Alumni Profile • Raymond Haan '59
Compelled to compose

Raymond HaanWhen Raymond Haan '59 was a boy, his piano teacher told him he'd never be a musician. He imagines, now, showing her some of the music he's written-more than 500 compositions published by 24 music companies.

Based on that body of work, the Grand Rapids chapter of the American Guild of Organists last fall named Haan its Michigan Composer of the Year and in November paid him tribute in a concert of his work. Held at Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church (CRC), where Haan has served as organist and choir director for 47 years, the concert featured his compositions for organ, handbells, trumpets and cello, as well as choral works.

After the concert, its organizer and conductor, Howard Slenk '53, called the experience "very satisfying. Ray's music," he said, "is logical, well-crafted and accessible. He has an innate gift for writing melodies people remember and like to sing."

"I've been trying to write music since I could hold a pencil," Haan said. He was first honored for a musical composition when he was a senior at Calvin; a piece he entered in a college arts festival competition won second place. All the other winners, he remembers, were music majors.

Haan was not. Though he wanted to be a musician, he never took a music course of any kind. "I realized there was no way to support myself as a musician in a CRC church," he said, "and at that time leaving my church was not an option."

Instead he became a middle school, then a high school English teacher and wrote music in his spare time-while also playing the organ, directing several choirs and being a father to four children. Retired from teaching, his children grown, Haan can now give his music more attention.

"The desire to compose something is always there," he said. "The question is what to compose."

Haan often starts with the words of a hymn and sets them to new music. Sometimes it's scripture or the Book of Common Prayer that gives him a text: "I'll read something and think, 'Oh, it's time to put those words to music.'" And sometimes both the words and tune of a composition are his own.

Wherever he begins, Haan said, "There is nothing like the satisfaction of finishing a piece. Any kind of creative process mirrors the Lord's creation, and in that I think he intends us to have great satisfaction."

Haan also has the satisfaction of knowing his work is enjoyed not only in his own church, but also around the world. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers has granted him 26 consecutive annual awards, based on the number of performances his music has received.

Yet, with the trend toward contemporary worship, performance opportunities for his music are shrinking. Several companies that once published his work will no longer consider it. Even when they will, Haan said, many of his best pieces are rejected because they don't jibe with current market demands.

That those pieces languish has ceased to trouble him. "It's all the Lord's work," he said. "The Lord gave me this small talent, and he's multiplied it by some inscrutable power of his own. I'll take responsibility for the flaws, but the successes are the Lord's, no question."