“It chose me,” Susan Marchant said when reflecting on her long career as professor of organ and choral music.
In fact, she almost took a different path.
“I had sort of a crossroads moment in high school,” said Marchant, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and studied organ from a young age.
After Marchant’s mother, a medical technologist, took her on a tour of the lab in which she worked, Marchant decided to quit her organ studies and focus instead on biology. She built up her courage to tell her teacher, John Becker, who was the music director at a large Lutheran church in downtown Buffalo.
“I went for my lesson and told him I wanted to talk to him about something,” Marchant said. “He said he wanted to talk to me, as well. After the lesson, he told me that he needed an assistant and he thought I was ready. Then he asked me what it was that I wanted to talk to him about. I said, ‘Oh, nothing.’”
Marchant gives much of the credit for her early passion for the organ to her father, a pharmacist, who would take his work with him on his evenings off to a big church in Buffalo where Marchant could practice.
“He was making it possible for me to practice,” Marchant said.
After high school, Marchant earned an undergraduate degree in organ performance at the prestigious Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, where in addition to her organ studies, she fell in love with choral conducting.
She went on to earn MM, MMA and DMA degrees from Yale University.
Teaching positions in her field were scarce when Marchant graduated from Yale. Her first full-time teaching position was at St. Cloud State University, where she filled in for a professor who was on a year-long sabbatical. At the end of that year, Marchant accepted a job at Pittsburg State.
“The experience was challenging,” Marchant said. “It was very part time.”
She said Gene Vollen, department chairman at the time, worked hard to put together enough pieces to eventually make Marchant’s position full time. In 1988, she was named director of choral activities.
Marchant will mark her 35th year at PSU in 2014. In her years at PSU, she has earned the Outstanding Faculty Award twice. She has led the choir on several biennial spring tours in the U.S. and abroad on which they have performed in a variety of beautiful and often historic venues.
One of her most significant accomplishments, Marchant said, was working with university administrators to plan and install the Fisk Op. 106 organ in McCray Hall. Marchant performed two concerts on Oct. 29, 1995, to debut the new instrument.
Whether in the organ program or choral studies, Marchant said, it is working with students that nurtures and motivates her. She is especially gratified when she hears from former students who say she made a difference for them.
“I don’t think there’s any better feeling in the world,” Marchant said.