mkbrantley May 19, 2020
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By K.J. ASKEW / Senior Writer

Barton College’s musical section of the School of Visual, Performing, and Communication Arts has been run by Mark Peterson for the past 18 years. Peterson has served as the musical director of Barton college since August 2001.

Peterson is known to his colleagues and students as “The Maestro” or simply Mark.

He was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts and is married with three children, including his stepchild. He also has a cat that he is allergic to.

Peterson graduated from Boston University where he earned his degree in Applied Organ Studies.

He grew up with parents who thought music was not considered a sustainable career.

“I chose to study music because the idea was just something that was unfathomable to them,” said Peterson.

Peterson had multiple inspirations for his music.

“While I always played piano, my musical inspiration has always been pop music. First the Beatles and then the Monkeys,” said Peterson.

One inspiration has defined the musician that he has become himself.

“A life changing event for me was The Doors. The group played a defining role on the changing the view of a keyboardist for a rock band. It inspired me to play as much of the group’s music as I could which led me to study music,” said Peterson.

Peterson went on to work at Bradford College until it’s closing in 1999.

He went on to earn his Master of Arts in Music at the University of New Hampshire during the break before he started his career at Barton college.

After completing his master’s degree, he would be introduced to Barton College by a close friend and now coworker of 18 years, Phil Valera.

“Phil Valera and I were close friends at Boston University, after graduation we remained closely in contact, eventually we drifted apart,” said Peterson.

During his time as an associate professor at Bradford College, Valera visited Bradford College and became fascinated with digital electronic music.

In the future, Valera and Peterson would rekindle their friendship.

“Valera returned to Florida and purchased his own equipment while he earned his degree in Audio Recording, he was hired at Barton and a couple years following Bradford college closed so then he informed me of the job at Barton,” said Peterson.

Peterson has conducted more than hundreds of performances.

Three of these performances stick out to him.

“In 1984, I was a part of putting on an entire Handel’s Messiah, which included soloist who were friends of my wife at the Bradford Conservatory,” said Peterson

Five years ago, Peterson put on his second memorable performance.

“In 2015, Barton musicians performed Carousel, a Rodgers and Hammerstein II musical. The musical was presented in multiple performances at the Fletcher Theatre in Raleigh,” said Peterson.

Peterson’s third memorable and most recent performance was the 29th annual “Love The Symphony” concert.

He was pushed towards music by his parents, but not in the way most would expect.

“They definitely didn’t encourage my growing passion for music although they did accept it. I found my way to music because it was something, they knew nothing about,” said Peterson.

Peterson took away a lesson from his parents that developed him into the man he has grown to be.

“The fact that they persisted with me even though I was a strangely unfocused student, is enough in itself. They taught me persistence, the value of hard work, and their delayed gratification played a role in shaping who I’ve become,” said Peterson.

Peterson has a performance that is his most gratifying moment as a musician.

“As a musician, I would have to say the most musically gratifying moment was The Poulenc Organ Concerto in 2011 performed at First United Methodist Church of Wilson,” said Peterson.

Here is why.

“I was trained as an organist, so I have an understandable affinity for this piece. During my college years, a recording of this concerto was certainly among my most listened to albums.

While I tried playing this piece, I never imagined I would someday conduct it. Since space was limited, I was able to assemble an orchestra consisting of only my very best players. Patrick Kreeger, the guest artist, is a most extraordinary player. He grew up in this area, and always won the piano competitions in which my sons took 2nd and 3rd. He has degrees from Curtis, Yale, and Julliard. He plays at a big church in New York City and teaches at Julliard. His performance was masterful, he found colors on that organ that no one knew existed.” said Peterson.

Peterson enjoys his job.

“It is still artistic gratifying every time I walk into work. The students always rise to the occasion and continue to inspire me” said Peterson.

Ashley Dakis, freshman, enjoys being a part of Peterson’s chorus class.

“Mark is a funny professor who can really connect to his choir,” said Dakis.

Nicholas Horton is a sophomore and was offered a scholarship and spot in choir at the end of his spring semester in 2019. He considers Peterson to be an important part of his academic career.

“Mark Peterson has impacted my college career by allowing me to use my passion of singing in choir. He has always encouraged and pushed my vocal skills to new heights,” said Horton.

Similar to Dakis, Horton speaks about the atmosphere that Peterson has developed in his choir.

“His classroom style of being relaxed, but firm when he needs to be works with me,” said Horton.

Peterson wants to be remembered in an interesting way as he leaves the Barton community with this.

“Goodbye, Mr. Chips”.

A movie from the late 1930s focused around an old classics teacher who looks back over his long career, remembering pupils and colleagues.

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