Easter during Lent. Members of the FUMC Chancel Choir sang to raise funds for their 2010 trip to NYC, but have also used their voices and talent to raise funds for notable causes, such as for the Roswell Assurance Home.

Despite his positive impact, Fuss said he is not doing anything particularly extraordinary.

“I know that my predecessors have all done what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m not doing anything different. … I’m just continuing a tradition that has been a hallmark of this church for easily 50 years.

“I’ve been blessed to be here 20 years,” Fuss said of his time at FUMC. “I had no idea when I first came here, that I’d be given the opportunity to serve the community.”

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