Dr. Michael Pohlenz is Director of Music Ministries at Wellshire, which includes conducting the Sanctuary Choir, overseeing and administering Wellshire’s various music ensembles and staff, and programming music for weekly worship services throughout the year. Michael has been on staff at Wellshire since 2003.
Why did you choose to pursue a career in music?
As a student in junior high, I played the trumpet and sang in school ensembles. I enjoyed those activities very much, and I excelled at them more than anything else I did. (As a short-stop, I was no Troy Tulowitzki, but I did take home the game ball one night.) At church camp, I dedicated my talents to ministry.
While the path to ministry was indirect in some respects, I never wavered far from church work. Perhaps I chose to pursue a career in music, but I feel that God first chose me.
Tell us a little bit about your musical background.
Outside of educational pursuits and prior to coming to Denver, I’ve worked as a:
- Director of high school vocal and instrumental music,
- Director of college choral and vocal studies,
- Director of music ministries for two major churches and several smaller churches,
- Founding Music Director and Conductor Emeritus of The Wichita Chamber Chorale, an auditioned, adult community choir.
I also have been privileged to guest conduct several community groups. I was formerly Assistant Conductor of Kantorei, while under the direction of Richard Larson, and Associate Conductor of Canto Deo under the direction of Jonathan Brown. Dick and Jonathan — and their fine choirs — are very highly regarded in Denver’s music community.
What is the greatest thing about the music ministries at Wellshire?
The heritage of former music directors and pastors that fostered such a deep-seated love for good music in worship. This history has gradually attracted vocal and instrumental musicians of the highest quality to our various ensembles. Fine sacred music thrives within the “Culture of Excellence” found in Wellshire’s worship services and special programs.
How do you select music for worship?
Text is the key element in selecting music for worship. The quality of the musical composition is next, followed by the ability of the ensemble to prepare it in a reasonable amount of time and present it in worship. Only a very small percentage of all the music I review meets these three criteria.
What is the most memorable worship musical experience you’ve ever had?
I could perhaps recount some highlights, but I can’t cite one above all others.
Routinely, I am blessed by our All Saints service (the Duruflé Requiem comes to mind), our Festival of Carols and Christmas Eve services (O Holy Night or Jesu Bambino leading intoSilent Night, with candles raised), our Good Friday Tenebrae and Easter Sunday celebrations, and major choral and orchestral works such as Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.
I loved presenting Rachmaninoff’s Blessed Art Thou, O Lord from his All-Night Vigil in Easter worship (a dream of mine for many, many years), as well as Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs.
Where do you find inspiration?
What makes these experiences I just described so inspiring and meaningful to me is having the opportunity to worship through some of the most powerful choral music ever written. Performing it on stage is one thing, but sharing it in worship as a statement of faith is something else. I affirm the latter.
What are the things that make you happiest?
Celebrating a holiday or a birthday with my wife and daughters… They always make me laugh.
When you’re not at Wellshire, where are you likely to be?
Knee deep in the South Platte…
What is one thing that very few people know about you?
I haven’t actually read all of the books in my office.
Wichita, Kansas; grew up in Argonia, Kansas; Grinnell, Iowa; and Fairfield, Iowa (my father was a Quaker minister, so I lived several places growing up)
Aeronautical engineer. I built and flew gas engine model airplanes as a kid, and I eventually earned my pilot’s license while I was in college.
Wife, three daughters, a son-in-law, and a grandson.
All time best was Tut, a yellow lab that hunted with me for pheasants, quail, doves, ducks and geese. He was a retriever that simply wouldn’t quit when he had the scent of a bird on the ground.
Perhaps Secondhand Lions. It rekindles so many memories of my own childhood.
Favorite piece of music
I am partial to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (because I have sung it seven times but never conducted it) and Handel’s Dixit Dominus (because I have conducted it three times and absolutely love it).
Robert Shaw. He was the consummate choral and orchestral conductor of the 20th Century and a master of interpretation and performance techniques, as well as music/arts philosophy. There will never be another like him.
Favorite place you’ve ever visited and why
I’ve enjoyed seeing London, Paris, Salzburg, Prague, Rome, Vienna, Venice, and other European cities, including Moscow, St. Petersburg and Helsinki. I’ve loved visiting Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, the shoreline of Maine and other natural treasures. New York, Chicago and San Francisco have always intrigued me, and I hope to spend more time in Boston. Savannah and Charleston were beautiful when I visited them ever so briefly last summer. But my absolute favorite… perhaps hasn’t been discovered yet.
Friends University: Bachelor of Music Education (Vocal and Instrumental); Southern Methodist University: Master of Music in Choral Conducting; University of Southern California: one year of doctoral study in choral music; University of Oklahoma: Doctor of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting