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Music is Key to Mike Hegeman's Calling

by Anne Hopkins

When Mike Hegemen was twelve years old, he played the role of a minister in a church play. His costume included a shirt with clerical collar. When he tried to return the borrowed shirt to the minister who loaned it, he was told, “Keep it, you’re gonna need it someday.” That shirt, Hegeman says with a grin, still hangs in his closet.

Now at work on his Ph.D. in homiletics, Hegeman is one of the busiest people on the Princeton Seminary campus. Taking three seminars where two is the norm, he still finds the time to teach nine precept classes. And in the last week before the spring reading period, he was fitting in two hour-long speech presentations to the junior class. Somehow, in the midst of it all, Hegeman also manages to find six hours a week to sing in a choir in South Jersey. He observes somberly, “I don’t do well with no structure.”

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photo: Chrissie Knight

Mike Hegeman was raised among the native peoples of the South Pacific by liberal Methodist parents who were tied to missionary work — “they built libraries, fed people, and taught English.” He grew up with a strong sense of the social gospel and knew from his early teens that he wanted a career in ministry.

His blue eyes sparkle when he speaks of preaching. He originally applied for an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program, but found space available in homiletics and was convinced that he could reach his goals by this route. A strong background in theatre and opera lend depth and confidence to his homiletical skills. Hegeman never preaches from a prepared manuscript, preferring to speak from his heart, after thoughtful preparation, which he finds agonizing. The spontaneity, he says, connects him to his congregation in a dynamic, meaningful way. It seems fitting that his doctoral dissertation topic is “Reading the Scripture As Proclamation.”

Hegeman says that during his first four years at PTS, while he was earning M.Div. and Th.M. degrees, Miller Chapel was the center of his life. It is obvious that he found spiritual succor there, and equally obvious that he gave much in return. During this time he sang in the Seminary’s Touring and Chapel Choirs, as well as in a sextet called Deo Gloria, which sang concerts a cappella.

Hegeman began composing at the age of nineteen, creating church music. He experiences deeply the role of the Holy Spirit in his composing. “It is,” he says, “an encounter with the Divine — the inexplicable becomes explicable.”

The light glows even brighter in his eyes when he talks about music. “It is agonizing to compose — it is a kind of haunting, a birthing. It is something that lives and grows inside me and then comes, in complete form.” He says that a characteristic of his music is melancholy — light coming through shadow. The effect he creates is music that reaches right into the soul, forging a link between hearer and composer that is mysterious but undeniable, discernible but largely unconscious.

He explains that sound actually enters the body; it is different from the visual art forms: “You can feel music, feel the other person singing, feel voices blending together.” There is “an interaction in my music between singer and piano player, with no time signature — it is like singing in the Spirit. The result is music that is lyrical, ethereal.”

These qualities typify Three Solemn Words, a choral piece that Hegeman wrote in 1998. A portion of this composition, “Would That I Steal Death,” came in a dream and plays on a theme of the Passion of Jesus, imagining John at the foot of the cross.

Hegeman is committed to writing new music. It is as natural to him as singing, and he says, “I just can’t help but sing.” He almost always approaches music from a text, asking, “How does this text sing through me?”

His work is varied and prolific. He has written the scores for four Seminary plays, including last year’s Trojan Women and the end piece for this year’s production, Noah. His vocal solo, “The White Tiger,” was commissioned by soprano Bonnie Draina for a recital to benefit animal shelters, performed in Miller Chapel in April.

After graduation, Hegeman wants to teach homiletics and speech, as well as to preach and to write music. The twelve-year-old boy has become a man, and what was once a role has become a calling.dot.gif (37 bytes)

Anne Hopkins has just completed her second year in the M.Div. program. She is from Charlotte, North Carolina, and hopes to be a pastor.

Copyright 1998 Princeton Theological Seminary
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