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Collector of collections

Music | David DeBoor Canfield combines composing, teaching, and a classical record business into one busy career with a central theme

Issue: "Schock factor," Jan. 31, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.-"Do you know who this guy is? He's a polymath!"

The man asking the question is Tim Bayly, the senior pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Bloomington, Ind. The polymath is David DeBoor Canfield, an elder at Bayly's church and a biblical theology and church history instructor at the church's ClearNote Pastors College.

What makes Canfield, 58, a polymath is that he is also a violinist active in two Bloomington orchestras and a prolific composer of serious music. His Martyrs for the Faith: Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Symphonic Winds received its world premiere performance by Kenneth Tse (a dedicated Christian on the faculty of the University of Iowa) at the World Saxophone Congress in 2003. In 2001 the University of Central Oklahoma hosted a three-day Canfield festival.

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So it is that Canfield is also sure to include in any journalist's itinerary a tour of the music facilities on the Indiana University campus. It was in those halls that Canfield, who had previously earned a bachelor's degree in music at Covenant College, earned two post-graduate degrees in composition (an MM in 1977, a DM in 1983).

Over the last 35 years, his "official catalog" has grown to include, by his own estimation, 60 or 70 works, from symphonies and concertos for various instruments and ensembles to solo-keyboard music, vocal music, and an Easter oratorio, or "music drama," that he composed with his father in 2002 called The Proclamation. Enharmonic released his latest CD, Chamber Music, Vol. 1, 1975-2007, last year.

Canfield's compositions, he says, are characterized by "free tonality," which he means that tonality and atonality intermingle and coexist-sometimes peacefully, often in an exhilaratingly dramatic and complex tension. His 1975 orchestration of Festival Te Deum was commissioned by the renowned organist Diane Bish.

From 1978 to 2008, however, Canfield was less known to the classical music world as a composer than as the entrepreneur behind Ars Antiqua, Inc., a rare-classical-album mail-order business and store over which he presided. The name comes from the Latin for "old art." Under his meticulous oversight-he routinely traveled the world seeking out arcane vinyl artifacts and spent approximately a third of each month typing inventory lists-Ars Antiqua became a popular and profitable enterprise. And although Canfield now forwards consumer queries to the Toronto-based Mikrokosmos service, he still rents two storage units in Bloomington to store thousands of albums that he has yet to process and remains the U.S. buying agent.

As for his own carefully arranged collection of recordings, it takes up several rooms of the house where he lives with his wife Carole. It's so large that the Library of Congress has arranged to buy it in five installments: "They had been after me for years." Among the recordings he'll be keeping (or dubbing on CD) are hundreds inspired by cats and practically every version, even the rock and hip-hop ones, of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

So many and varied are Canfield's interests and self-incurred responsibilities that the Indiana University professor Peter Jacobi, upon interviewing him for a public-radio show in 2003, couldn't help asking him about the way he manages his priorities. "Well," replied Canfield, "my No. 1 priority is serving God."

It still is. While Canfield is happy to discuss, say, the framed autographs of great composers adorning the wall of one room in his house, why any music can be appreciated if one learns its "language" (with the exception, perhaps, of minimalism, which he likens to "baby talk"), why TV is the "single most destructive thing to come upon American society," or how Polycarp, Gaspard de Coligny, and Jim Elliot inspired Martyrs for the Faith, he'd rather talk about his teaching at the ClearNote Pastors College. "We're all going to be gone eventually," he says. "If we don't train the next generation in the faith, it's not going to bode well for Christianity."

ClearNote differs from a seminary, he points out, mainly by restricting its enrollment to a size small enough to facilitate the use of Socratic method and to enable the students to learn the more "hands-on" aspects of pastoral life. "We teach them how to lead a Bible study, how to do church finances, how elders' meetings work. They all sit in on the [Good Shepherd] elders' meetings and see how the church is governed"-matters, Canfield points out, that cannot be taught in a classroom. "This is, to my mind, much more important than writing music."

It's also, apparently, more important than completing the "several books"-one on the Council of Trent and another called Sola Scriptura. Both are "in the works," he says. "If I live to be 100, maybe I'll finish at least one of them," he jokes.

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