All about Bach

Reggie Sanders leaves the corporate world behind to pursue his heart's desire

Attention to all those contemplating a career change. If you're doubting switching professions, listen to the story of Reginald Sanders and take heart.

The popular assistant professor of music, whose enthusiasm for all things Bach is contagious, did not begin formal schooling in music until the age of twenty-six. Before that, the 1981 Princeton University graduate with a degree in engineering spent five soul- wrenching years at Hewlett Packard.

That may seem like a perfectly logical sequence of events in today's jump-ship-every half-decade economy. But Sanders from the get-go felt nothing but out of place at the Silicon Valley computer giant. In fact, the only joyful times of his week were the singing lessons he took and his involvement with the Stanford Chapel Choir. Their repertoire: Bach's cantatas.

"I think I'm an artist at heart," Sanders explains. "I was doing advertising [at Hewlett Packard], and that was creative but not like music. The goal was profit and money and more sales, and I just couldn't get my heart around that."

So one day the engineer- cum-musician simply bailed out.

"At the time, people said, 'You're so brave,'" he recalls. Apparently, some of his coworkers were also tempted to pursue true vocations. But they didn't dare risk professional failure or financial uncertainty.

Sanders, who is single, figured he didn't have that much to lose. He thought his decision was less about bravery than life-long ulcers. "If I were really a tough person, I would have stayed," he insists.

Sanders enrolled at San Francisco State University and in 1994 received a master's degree in music history. Although he still enjoyed singing, he realized that a career as a musicologist and teacher was his calling.

His interests had also taken a decided turn to the Baroque. Sanders was infatuated with J.S. Bach and soon moved on to Yale University, which had a Bach specialist on the faculty. He did his doctoral dissertation on one of Bach's sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and spent two years in Germany, where both composers had lived.

Sanders loves the fact that many students at Kenyon take music classes for the pure fun of it. He teaches an introduction to music history, a survey of the Baroque and Classical periods, the Bach seminar, an opera seminar, and an introductory theory class.

Like Sanders, students in the Bach seminar appreciate the composer's enormous musical talent. "There's a reason he is so revered," Sanders notes. "He was a master at writing fugues- which is difficult to do-and students appreciate what a great talent he was."

Courtney Snow '05 agrees. A music major, Snow has taken numerous courses from Sanders, and he is her advisor. "He is always upbeat and enthusiastic about what he's teaching," she says. "You wouldn't know that he wasn't a music nut from the age of ten."

Actually, he was. Sanders sang in the Atlanta Boy Choir when he was eight and listened in awe when his grandmother sang Bach cantatas at her Presbyterian church in Knoxville, Tennessee. After one year at Princeton, he had his doubts about engineering but he was advised to stick with it for the sake of a good career. It took the five years at Hewlett to finally follow his heart.

"I needed time to grow up and make the changes," he says simply.

Reggie Sanders still puts in a very long week. "He's always here and working," Snow insists. Old habits die hard. But this time his heart is full. "I know what it's like to work seventy hours a week doing what you don't like," he points out. Now, "I'm doing what I love."

Sanders recently received a Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship. He will spend the 2004-05 academic year on leave conducting research on Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Gambier and in Germany.

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