The Lewis and Clark of Music

Rollins professor John Sinclair is leading the charge to bring world-renowned choral and orchestral music to Central Florida.

One day, back in 1992, John Sinclair was exploring the library of the First Congregational Church of Winter Park, where he served as choir director. There he found some music—unusual music, beautiful music, written by a group called the Moravians—that had lay dormant for years.

Curious to see if there was more available, he began researching, digging through books and records. Sinclair, John M. Tiedtke Professor of Music, discovered that the Moravians had a deep musical history in the U.S., dating back to before the Revolutionary War. They had founded the country’s first Bach Festival, bringing to America the music of European sophistication.

Sinclair soon discovered the Moravian Music Foundation, located in Pennsylvania. Through them he learned that there were many more compositions than what he’d found in his church library, and some hadn’t been performed in a century or more. He visited the Foundation and began readying some of the compositions to perform at the 1993 Winter Park Bach Festival, for which Sinclair serves as artistic director and orchestra and choir conductor.

That began an ongoing, two-decades-long partnership between Rollins and the Moravian Music Foundation. As a result, Sinclair has conducted at the Moravian Music Festival, and with some of his students, rendered more of the Foundation’s ancient works for modern ears.  

“To me it was the scholarship of the opportunity to do music,” Sinclair says. “There are very few places in this world undiscovered. This is being the Lewis and Clark of music.”

Most people would consider such work—along with his 28 years as a Rollins professor—an accomplishment unto itself. Sinclair is certainly proud of his affiliation with the Moravians; his office is decorated with the Moravian crest and other mementos. But that’s just the beginning.

If there’s a major choral or orchestral event around town, chances are Sinclair’s right in the middle of it. This November he’ll conduct his 658th candlelight processional at Disney, the first of 43 such performances he’ll oversee this holiday season. It is also his 24th year working with the Winter Park Bach Festival, a chance for him “to do the great masterworks of the world in a beautiful hall of great musicians.” And next June he’ll bring the world-renowned Berkshire Choral Festival to Winter Park, the first time in its 40 seasons the festival will be held in the South.

As a boy, he loved singing and playing the trumpet. After studying music in college, Sinclair decided to become a public school teacher and had three offers: band director at a small school, assistant band director at a larger school, or choral director. He opted for the latter because the school was nearest his then-girlfriend (now his wife). But he never lost his love of instrumental music, and as he progressed through his career—middle school, high school, a college in Texas, and finally Rollins—he maintained both a choral and an orchestral group, a dual pursuit he continues to carry out with the Bach Festival.

At next year’s Berkshire Choral Festival, he’ll be conducting an Italian program, featuring Stabat Mater and Messe di Gloria. This festival—one of only a handful worldwide each season—draws choral enthusiasts from all over the country for a weeklong adult singing camp, culminating in a June 7 performance.

“For a conductor, it’s kind of the coolest summer project you could do,” he says.