FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Ever since she attended Middle School, pianist Melody Lai has dreamed of performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Fulfilling her dream, she performed this piece with the Fort Worth Civic Orchestra, May 15.
“I was most grateful that God provided me with this opportunity,” said Lai, who received her Master of Music degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary a week before the performance.
 “Since it was my first time working with an orchestra, I was definitely on the receiving end during this whole experience,” Lai said. “One thing I have learned the most is to put my complete trust in the conductor and just believe that everything will eventually fall into place. It was really a lesson of faith.”
Having graduated, Lai plans to teach piano in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and to help Christians gain a better understanding of music and its use in the church. She testified that her education at Southwestern has improved her own musical ability, and that the seminary “maintains a good balance between music and ministry training.”
“Having fine musicians who are also devoted Christians to be our professors is a privilege, because they all understand what it takes to be professional musicians and church musicians,” Lai said. “My study at Southwestern has also given me multiple opportunities to perform classical music as well as serving at various events and churches.”
Lai is only one of the Southwestern Seminary students who have or will benefit from the Fort Worth Civic Orchestra’s status as a resident ensemble with the School of Church Music. The civic orchestra is conducted by Kurt Sprenger, the husband of Southwestern’s associate professor of piano, Jill Sprenger. It is comprised of musicians from the community, as well as some students from Southwestern. The orchestra rehearses in the School of Church Music’s Cowden Hall, and often plays in Southwestern Seminary’s Truett Auditorium, where Lai performed Rachmaninoff’s concerto.
Robert Smith, Lai’s supervisor and professor of piano, said it is difficult and requires “perfect timing” to sustain one’s knowledge of such a long piece while also studying the many disciplines related to church music and while preparing for graduation. Smith said Lai began to learn parts of this composition as far back as two years ago.
Lai’s performance, he added, was aided by a Steinway Concert Grand Piano Model D that was gifted to the school and placed in the Truett Auditorium in 2008. Smith said the new piano was well-suited to Lai’s performance. The sound of the orchestral performance was also enhanced by a custom-built Wegner acoustical shell that was installed on the stage of Truett Auditorium in February.
According to Mac Davis, professor of music theory and composition, the relationship between Southwestern’s School of Church Music and the Fort Worth Civic Orchestra has also opened opportunities for many students to conduct their own musical arrangements. John Cornish, a Doctor of Musical Arts student at Southwestern, conducted a large portion of the concert during the evening of Lai’s performance. The civic orchestra has also played the compositions of some Southwestern students, at least during rehearsals: “Even in most universities, it is hard to get that opportunity,” Davis explained.
“And finally, someone like Melody Lai had the opportunity to perform a solo, a concerto, with the orchestra, which is a really great opportunity for her,” Davis said. “And we’re hoping that other students have that opportunity in the future.
“So a lot of people are benefiting from it: the conductors, the performers of various kinds, the composers, and our student instrumentalists. … It has really been a very positive relationship for us. It couldn’t happen without a lot of cooperation from the civic orchestra.”