With 37 years of teaching behind him, Lander University professor of music Dr. Paul Criswell is retiring. "Through the years I've taught kindergarten through graduate school. I wouldn't give any of it back, but it's time to move on," he said.
Criswell is not moving on without a little of the superb showmanship that has helped make the Lander choral program a beacon for the performing arts in the Greenwood area and beyond. Under Criswell's direction, Lander's University Singers and Old Main Singers filled the university's Josephine B. Abney Cultural Center stage with holiday songs during a concert on Dec. 8. Titled "Another Concert with Friends," the performance was the last Christmas concert Criswell will direct as a Lander professor. His final concert as director of Lander's choral program will be in the spring.
Criswell got started in music at an early age. His mother and father were both singers, but his aunt Katie was one of his biggest influences.
"She was a pianist," said Criswell. "I took lessons from her piano teacher. Even after I graduated from college, her church choir and mine performed a couple of programs together."
Though Criswell has always been a singer, he was once more interested in band than chorus. In the fifth grade he started playing in the band as a percussionist, which he continued to do throughout college. It was in college that his interest turned more toward voice performance, and more importantly toward education.
"I've always been a music educator, more than a performer," said Criswell. And educate is exactly what he's done for the past 37 years. Not only has he taught students of all ages, he has also taught many college-age students to be teachers.
At Lander, Criswell has enjoyed teaching young musicians for the past 21 years. It is just one of the many highlights of his career at Lander. Under his direction Lander choral students have performed throughout South Carolina and beyond, including Wesley Commons in Greenwood and the Biltmore House in North Carolina. He also helped music students charter a Lander chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the national music fraternity, and he has shared the Lander stage with choral directors and students from high schools across the state, including Greenwood High School and Dorman High School. However, the first group to ever perform with Criswell on the Lander stage was the Strom Thurmond High School Concert Choir under the direction of Steven McKinney, a 1982 Lander graduate.
That same choir and director returned to Lander for the Dec. 8 performance to help Criswell wish old and new friends a happy holiday season.
"When I started inviting high schools to perform, it was probably 18 or 19 years ago," said Criswell. "At the time I had a girl in the choir who graduated from Strom Thurmond High School and she new Steven. Then I found out he was actually a graduate of Lander, so his choir seemed like a good first choice for an outreach to the high schools."
For the recent concert, Lander's University Singers and the Strom Thurmond High School Concert Choir chose the same piece of music they performed during their first collaboration - an arrangement of "Twas a Night Before Christmas."
"I'm really happy that Steven and his choir could come back and perform with us," Criswell added. "He is a very busy man and he has a great program over there in Edgefield."
The performance was sponsored by Dex, publisher of the Embarq Yellow Pages. Admission for all Lander Fine Arts events is free. For information, call Lander's College of Arts and Humanities at 864-388-8323.