The year was 2001. It was my first week of college, and I was realizing my dream to become a world-class violinist. I was one of the few scholarship students to be admitted to the Juilliard School, the #1 music conservatory in the world. My parents’ sacrifice had brought my whole family to New York. I was green but fiery, and I was filled with anticipation for the future.
One of my first classes was called Colloquium. It was an interdisciplinary class designed to help students from all divisions of the school to engage one another: music, dance, and drama. As a part of this class we were required to attend specific performances from each division. We would celebrate the skill of our fellow students and be enlightened by the scope and depth of their performance.
So I found myself sitting in a small theater in the Juilliard drama department to watch John Guare’s play, Landscape of the Body. The title is enough for your imagination to guess it’s subject matter.
The first half was a bawdy murder mystery - violent and sexually explicit, with young men sauntering down staircases in their underwear, spewing vile language.
I left during intermission.
The next day my teacher checked up on me. She knew I was upset. She was diplomatic and advised me to see the Dean, who advised me to see the President, who suggested I work on a petition with another student who was also a Christian and had complained.
We drafted the petition, whose thesis ran: students should not be required to attend performances with content that is counter to their religious convictions as a part of their grade. At the very least an alternative option should be offered.
You see, the freshman class could have gone to see Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which was being performed in just a month, but the powers that be wanted us to see Landscape.
In the days that followed I gathered a couple dozen signatures from the few like-minded students in the school and submitted the petition. A vaguely apologetic email went out from the administration, but in the end, no meaningful action was taken. I began to question my calling to the classical music world. Was this the only path to making music with artistic excellence?
The Juilliard School’s drama division is the finest in the world. It has given us some of the greatest actors of our time… stars like Oscar Isaacs, Jessica Chastain, and Adam Driver. Some of these were my fellow students. How many of them or their colleagues felt like me in school with all their moral and religious convictions attacked and stripped away one play at a time? How many times have artists had to sacrifice their moral standards to keep up grades or to land their next role?
You could say they should just leave… but to go where? Where was I, as a violinist, to go? For the level of instruction I had worked so hard to receive, there was nowhere to go. I knew that very well. Christian universities offered degrees for music ministry, but not at the level of performance at Juilliard, and in many cases these schools were only Christian in name or history — places pretending to be safe havens for Christians, but actually promoting the same leftist propaganda I encountered at Juilliard.
What did Landscape of the Body have to do with being a violinist? Nothing - except that the agenda of the institution was not just for me to be the best in my craft or to find my personal musical calling: it was to subjugate my skill and my mind to their worldview. They exist to create artists in their own image — one which negates God and corrupts the soul.
My response was to create, in partnership with my family, the Annie Moses Band. An endeavor to forge our own path outside of the ivory tower and to make music that mattered to us, represented our beliefs, and helped impact those who heard us. The very next summer we went on our first concert tour, and, little known to us, the broader mission of the Annie Moses Foundation was born.
Now, 20 years later, that mission has impacted the lives of hundreds of young musicians. But the challenges I faced as a young college student still exist. After concerts I am frequently posed with the question, “Where should I go for college to study music?” The answer has always been a difficult one to answer — does one brave the social corruption of secular academia or try one’s best to find good instruction in faith-based institutions?
This quandary was the inspiration for launching a collegiate division at the Conservatory of Annie Moses. It is the newest step in our work to create a place where high skill, deep faith, and meaningful community can be found. Our first degree is a 2-year program founded on a high standard of excellence, paired with deep rooting in Christian faith and a focus on the entrepreneurship required for a young person to make it as an artist.