Dr. Jason Paulk, the director of Choral Activities at Eastern New Mexico University since 2005, finds fulfillment in living a life filled with music. Dr. Paulk was promoted to the rank of "Professor" this fall.
His responsibilities include directing three choral ensembles — Swanee Singers, Chamber Singers and University Singers — teaching choral conducting classes, a choral music education methods course and recruiting students for the Department of Music. He also serves on multiple committees.
"I enjoy the collaborative aspect of my teaching in the choral ensembles most," Dr. Paulk said. "It's remarkable to consider the many unique gifts of individuals in an ensemble and how they are combined to create quite unique, compelling and beautiful aural art. It's a medium that a person can't enjoy by themselves just because of the nature of choral singing."
Dr. Paulk has been singing as far back as he can remember."My mom and dad and I would sing special music at church when I was very young — say 3 or 4. And I have been playing the piano since about 7," Dr. Paulk said.
"My mom and dad and I would sing special music at church when I was very young — say 3 or 4. And I have been playing the piano since about 7," Dr. Paulk said."However, the most important musical moment of my life occurred when I entered my 7th-grade chorus room. Mr. Charles Nelson was an incredibly instrumental force in my life and taught me so much about musical fundamentals, leadership and
"However, the most important musical moment of my life occurred when I entered my 7th-grade chorus room. Mr. Charles Nelson was an incredibly instrumental force in my life and taught me so much about musical fundamentals, leadership and conducting. From 7th through 12th grade I had an incredible mentor in Mr. Nelson."
Dr. Paulk was elected the "student director" of his chorus and would often have the opportunity to lead rehearsals and sectionals and even substituted for Mr. Nelson when he was gone. By the time he began his music education degree at Stetson University, he had spent hundreds of hours in front of an ensemble developing his conducting, rehearsal and leadership skills. He says those early days of training were monumental.
"At the intersection of great passion and focused discipline can be found great art," Dr. Paulk said. "I'm very passionate and disciplined and my hope is that I enable our students to experience great musical experiences in rehearsal. I believe that's the place I enjoy my job the most: shaping, creating and enabling great ensemble singing. Performing for an audience is enjoyable, but it is the intimacy and uniqueness of the rehearsal environment that keeps me engaged. Somehow, I think it's the same for most musicians; otherwise, it would be challenging to keep the motivation between public events."
The recreational tennis player says music and singing have enriched his life in ways that are quite remarkable. One of his favorite quotes is, "He who sings prays twice."
His hope is that his music enriches others and is an "offering and outpouring of the talents with which I've been gifted."
He says he chose music as a vocation because he didn't think he would feel fulfilled every day if he chose to work at any other endeavor.
"I can tell you that when I had a vocal problem approximately seven years ago, it was a very difficult time in my life because I didn't feel that I could express myself fully," Dr. Paulk said. "I'm sure that's not everyone's philosophy, but most musicians do appreciate the fact that their performance allows them to express what is inexpressible with only language, some of which is quite emotional."
Many experiences stand out to Dr. Paulk as special moments. He says every piece of his education — beginning with an undergraduate degree in music education from Stetson University in Florida, then two master's degrees from Westminster Choir College and, finally, a doctorate in conducting from the University of Oklahoma — seems "miraculous. Each situation was exactly what I needed when I needed it, and I had the right mentors to help me accomplish what I needed in my development as a musician. I remind my students constantly that 'we are a sum total of all of our inputs.' All of my 'inputs' were incredible and I owe so much to all of my teachers and colleagues through the years."
Another highlight was his first teaching position at Deltona High School in Florida. He says his students worked incredibly hard and taught him so much about pedagogy and human expectations.
"I didn't know that I shouldn't expect high schoolers to sing like a collegiate choir — and neither did they — so we were blissfully ignorant together and made incredible music for three years. We performed at Disney World, we performed with professional soloists, composers and instrumentalists, at state music festivals and -Carnegie Hall."
He says as a singer, his career highlights are related to singing in excellent ensembles. As a teenager, I performed and recorded with Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus for two years ("Funnily enough, they didn't know I was in high school").
In graduate school, he performed, recorded and toured with the world-famous Westminster Choir under the direction of Joseph Flummerfelt. They were the professional chorus of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, for two summers and had the opportunity to sing the American Premiere of Kurt Weill's "Die Bürgschaft."
While living in Oklahoma, Kayla (his wife) and he had the opportunity to perform for several seasons with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale – "one of the finest professional choirs in the country. This was our first encounter with the Land of Enchantment and it felt like home, even before we moved here."
ENMU highlights have included seeing so many of his gifted students accomplishing their career goals – including numerous ones who have been admitted into great graduate programs in conducting, music education and voice performance.
"It is very heartwarming to have former students who are teaching in the public schools now bringing their own students back to campus for choral events. These are my musical 'grandchildren' and I'm thrilled to see my own teaching affecting another generation of singers."
Another highlight has been seeing and experiencing many ENMU students performing in world-renowned venues around the globe: St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, St. Nicholas Church in Vienna, Salzburg Cathedral, Carnegie Hall in New York City, at national conventions and in tours throughout the Southwest.
"I feel like the warmth of my musical memories with the ENMU Choirs are enough to fill my heart for a lifetime," Dr. Paulk said.
He has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and began his own business in middle school. He bought "hot toothpicks" and "atomic fireballs" at wholesale prices and resold them at 10 times the cost to his friends – "until my principal quashed my early retirement program."
Another early job was working for his PawPaw (granddad) who was a stone mason. He mixed mortar and learned to lay some "nice" sandstone and level brick lines. His grandad was even understanding that his favorite activity was throwing rocks.
In high school, he worked for a drum carrier (containers for marching band instruments) business that had relocated to North Georgia. His boss was "amazing and another of those mentors that I could never repay. He gave me my first car and allowed me to work it off, hour by hour for a couple of years. I called that Honda Accord my 'miracle car.' I never would have been able to afford a car otherwise."
In college, Dr. Paulk, who has a BME in music education, MM in choral conducting, MM in music education and DMA in choral conducting, sang as a tenor soloist in church choirs, played piano for several churches and directed church choirs. Since graduating from the University of Oklahoma, he has been employed at ENMU.
Dr. Paulk and Kayla love ENMU, Portales and New Mexico in general. Having lived and worked in Florida and Oklahoma previously, they immediately appreciated a different pace of life. As they age, Dr. Paulk says they appreciate it even more deeply.
"We do love to travel and explore, but there is always a peace about returning to Portales. We love our home, too."
Dr. Paulk graduated from Cartersville High School in Cartersville, Georgia, about 40 miles north of Atlanta. He was involved in choir, piano, baseball, basketball, knife collecting ("I know that sounds weird.") and church.
Dr. Paulk says he is living his fantasy career.
"Truthfully, I wouldn't still be here if I wasn't fulfilled. The fact that I can make music with great people every single day is amazing. And the fact that I can teach and collaborate with my best friend — who happens to be my wife — every day is incredible."
Dr. Paulk also loves fishing. Since coming to New Mexico, he and Kayla have enjoyed getting to know the Four Corners region (where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet). One of their favorite places is the San Juan River at Navajo Lake Dam.
They spend some of their free time each year wading and fishing for beautiful rainbow and brown trout. He enjoys tying his own flies because "there is nothing like catching fish on your creation."
He enjoys golf, even though during the school year it's hard to find the time. During the summer, he says his handicap drops about 10 strokes.
There are several interesting tidbits people don't know about Dr. Paulk. He enjoys watercolor painting and is an amateur blacksmith, although he doesn't have much time for it anymore. He owns several 100+ pound anvils, a propane forge and lots of hammers and tongs. He also enjoys table tennis and even has a ping-pong robot (Robo Pong). "Kayla says it is for ping-pong players with no friends. I'm not very good at it," Dr. Paulk said.
According to Dr. Paulk, his happiest moment is right now.
"It's been a long time since I've been this reflective of all the myriad blessings in my life. There has never been a time where I have been more at peace with myself, or more in tune with what God's plan is in my life," he said.
His saddest moment was going to visit his MeMaw (grandmother) last summer and her not recognizing Kayla or him because of her advancing Alzheimer's. "Heartbreaking," he said.
Dr. Paulk was born and raised in Cartersville, Georgia. He was "blessed with an amazing mom, Terri, who raised him by herself as a single mom. His dad left when he was four.
"Mom made sure that I had the right influences in my life and we never did without. She worked so hard, sometimes multiple jobs, to make sure we had everything we needed," Dr. Paulk said. "She has always been my superhero. To this day, I'm still in awe of her drive and her determination because she is probably the strongest human being I've ever known. Despite having struggled with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis for decades, she still works hard every day creating her artwork. She's a pyrographic artist — woodburning is her thing — and she has a website where you can see some of her cool stuff: www.walkwithhymn.com."
Dr. Paulk says Kayla is "the love of my life and we have been married for 18 years. We dated for six years, so we have known each other for a long time. Hard to believe, but we were married the week after Mr. Rogers (yes, THE Mr. Rogers) gave my commencement address at Westminster Choir College in 1999."They lived in DeLand, Florida, where both had attended Stetson University, and where Kayla taught at the beginning of her career.
They lived in DeLand, Florida, where both had attended Stetson University, and where Kayla taught at the beginning of her career.
They had their first pet, Bartok (basset hound), for 15 years and have had their second pet, Steinway (basset hound), for two years. "We love our dog!"
Dr. Paulk says there is "no way to describe the joy that comes from working with Kayla as a colleague. She is a consummate artist and professional. And I joke frequently in class and in concert that she makes everyone around her look (and sound) better than they are. However, it is no joke. She enhances everyone's musicianship because she is just that good."
Besides career goals, Dr. Paulk says that he and Kayla are planting seeds that will continue to grow and bear fruit throughout the world. Not just musical seeds, but seeds of love, joy, beauty and peace.
"My legacy continues to live on through each student who goes into the world carrying our shared musical experiences," Dr. Paulk said. "These students make me really proud and remind me constantly how important it is to keep doing what we're passionate about."
Dr. Paulk realizes that he doesn't have all the answers, but "I feel confident in my reliance on a God who does hold the keys to the Universe. My prayer every day is simply this: 'Lord, please let me show Your love to everyone I encounter.'
"I don't always accomplish this, but it is my goal. He is a God of love and it is not my nature to be loving all the time. That's why I have to work at it every day."