Words: Grace Kenyon ’22
Photos: Kayla Smith
Zak Reynolds ’25 practices piano in the Armerding Concert Hall.
Zak Reynolds ’25 once wanted to be perfect. In his piano playing, he used to beat himself up for mistakes, but through his time at the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, he began to realize that perfection is not the ultimate goal of music. Instead, he feels called to pursue excellence as a way to glorify God in his creative pursuits.
This lesson is one of many things he has learned in his time at Wheaton through private lessons, choir rehearsals, chamber music rehearsals, and the trial-by-fire of performance. His experiences at the Conservatory have surpassed the already high expectations Reynolds had when he decided to enroll.
Reynolds first heard about Wheaton when he crossed paths with Dr. Jerry Blackstone ’74 at a district choral festival during his junior year of high school. He was impressed by Blackstone, who currently serves as a visiting professor of music at Wheaton and conducts the Women’s Chorale and Men’s Glee Club. The more Reynolds looked into Wheaton as an option for college, the more he was convinced. Since faith had always been an important part of his life, he was sold on the Christ at the Core curriculum before he even arrived.
When he stepped on campus as a freshman, Reynolds was astounded by how deeply faith penetrated every part of his experience. Not only were there chapel services and theology classes, but subjects like music history and music theory became opportunities to learn more about and grow closer to God.
He recalls his first music theory class with Dr. Francisco Xavier Beteta, who started every class with a devotional or prayer. Reynolds has also come to appreciate the way music history is intertwined with the history of the church. For instance, many pieces of baroque music (written in the period from about 1600 to 1750), were sponsored by the church and written to serve particular liturgical purposes.
Faith has also informed Reynolds’ personal growth as a musician. Music programs can be famously competitive, something Reynolds was wary of as he considered his course of study. However, he says that Wheaton has been an ideal environment for him to grow and thrive as a musician.
Even amid competitions, such as the annual concerto competition, Reynolds says there is a notable lack of people trying to prove they are better than everyone else at the Conservatory.
“I’ve really found a community of support, kindness, and grace among students,” Reynolds said. “It’s more like, ‘We’re going to play for the enjoyment of playing, and we’re going to support each other.’”
Although Reynolds has been playing solo piano since age five, what really solidified his love of music were the opportunities he’s had to do collaborative work with fellow musicians. At Wheaton, he takes nearly every opportunity to make music with other people. He has participated in the Men’s Glee Club, both as a choir member and accompanist, and has been actively involved with the chamber music program. Sometimes it’s just nice to break up the long stretches of solo practice hours and have the chance to practice with other people, he says. But most of all, he loves what he learns from his peers.
“When we put our ideas together, we normally can come up with something pretty remarkable,” Reynolds said. “I just love that aspect of being able to throw ideas around to each other and bounce things off of each other that we, within ourselves, might not have thought about.”
Something that has characterized Reynold’s time at Wheaton is how much the faculty invest in their students, both as musicians and as people. He recalls something he learned from Blackstone during one Glee Club rehearsal that has shifted the way he thinks about his music-making: “Make every note beautiful,” Blackstone said to the group.
“Especially as a pianist, it’s sometimes easy to think, ‘I just need to get through this to the next part,’ especially if it’s a fast section, and it’s really technical,” Reynolds said. “Blackstone’s words really helped me to slow down. I really needed each note to have a purpose of beauty. It can’t just be getting to the next thing. You need to enjoy the moment you’re in.”
To learn more about music at Wheaton, visit wheaton.edu/conservatory.