by Callahan Jones
Dr. Charles Clevenger, beloved senior professor of music at Cedarville, is teaching his final semester. Since his arrival on campus in 1982, Clevenger has been one of the more influential faculty members on campus.
During his tenure, he has taught piano, reworked and overseen the entire Intro to Humanities program, been Chair of the Music and Worship department and oversaw the planning and building of the Bolthouse Center for Music, his department’s current home. He was even voted Faculty Member of the Year by the student body in 2002 and has received numerous other academic awards.
However, although he has accomplished many things on campus, these are not what will stick with him when he leaves the school, he said.
“When I first came to this school, I thought I would be teaching college students how to play the piano,” Clevenger said. “I ended up making disciples instead.”
This is a statement that Clevenger, or “Dr. C,” as he is fondly called by many of his students, is known for saying often. It speaks to his methods of teaching, which he says is closer to coaching. However, teaching the piano isn’t what he views to be the most important thing he does at Cedarville.
“I’m not trying to make people into music majors, I want people to follow Jesus,” Clevenger said. “I think that’s what God wants me to do. I’m trying to, one at a time, to affect people deeply.”
At first glance, this philosophy of teaching seems to be at odds with the other facet of Clevenger’s work on campus, which is leading the Intro to Humanities class, a general elective that almost all students on Cedarville’s campus must take. It is the largest class on campus, boasting 16 sections each semester, all online.
Clevenger took over the Intro to Humanities class in 2009, completely redesigning the course from the ground up with a team of other professionals to make it relevant to today and to convert it to an online format. He was awarded his senior professor status for this feat. The class underwent a second series of edits and revisions in the winter of 2015 following the exposure of a ring of cheating students.
“What I’m trying to do with the online aspect of the class is to stimulate the one-on-one interaction. The student has to at least sit and deal with me,” Clevenger said. “We used to do it in big lecture halls. At least in this way, I get the chance to individually talk to a student instead of standing up there like the parents in Charlie Brown.”
It is this drive for one-on-one interaction that is behind Clevenger’s teaching style. It is how he is so effective at “making disciples” for the gospel. So much so in fact, Clevenger believes the way he teaches to be his own spiritual gift.
“Paul called it being a paraclete, in the Greek, or, in English translations, the gift of exhortation or encouragement,” Clevenger said. “When you look at what the word paraclete means, it’s a guy who gets down in the dirt next to you and shows you how to do something, rather than tells you.”
This gift is the reason why Clevenger’s piano studio has two grand pianos, so he can show his students exactly how something should be done. His affinity for coaching is also why his online Humanities classes are mostly video based.
“My ability to come in here and meet with a younger, fellow Christian brother or sister and teach them piano and impact their life is what keeps me going,” Clevenger said. “My students see a senior professor who’s 67 years old and nearing retirement. I shave a 29-year-old man every morning and walk in here excited and ready to go. I couldn’t imagine doing anything different than this for a living.”
According to Beth Porter, professor of vocal music and chair of the Music and Worship department, Clevenger’s teaching philosophy is a look into the very base of the man himself.
“Ever since the day when I started working here,” Porter said, “he’s told me ‘Beth, we’re not here just to teach these kids. We’re here to change their lives for Christ.’”
Porter described him as a master teacher, one who cares not only for the work his students are doing but also about the students themselves. She also described him as being adventurous, generous and kind.
“One day, he showed up at my house with some students and built me a nice rock patio in my backyard, just because he had some time and extra stones from his own patio and wanted to bless me in that way,” Porter said. “He lives big and loves big.”
Dr. John Mortensen, music professor and head of the piano department within the Music & Worship Department, spoke of Clevenger and the impact he has had on the department.
“When he hired me 20 years ago, he described the program as an ‘aw shucks’ program in the middle of a cornfield,” Mortensen said. “And since then, he’s turned it into what it is today which is a program recognized internationally for excellence.”
Regardless of the accomplishments he has made in the past, Clevenger is looking forward to his future life of retirement.
Clevenger said once he retires he will probably take a long break from most everything to travel and spend more time with his wife, Rhonda. He will also focus on his watercolor painting business more and would like to travel with his grandchildren. But, he will never stop teaching.
“I’m not sure how I will go about it,” Clevenger said. “But I’ll do it one way or another. Perhaps I’ll teach watercolor to serious adults or in group classes. If one of my grandchildren want to learn piano I would teach them in an instant.”
No matter what Clevenger ends up doing in the future, one thing is for certain. He will keep making disciples and encouraging people for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Callahan Jones is a sophomore journalism major and a writer and the web content editor for Cedars. In his free time, he enjoys drinking coffee, collecting headphones and playing Magic: The Gathering competitively.