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Confluence: more than a

junction where two rivers join, it

is the place in our lives where

everything comes together.

To a western Pennsylvania native, the word confluence evokes a very specific idea and generates the assumption that you are speaking about “THE confluence” . . . . The place in downtown Pittsburgh where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers come together to form the Ohio River at beautiful Point State Park in the heart of the city. In addition to being the namesake for the famous Three Rivers Stadium, the confluence provides an iconic image that defines this region of the country. It also serves as a meaningful metaphor. Resources, both natural and human flow from the northland to the city. Lumber is harvested in the great woods and sent downstream. Children are raised in the small towns of western Pennsylvania, then migrate to the cities and the universities for their college education and to find work, bringing with them the sensibilities, strength, and determination of their upbringing.

It is this confluence of life, faith, and purpose that can have a lasting impact on our artistry, and truly define who will be as people, musicians, and teachers.

It is this confluence of life, faith, and purpose that can have a lasting impact on our artistry, and truly define who we will be as people, musicians, and teachers. In his book Consolations, poet David Whyte writes about the idea of Genius. His contemplation of the word involves its Latin root which actually translates as the qualities of a given place or the “Genius loci.” In other words, the place in us where everything we are comes together. This incredibly powerful idea is affirmation that we should embrace not only our accomplishments, but the things in our lives that truly define who we are. Our past, our ancestors, our family, our experience, our education; each of these things comes together in confluence at every juncture of our life.

According to Whyte:

Our genius is to understand and stand beneath the set of stars present at our birth, and from that place, to seek the hidden, single star, over the night horizon, we did not know we were following.

When we are willing and able to envision ourselves standing at our own personal confluence, if we are willing to embrace the idea that we will always be the result of every aspect of our lives, we soften to the idea that we must be grateful for all of it. The idea that we are self-made or have accomplished things on our own is quite fulfilling. A sense of pride in our own hard work and achievement should not be disregarded. However, to be fully present, grateful, aware of our place and purpose in the world, we must stay in touch with everything and everyone that has contributed to our location in life, our Genius Loci, this confluence.

Becoming an accomplished musician is not dependent upon this type of reflection. It is possible to be an amazing performer or effective teacher without considering any of this. But, there is great inspiration to be found by situating ourselves in time and space with all that came before us, and all that contributed to who we are. The words and sounds of my teachers live on in my own playing and in my every day work. To this day, I can still hear the sweet sound of my first trumpet teacher George Monaco. His influence on my life, playing, and teaching is truly profound. And, recalling his sound also allows me to relive other important aspects of my time with him. I am reminded that my parents worked diligently to pay for those lessons and that my thirty-minute lessons would often last two hours. And sometimes, the only reason those lessons ended at two hours was because my mother would call the Monaco home asking if I was still there. My parents’ desire for me to play the trumpet, their love of music, their willingness to pay for lessons on a tight budget, George’s generosity with his time and gifts, and the impact all of this had on my life is all part of the story. But that confluence of commitment, time, people, and love shaped my musicianship in a very specific way. It was a situation that was unique to me. We all have stories of our early years in music that serve as a rich resource for future inspiration. My relationship with George has had a significant and lasting impact on me as a teacher, performer, and person. It is part of my confluence.

My teacher at The University of North Texas was Keith Johnson. He was an inspired and inspiring teacher who provided motivation to work, but who also helped us identify artistry within ourselves. Keith would say that he loved to hear from his former students. But, he hoped they would call only because they wanted to, not because they needed to. His desire was to teach in such a way that his students could sustain themselves musically throughout their careers with no dependency on him. It truly was the kind of teaching that lasts a lifetime. Over the course of that two years, I can honestly say I left every lesson feeling like I could do anything. That constant encouragement was a valuable lesson in my life. My gratitude for his approach has instilled in me the desire to do the same thing for my students. That gratitude flows through me and is part of my confluence.

As we engage in the most important conversations of our lives and careers, awareness of our own personal proximity, history, education, experience and situation is invaluable. In order to participate and contribute in meaningful ways, we must first know exactly where we stand, how we got there, and what we believe to be the truth. This point of departure is the result of everything, every person, and every place we have experienced. Making this connection and understanding its true meaning is the first step towards an informed, authentic artistry. Being grateful for what we have been given, allowing that to inform what we believe, and using that perspective to aid continual growth creates a healthy flow of ideas and reminds us of our place standing at the confluence.



1. Describe your confluence. Consider all the tributaries that have fed and continue to feed the person, artist, and teacher that you are today.

2. Think about the specific contributions made to you by specific people and places.

3. Reach out someone who had fed you in some meaningful way and thank them for their impact on your life. Do this, even if you have already done so at some point.

William Stowman

is professor of Trumpet and Chair of the Department of Music at Messiah University. With over thirty years in Music Education, he is in demand as a soloist, clinician, and guest conductor. As a trumpeter, Bill has has three solo CD’s to his credit: A Matter of Seconds (Mark Records), A Timeless Place (Klavier), and Parable (Mark Records). He regularly performs with The Messiah College Faculty Brass, BrassCross, and Tromba Mundi. He can be reached directly at

William Stowman

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