By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 6, 2012
Wayne Baughman stands in front of the congregation at St. Benedict Church every Sunday, inspiring worship as the director of music ministry. And four times a year, the 66-year-old stands, baton in hand, in front of a symphony he created, inspiring another audience in a different way.
“It’s a universal belief that music is important in everybody’s life,” said Baughman, adding music has a power that can’t be explained easily.
The Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra grew out of an idea that came to Baughman to bring world-class music to his community. Now, in the middle of its sixth season, the group had a sell-out performance for its recent Christmas pops concert that drew close to 900 people to St. Benedict Church.
“Performing is like going out to play. It’s fun,” he said.
Music ministry has been a career for this accomplished musician with the last dozen years at this large Johns Creek parish.
His goal after graduate school was to inspire Christian musicians to go out in the world to perform, he said. But Baughman realized there was a greater need. “The best music in the world should be music of worship,” said Baughman, who in addition to his administrative duties leads two traditional groups, trains cantors, coordinates music for weddings and funerals, among other duties.
“Bad music is a distraction. Good music is an enhancement. We’re not there to show off; we’re not there to perform. Music is an enhancement, not the focal point. The focal point is the celebration of the Eucharist. I want them to go out, feeling really good, feeling inspired and ready to go out and live a good life,” he said.
Baughman grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where his mother worked as a bookkeeper and his father as a police officer. He was introduced to music while attending his large Southern Baptist church. He went on to study music in college and later earned a graduate degree in music conducting at the University of Michigan. It was during graduate school, at 26, that he joined the Catholic Church.
Since moving to Atlanta in 1974, he has been a vocal soloist, chorus member and rehearsal conductor at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and choruses, where he also shared a Grammy award. His children have taken to music. One daughter is a doctoral student in music at the University of Maryland and a staff singer at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Another daughter, Adelaide Federici, plays the violin as the Johns Creek Symphony concertmaster and a board member.
While conducting a performance of “Messiah” in 1997, Baughman had the bold idea to start a symphony for Johns Creek, a small city about 30 miles outside Atlanta.
“It was a seed that germinated over a few years,” he said.
He didn’t want to be rash. He looked at successes in similar-sized communities from California and Texas to Illinois, to see what was needed to pull it off.
He said, “All the numbers said you could have a professional orchestra. It’s kind of a perfect storm for an environment that has a high quality of living and supports the arts.”
The Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra opened its first season in 2007.
Sue Haggerty, a member of the parish music ministry and orchestra executive director, said the symphony exists because of Baughman. “He dreamed about it,” she said.
She called Baughman, “Mr. Musician.”
“He is very beloved. He is very talented. The musicians greatly respect him,” Haggerty said about Baughman.
The symphony has a core membership of more than 45 professionals, drawing more musicians from the talent-rich Atlanta area when additional musicians or vocalists are needed. It is the only part-time, fully professional symphony orchestra in the Atlanta area, Baughman said.
And it’s successful. “Our audience is growing, and we don’t owe anybody any money,” he said.
He does more than conduct. He nursed the idea of a professional symphony for years before he ever lifted the conductor’s baton. He thinks about marketing, serving as the music director, the librarian. “I’m constantly working on it,” he said.
Other members of St. Benedict Church are leaders with the symphony. Richard F. Loehn is the vice president, and Kathleen Klotz sits on the board of directors.
The symphony hosts four concerts a year, drawing audiences numbering in the hundreds to the 600-seat theater at the Johns Creek High School.
The group covers a range of musical styles to appeal to audiences. Baroque music, with a performance of Vivaldi, is scheduled for February. And the season ends in April with popular big band music by George Gershwin, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and others from the era played by the full symphony.
In worship, music should play a supporting role, complementing the celebration of the Eucharist. However, in a performance, music is front and center. Baughman said a successful show is when the audience leaves, and “their day has been made better after having experienced the joy of a live musical performance.”
“There’s been symphony music in the world for 200 years. There’s nothing unique about what we do,” he said in an email. “We’re not trying to re-invent the symphony orchestra. We’re just making one succeed in a somewhat unlikely place, a six-year-old city digging out of a recession.”