John Kuzma, Minister of Music
“I’m renouncing my membership in Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church and becoming a Catholic priest. And Bess is becoming a nun”. With these words, and wearing a black cassock and white clerical collar, John Kuzma, entered the Montview Staff meeting. Through this April Fools joke, once again, he showed his well-known and self-admitted “wild side”. “Sometimes, people around here don’t know what to think of me.”
Though he is not sure when or where it originated, his life has often been wildly tempestuous. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, he attended Catholic elementary and high schools and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. John earned his Bachelor of Music with Distinction at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, as the first recipient of the Mitch Miller Organ Scholarship (“Sing Along With Mitch”, the bouncing ball. Yes, that Mitch.). After graduation from Eastman, he spent a year in Copenhagen studying organ as a Fulbright Scholar. He returned from Copenhagen to get his masters from the University of Illinois and start his doctorate. Leaving Illinois, John moved west for the first time to San Diego, where he was the organist at the Episcopal Cathedral of San Diego, CA. He taught organ in the music department at San Diego State University and UC Santa Barbara. In 1980 he formed the San Diego Chamber Orchestra; and he was a staff musical arranger at the Crystal Cathedral in California, pastored by Robert Schuller. Immediately prior to coming to Montview in 1987, he was the music director of the American Boys Choir, Princeton, NJ. For seven years before becoming Montview’s Minister of Music John was a freelance conductor at various American regional orchestras and has conducted in Iceland, Canada, Europe, and the US spending as many as 125-150 days a year travelling and presenting some 300 appearances a year conducting at the at the piano and on the podium.
At the age of 8, John realized he wanted to be and committed himself to being a musician. He knew it would take hard work and practice and he was afraid of neither and enjoyed both. To get started, he taught himself to play the organ at the funeral home where his father was employed.
John has always been a morning person, frequently arising at 2:30 or 3:30 AM to pray, meditate and read the Classics in Greek and Latin; weekly; he tutors students in Biblical Greek and Classical Latin. John relaxes by reading Cicero, Pliny, Tacitus, Polybius and others in the original Latin. Besides being a “wild man”, John is a musician, an organist in the French style, and has written poetry all his life (he is currently working on publishing a book of his poetry – look for it when it comes out, it will be worth the wait!)
After coming to Montview, John and his wife of 47 years, Bess, decided they had traveled enough during his performing days. They are happy where they are, and they now stay close to home most of the time. Their last trip was in 2008 to Princeton for John to accept an award from the American Boys Choir. They have no big screen TV, because they last watched TV was on 9/11. They do not own a working TV, don’t go to movies, preferring to visit with good friends, listen to music, work in John’s basement studio, and be together. Life is good.
When asked what things he would take with him if he knew he would be marooned on an island for an extended period of time, John thought it would be a good idea to take Classical Latin and Greek books (in the original language), the Latin Vulgate Bible (which helps one understand difficult passages by referring to St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the original Greek and Hebrew), and The Art of the Fugue, by Johann Sebastian Bach. When asked who he would like to be on that island with him, he immediately said, “Why Bessie, of course.” but, ever the pragmatist, he added that he’d also like a native islander to help acquaint him with the island and its characteristics; and a normal, non-famous, ordinary person because they are not too pompous and self-impressed and are good talkers.
John describes himself as a religious liberal and a political conservative. He daily prays for 45 minutes (the Roman Breviary in Latin) and meditates for 1-1/2 hours. He describes himself as basically an introvert who truly enjoys solitude, but says has learned and trained himself to be social because it is necessary to do some of the things he wants to do, like conducting and teaching. When one gets to know John, one realizes he is a teacher in all things – history, music, literature, languages, and life, just to name a few.
John says that when he came to Montview, he and Bess found a good place to be and to stay. They have a comfortable home which frequently is full of intelligent conversationalists and musicians; he has a great relationship with the Staff of Montview (“It’s the best place I have worked”, though his “work” is much more a joyous offering to God that a labor); he loves the members of the choirs of all ages (“Adults need to talk to children, and vice-versa”) and all the musicians with whom he interacts, and he loves being able to work with Barbara Hulac, a consummate organist of the French Style, the same style in which John was trained (There really are only three schools of organ playing: the German, the French, and the British. Both he and Barbara were trained in the French tradition and believe it to be the most beautiful and useful, characterized by singing legato).
John and Bess found a good place to stay, and Montview has been blessed with their company and leadership for the past 28 years. In July, 2015, John will retire. His presence, leadership, wit, wildness, teachings, and friendship will be greatly missed.