A young Steve Dunn may have never imagined himself teaching a college course. After all, he was too busy composing, arranging and orchestrating to see that far into the future.
But several years and church ministry positions later, Dunn is the much-loved assistant professor of music and director of symphonic winds at the University of Mobile.
An Early Start
Dunn grew up in a musical family. His mother was a school music teacher and the church pianist. His uncle was a music professor, and his aunt was a professional musician.
He began taking piano lessons at the age of six and began writing music at the age of eight. As he expanded his musical proficiency, he garnered several opportunities to compose and direct multi-instrumental ensembles.
His first instrumental arrangement was for the church orchestra – as an 8th grader. Dunn also arranged for his high school band.
From borrowing church orchestra scores to studying accomplished composers, it was soon evident that his musical proficiency and ambition would lead to a calling to music
“I was having a lot of unusual opportunities to develop a broad range of skills and interests at an early age,” Dunn said.
Dunn went on to earn his undergraduate degree in trombone performance. Then, he spent the next 27 years in full-time music ministry, serving as an instrumental director at multiple churches.
He received a call in 2012 from Assistant Professor and Director of Instrumental Studies Kenn Hughes. There was a position available at the University of Mobile.
Although Dunn had taught seminars and music conferences, he had never been responsible for a syllabus, grades, or the oft-unpredictable ways of the young college student.
“My wife asked me, ‘Do you really want to be a band director?’” said Dunn. “Normally, I would have to say ‘no’ – but in this environment and setting, this would still be music ministry.”
In summer 2012, Dunn left his 27 years of church work behind to begin a new journey at the University of Mobile.
There was a significant learning curve transitioning from church work to academia. From learning the lingo to creating daily lessons and syllabi – Dunn often found himself at the administrative assistant’s desk asking for help.
Pacing and depth of rehearsal time also changed drastically. There was no longer a weekly service for which to prepare. Musicians were no longer volunteers, but paying consumers hoping to expand their musical palette and expertise.
“In the church world you have to do things faster because of the weekly A nature of services,” Dunn said. “In academia, it’s learning how to get beyond dealing with surface-level rehearsal issues.”
Dunn picked up the reins quickly, learning that his preparation and thorough approach earned him respect in the classroom. But at UMobile, he had the added bonus of being a valuable resource outside of the classroom.
“It needs to be more than just ‘come to class and leave,’” he said. “You can add value to their life in small ways – stopping and talking in the hallway, seeing how they need encouragement for the day.”
His intentional approach represents both years of church ministry and the heart of the UMobile faculty.
“Students that are in my classes, I can meet their needs on a deeper level,” he said. “I have students that come to my office and just need to talk about life. It is very exciting and fulfilling for me.”
As for his ministry – Dunn may have left the church setting, but his focus has shifted to reproducing and developing students like himself – and like Christ.
“I moved from addition to multiplication, as I pour into the lives of the next generation of teachers, church musicians and community leaders,” he said.
Ministry all over the world
Dunn’s personal portfolio is an impressive accomplishment. To date, he has written well over 1,000 pieces, while over 200 have been published.
In 2014, one of his arrangements was featured during Steven Curtis Chapman’s performance of “For the Sake of the Call” at Carnegie Hall. But perhaps more impressive is his arrangements being used in worship services at churches all over the world.
“I got a phone call from a friend who was in Amman, Jordan at a Baptist school. He was telling me how he heard something familiar and wanted me to hear it,” Dunn said.
Over the phone, Dunn heard his own arrangement being played by an orchestra in Amman, Jordan – some 7,000 miles away.
Other days, Dunn reads messages on Facebook from church leaders in different parts of the world – some he can’t even understand.
“There’s something really humbling and rewarding to know that on any given Sunday, somebody, somewhere is probably using something that I’ve written in a worship service,” he said. “I really have the opportunity to participate in ministry literally all over the world.”
Watch Steve Dunn’s Concepts + Convictions video as he answers the question: “Is Art Eternal?” here: umobile.edu/stevedunn.