When Edwin T. Childs ’67 was a little boy, he often drifted to sleep listening as his grandmother, a church pianist and organist, played hymns and spirituals on the piano. Ed’s childhood was filled with music, and with musical instruments.
“Music seemed inseparable from life,” he recalls.
By day, Ed’s father, Stephen Childs ’35, B.Mus. ’37, an itinerant music teacher and pastor, transported instruments from one small New England schoolhouse to the next. These always returned home in the evening. Long before Ed considered himself a musician, he explored the musical possibilities of the brass, wind, string, and percussion instruments that lay about the house.
Before Ed even knew how to read the notes on a page, he was composing. By the time Ed reached high school, he felt called to pursue music for life. Following his father’s lead, Ed sent a reel-to-reel audition tape to Wheaton.
“The music department didn’t quite know what to do with me because I played so many different things,” Ed recalls, smiling.
There was a time of indecision: which instrument to choose? Then Ed heard a theater organ at a local roller-skating rink, and with the encouragement of professor Gladys Christensen, claimed organ as his primary focus. It was professor Ellen Thompson who, after some months of “turning theory papers red” with her inked corrections, encouraged Ed to study composition.
In his final years at Wheaton, Ed studied with Jack Goode, Frederick Shulze, and Dennis Moffat, and upon graduation received a full scholarship to the Eastman School of Music. His course of study at Eastman was punctuated by his marriage, as well as three years of military service in the United States Army Field Band.
After beginning his career in the music department at the Philadelphia College of Bible, Ed worked for 20 years as professor of music at Biola University. He then returned to Wheaton and taught in the music department at Moody Bible Institute. He became dear friends with the very Wheaton professors who had been, and continued to be, his mentors.
In 1999, Ed’s life took a dramatic turn when he suffered an accident that left the left side of his body paralyzed. After several months of intensive rehabilitation, Ed was able to return to teaching, but his ability to play music was compromised, and he could no longer serve as church organist at College Church in Wheaton.
Drawing on the prayers of many and on his own determination, Ed chose to view limitation as opportunity: he again turned his focus to composition, and produced volumes of sacred and secular choral, vocal, keyboard, and instrumental works. Many of Ed’s compositions are for the organ, and Ed asked Brenda Heck Portman ’02, the young woman who filled in for him at College Church after his accident, to be his hands and feet for the CD, All Might and Majesty.
Ed’s compositions and arrangements led to the production of more CDs, including several that Ed arranged at the request of Conservatory of Music Professor Gerard Sundberg, whose rich voice is highlighted throughout.
Desiring further collaboration, Ed began to arrange favorite spirituals with more musician friends in mind: flautist Jennifer Dolan Reddick ’95, violinist Gail Salvatori ’76, and harpist Barbara Ann Fackler ’78. Ed’s efforts yielded yet another CD, At the River, which was recorded and engineered by Daniel Fackler ’80. Ed describes it as a “journey back to my physical and expressive roots.” Recalled and arranged from memory, the pieces on At the River hold echoes and memories of Ed’s grandmother, playing the piano late into the New England night.
Jennifer describes the experience of working with Ed as, “Uplifting! He never seems to run out of energy or excitement as we rehearse.” Barbara says of their collaboration, “Ed has shown me that it’s possible to be humble and confident concurrently.”
With At the River, Ed’s journey as a musician might be described as coming around full circle—but with two CDs on the horizon, including one arranged expressly for cellist Julie MacLean Tehan ’03, who now teaches at Wheaton’s Community School of the Arts, and an organ composition in the works for Brenda Portman, it’s clear the influence of Ed’s musical outpouring will continue to expand.