John Sinclair tries to claim that he is “just an arm waver” who's been fortunate to carve a career in music.
Nobody can deny, though, the Independence native has been a longstanding and prolific “arm waver” in the central Florida fine arts scene.
Around the Christmas holiday, public television viewers across the country either had or will have a chance to see one Sinclair's career highlights.
Sinclair is chairperson of the music department at Rollins College in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, has directed hundreds of performances at Disney's Epcot Candlelight Processional and for 30 seasons now has been music director of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park. The group's annual Christmas concert, recorded last year by the local public television affiliate, was picked up by affiliates across the country.
Locally, “Classic Christmas with Bach Festival Society” will air at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Christmas Eve on KCPT (Comcast channel 4, HD 804).
The concert features the Bach choral and orchestra groups and includes specially produced arrangements of familiar Christmas tunes and hymns – similar to Mormon Tabernacle Choir's annual production that public television viewers might be familiar with, but held in the more intimate Knowles Memorial Chapel on the Rollins campus.
Sinclair, 65, said the concert on TV isn't different from their usual Christmas concert, just edited for television time purposes and with “more poinsettias” placed around the chapel. The whole production started when WUCF, the Orlando PBS affiliate, approached the Bach Society last year about recording the concert for local broadcast.
“Later, they asked if they could reduce it and offer it up to American public television,” Sinclair said. “Then, later they called me back and said, 'This is going national.' I said, 'You're kidding.'”
Sinclair said he's surprised and proud to know the concert will be shown all over, “But I'm especially proud it will be in Kansas City.”
The erstwhile conductor first grew up in Camden, the tiny community just north of the Missouri River where he did chores around his grandfather's general store.
“He would say you shouldn't need a compliment just for doing your job,” Sinclair said. “I guess I still have that Midwestern value, 'I'm just doing my job.'”
At age 11, his family moved to Independence, and Sinclair graduated from William Chrisman High School, having participated in band (he played trumpet) and choir. Once or twice in junior high he had been in band practice when the students noticed Independence's most famous citizen, former president Harry Truman, out for a daily walk, prompting a quick rendition of “Hail to the Chief.”
“I remember doing that; that was fun,” Sinclair said. “The education I got in Independence, I was really, really lucky.”
He then graduated from William Jewell College and eventually earned his masters and doctorate from UMKC, and his first teaching jobs were with Belton and Sedalia schools. In 1985, after four years conducting the choirs at East Texas Baptist University, he and his wife, former high school sweetheart Gail Duvé, uprooted and moved to central Florida.
Sinclair says the implied gig of directing the Bach Festival, which didn't happen for a few years after, helped entice that move. The festival includes a permanent orchestra, an auditioned volunteer choir, and performances throughout the year, and has given Sinclair the chance to conduct multiple performances in Europe. Furthermore, his position at Rollins led to a long-lasting friendship with the school's most famous alum, whom Tom Hanks has now brought back to public consciousness through the movies – Fred Rogers.
“He was a dear friend of mine; I sure miss him,” Sinclair said of Mr. Rogers, who himself was a music major and maintained a tremendous musical ear. “He was just like you can imagine. I loved (the movie). Tom Hanks captured him very well, the care and concern.”
In addition to Bach, Epcot and his normal Rollins faculty duties, Sinclair is music director for the First Congregational Church, director of the local Messiah Choral Society and conductor of the biennial Moravian Music Festival.
Forty-three years in what he hopes will be a 50-year teaching career, Sinclair certainly isn't slowing down, but also doesn't believe he's going too fast too often, either.
“It does sometimes feel like it, but it's great fun,” Sinclair said. “Anyone that came a living making music is lucky, and I feel fortunate, really.
“It's been a fun ride.”