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Tigger in a Tuxedo
Doris' Speech at the 97th Notre Dame Glee Club Reunion, held in honor of Carl Stam, Oct. 2012. [Chip was conductor of the Glee Club from 1980-1990]
They told me I could give a speech, so here I go! The title of my speech is “Tigger in a Tuxedo.” I hope you recall the bouncy, cheerful Tiger character, Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh, whom Chip so resembled! Chip did not own a suit until he was 40 and his mom bought him one or a funeral. He was always wearing either his tux or tails to events, or possibly his blue Blazer for Glee Club tours. Thus, the origin of my title for the speech.
TIGGER IN A TUXEDO:
Clown, Choral Conductor, College Professor, and Christian Man
I want to speak a bit on each of these 4 hats that Chip wore, tell a story or two, and share from my heart.
1. I will start with The Clown I think of Chip as Tigger. And it makes me smile. Chip was always making me smile. He was always bouncy, energetic, and cheerful. He exuded joy. He was fun to be with—weren't you always laughing when you were around him? --forgetting yourself, your troubles and having fun? Like Tigger, Chip couldn't contain his enthusiasm. Exuberance glowed from him.
Chip loved children, and they loved him. If a child was in the room, he got down on their level and looked them in the eyes, smiled, and captivated them. He could think of a thousand ways to entertain little kids, and college kids like you! Being terrifically athletic helped, and the ability to juggle, walk on his hands, and do those 360s served well to captivate the child in all of us.
2. That serves well as a transition to Choral Conductor, actually. Have you ever tried to conduct a musical group? It ain't as easy as it looks! It's not just being a metronome! It takes coordination, confidence, and tons of musical skill. Chip was very capable in those areas, but more, he could challenge you, cajole you, mimic you, cheer you on with all his clownish ways such that you gained the skills and courage to call forth from yourself higher abilities than you ever knew you had! I have seen him command enormous orchestras and choirs through complex metric and tempo changes in fabulous and difficult music, shaping phrases, demanding articulation, pulling out expressiveness and musicianship that seemed to always exceed the meager abilities of the people he conducted. He could stand before thousands with a poise and calm that tempted you to think that what he did was easy. He spent hundreds of hours studying and marking his scores through the years, and practicing his conducting gestures. Demanding excellence of himself and his singers, combined with his genuine care for his students and his joyful enthusiasm, made him a terrific choral conductor.
3. And that's also great recipe for a captivating College Professor, which is the third hat he wore. Chip loved to help others learn things! His kids will tell you, he was teaching us something almost every waking moment, be it grammar, math, computer, music theory, how to repair things....he seemed to always be in teaching mode. His mom called him “Chippie-fix” as a child, because he could figure out and repair almost anything around the house, and the he would love to tell you how to fix it! His family laughed and played games a lot, but also read and studied together, always eager to learn.
Chip's mom is 87 now, and goes regularly to the “genius bar” to keep up with the latest on her Mac computer! His dad was a PhD in chemistry from Princeton, and Chip headed there for college, but won a full-ride to Chapel-Hill, where he played on the tennis team. It will come as no surprise that Chip excelled at everything, but his grasp of music theory never ceased to amaze me.
After graduate school, Chip became adjunct faculty member and choral conductor. When we came to Notre Dame, Chip was barely older than the seniors, and he looked younger than almost all the students! Perhaps because he looked so young, Chip took his responsibilities very seriously. Do you remember his attempt to grow facial hair to appear older? We later joked about how he looked like a teenager with a fake mustache. But he was plenty capable of carrying the mantle of college professor. Generous with red ink, he earned the title of “Grammar Grinch” from freshman in his writing seminar on Aesthetics. Teaching at Notre Dame was a tremendous honor and privilege, especially to conduct sacred Choral music as it was written, for the glory and worship of God.
4. This reminds me of a story I want to tell. No doubt you clubbers will remember when Chip would hand out those engraved pocket Swiss Army knives at the end of the year banquets, and challenge you to be men of integrity. One year the guest speaker was a regional orchestral conductor, who had an aspiring career ahead of him. He challenged the graduates to fund the arts in their futures. He spoke of a satellite sent to the farthest planets to gather sounds, saying something about the longevity of sound waves from magnificently performed music being gathered hundreds of years from now, and the value of sacrificing to make beautiful music possible. I thought about the beauty in sound vibrations pulsing through the universe, yet I also knew that this man had recently left his lovely young wife, toddler and infant, for the arms of another woman. The sobs of his wife, (whom I had met), and his children, were also floating out in the universe. That image has haunted me all these years.
Chip championed the arts, but understood that faithfulness to wife and family resounded even more beautifully before the Creator of the galaxies. The King of the Universe, the source of all beauty, hears all the sounds from all time and space, the glorious symphonies and the sorrowful sobs. He is the only true evaluator of worth and beauty.
Leaving Notre Dame was a very difficult decision for us. Chip was thriving professionally, and he absolutely loved his job! But our nuclear family was not thriving, and we wanted to make steps to improve our marriage and help our boys. Chip's father died very suddenly in 1990. Our large Church back in North Carolina had continued to ask Chip to return. Chip's mother, a dynamo even more infectiously joyful and godly, silly and wise, was living near there, and we thought she might need us. We were sure we needed her. After a significantly gratifying year musically [conducting Stravinsky, Poulenc, Villa Lobos, and Durufle], Chip and I sat in the window of an Italian restaurant on South Bend Avenue in 1991 looking across at the campus and made the decision to leave the fabulous career, the European travel, the free college tuition for our kids, the perks and pride of having a highly regarded University professorship-- we felt our family was more important, and that the Lord would care for us.
We did not look back, but pressed on to how the Lord might use us in the future, and prayed for healing in our family. We had nine years back in Chapel Hill and ten years in Louisville, where Chip was once again a professor, choral director, worship leader, and mentor to students. Our last five years of marriage were the best ever.
5. Which brings us 'round to the last category: Christian Man. There is much to be commended in Chip's character. Fallible and far from perfect, but he was first and foremost a faithful husband and father—he passionately loved us. He was patient and kind—he valued people from all walks of life, all ages and nationalities, and didn't care if you were Down Syndrome or Rocket Scientist. But all these virtues were not what made his a Christian man. It was Christ living in him that made him a Christian man.
He believed what we proclaim in the Mass, the Christ has died, Christ has Risen, Christ will come again. Christ invaded time and space and died the death we all deserved for our rebellious hearts before the holy Triune God. Christ rose, conquering sin and death, and now lives and reigns over the seen and the unseen world, and lives also in the lives of those filled with his Holy Spirit by faith in Christ. He agreed C.S. Lewis that Jesus, who claimed to be God, is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord, but not simply a moral teacher (-Christ did not give us the option of considering him anything other than Lord.) It was Christ IN Chip that made him a Christian.
As I have thought of how to sum up Chip's life, I recall what was so precious to him from the Westminster Catechism. It asks, “What is the chief end of man?” “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
First of all, Chip came to know and believe that God exists. But how to know this God? Chip believed in natural AND special revelation, that God's self-revelation is in the Bible.
This wasn't just something he memorized as a child, but his faith journey was filled with rigorous thinking and study, and the more he studied, the more awestruck he became with the glory of God, the holy, good, loving, faithful, Sovereign, powerful, beautiful, wondrous majesty of the Triune God. Chip believed in the supernatural realm of angelic hosts and demonic beings.That the Father sent a rescue mission to save his children from the grasp of sin and the Evil One through the atoning sacrifice of his Son, conquering death and the Devil.
Chip heeded the conviction of the Holy Spirit to humble himself and acknowledge his rebellious heart before the holy God of Creation, accept the grace of forgiveness in the great exchange of Christ on the cross. Chip understood that the good things he had done in no way pleased God. He was too great a sinner. Only Christ sacrifice could cover that sin. And only his faith in Christ saved him. Freedom from the burden of trying to do enough good things or be good enough to please God, Chip delighted in praising the Lord for his grace, thanking him for his love. In other words, Chip enjoyed God, and enjoyed sharing that joy with others!
6. Chip's joy endured even when he was facing his own death. Chip would often remind our church the question and answer he treasured, written in 1563: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul—in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The song the Long Day Closes, a favorite song of the club, is lovely, but Chip is not on some dreamless bed floating among the clouds now. He is with the Saviour, in some realm that we cannot see at this time.
It has been a year and a half since Chip slipped away. He died peacefully while Clara and I sang Pslam 23, “The Lord's my Shepherd.” Though Chip had been unresponsive for several days, I have no doubt he was singing with us, and then beheld the face of his Creator, joining in the worship of Christ with heavenly beings in song, a beaming smile on his face! I miss my beloved more and more each day.
But our bodies will all wear out. We will all die and pass from this earthly life. Chip believed that Jesus is the Way to God, that there is absolute and eternal Truth, and everlasting Life. That Way, Truth and Life is always, always available to any who will call upon the name of Jesus.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” I always think of Jesus saying that when I look at Touchdown Jesus, and I think of the song a friend wrote that says about Christ: “For hands that should discard me hold wounds which tell me 'Come.'” (song: “Beneath the cross of Jesus”, by Keith and Kristyn Getty)
It is one of the deceptions of this world that the many voices that promise life and happiness–they all end up sucking life from us rather than delivering the enduring satisfaction we longed for-- and the narrow way of Christ seems at first to be dull and dry as toast, only to end up giving deep and abiding joy, peace, and life.
After all these years, hearing and reading your stories has brought many smiles, laughs, tears, and has been tremendously redemptive for me. I pray that through recalling the life of Chip Stam you may consider what is the chief end of your own life, and choose to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
As you do, think of Tigger in a Tuxedo, of Chip bouncing up for that 360, or bounding out onto the concert stage, or that silly, infectious smile, that joie de vivre, and think of a creature who lived for the glory and enjoyment of God, and whose music is resonating and reverberating to Christ the Creator whose nail pierced hands flug stars into space.
Doris Stam has written a book about her relatives who founded Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.