Dr. R. Wayne Woodson has a challenge ahead of him in rebuilding the choir and music program at Paine College.
He joined the faculty at the liberal arts college last fall, and was tasked with re-establishing the program and bringing back culture and arts to Paine.
The music program, which once had been robust, had faded over the past decade. A music major is no longer offered, and the school’s collection of music had all but vanished.
“When I was in (undergraduate school), Paine had a huge music program,” Woodson said. “It actually had one of the best programs in the state.
“The choir had 80-something people in it. We had a full faculty. We offered several degrees in music. In its heyday, it was a very substantial program.”
Today, he and a part-time music appreciation teacher are the entire faculty and the choir is half its former size.
But things are changing.
“That first year we grew to 31 students. Now we’re at 43,” Woodson said.
The challenge is one of the things that brought Woodson to Paine.
Originally from Detroit, he studied music at Morehouse College in Atlanta, intending to pursue a degree in entertainment law. Instead, he worked in administration for the Atlanta Symphony.
He also worked with the New England Conservatory, the Florida Orchestra and went back to Atlanta, where he founded the Voices of Atlanta and the Heritage Music Festival, which he has now brought to Paine College.
Woodson hopes to restore the program to its original glory, with a full chorus, orchestra, faculty and several programs of study. He is beginning by re-establishing the choir.
Choirs serve a number of functions for historically black colleges, Woodson said, and can be both a fundraiser and recruiter for their schools.
Because Paine’s administration is in a transitional stage, both are important right now.
“We continue to recruit and we attempt to bring in as much funding as we can,” he said.
To build the program Woodson envisions takes money, and he said he has found fundraising a big part of his job.
He needs to rebuild the music library so the choir will have a variety of music to perform. But music alone can cost Woodson $10,000 a year.
“I have to buy a score for every piece for every singer,” he said. “The average person is about $60 apiece. The most recent music order for this fall was over $4,000.”
Last year, through bake sales, barbecues, donation requests and other fundraising efforts, the choir raised about $20,000. This year, they will need twice that amount to not only purchase music, but to pay travel expenses to perform at other venues.
Another challenge has been re-establishing student trust in the program, diminished because the program has not had a steady director in five years.
The students who are in the program are in it because they are dedicated to singing, he said, but it’s difficult for many of them because they carry full course loads and either work or raise families.
“But we have some amazingly dedicated students here,” Woodson said. “We’ve had students that have suffered deaths in their families in the past few months. They just rally together and help each other out. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle, but it’s always worth it.”
One thing that is most important to Woodson is exposing his students to ideas and experiences that they wouldn’t have except through music.
For example, many of his students have never sung in a foreign language. But once they performed Ave Maria, it became a favorite.
He also uses their talents and interests to perform tasks for the choir. For instance, a public relations major is handling marketing for the choir, and a history major is putting together a history of the music program.
“I’m not grooming people to have music careers, but I am grooming them to be leaders when they leave here,” Woodson said.