Pursuing a doctorate in music composition at the University of Oregon after relocating from the East Coast, Brent Lawrence had never been to Philomath before taking over as the music leader at the College United Methodist Church.
Lawrence, 26, started the position Feb. 1 with his first Sunday service Feb. 18.
"I've had other church positions before and it's something I like doing," Lawrence said. "On a personal level, it provides a community for you to be in and being a music leader on a pragmatic level as a job. Since I'm working on a Ph.D. at U of O, it fits well into that schedule."
Lawrence said he tries to provide a blended service with both traditional and contemporary music.
"Something I'm trying to do is making sure both sides of that coin are presented," he said. "On the traditional side, we have our own accompanist, organist and pianist and we sing hymns. On the contemporary side, we have a band, I sing and play guitar, and pastor Mike Gregor, he sings and plays guitar a little."
In all, the band numbers five or six with others playing bass, drums and piano.
"I try to pick out music that's going to satisfy as many people as possible," Lawrence said. "As far as the contemporary side, one of the key things there is trying to keep up somewhat with music that is current. There's a weird balance between music that's new and music that people know."
Lawrence also said it's important to pick the right songs for the setting.
"There are a lot of trends right now in popular music for it to be more electronic and that doesn't work when you have a band of two acoustic guitars, piano, bass and drums. That can be a hard transition to make," he said.
The goal is try try to find that perfect balance for all types of age groups and worshippers.
"I think contemporary worship is sort of in an interesting place right now because it's become ingrained into church culture, but it's not really codified very well, so you don't have the traditions and stuff," he said.
A native of Roanoke, Virginia, Lawrence earned bachelor's and master's degrees in North Carolina.
"We were sort of in this position, my wife and I, we were both working and I just graduated from college," Lawerence said. "I'd like to teach someday at the university level and I was looking to get a doctorate. There are a variety of music doctorates ... but it became clear for what I wanted to do, I'd have to move, whether it be Durham (North Carolina) or Columbia, South Carolina."
So, Lawrence thought, "If I'm going to move, it's going to be somewhere different. That's when I found Oregon," he said. "The program just really lined up with my ideals with music-making."