Sams pursues his life-long dream

Skip Sams, a talented musician, went to many schools before finally finding ULV. As a senior, Sams enjoys playing the piano and the recorder in his spare time. He is currently working on his senior project, composing and writing an opera. He spends much of his time at the piano in the Chapel. / photo by Starr Carroll
Skip Sams, a talented musician, went to many schools before finally finding ULV. As a senior, Sams enjoys playing the piano and the recorder in his spare time. He is currently working on his senior project, composing and writing an opera. He spends much of his time at the piano in the Chapel. / photo by Starr Carroll

by Pattie Moreno
Staff Writer

Spiritual, educated, artistic and music lover are the adjectives best used to describe Skip Sams, a 28-year-old senior who transferred in as a music major from Grove School of Music in Van Nuys last semester.

“Don’t be afraid to learn what you don’t know,” has become Sams’ philosophy on life.

Sams was recruited by Dr. Reed Gratz, professor of music, who recognized the value of Grove’s program. Grove is actually what brought Sams to California as a composition and arranging major. He learned to orchestrate, write and conduct for big band music. Sams has also taken classes at Cincinnati Bible College, Mt. St. Joseph College in Ohio and Cal State Fullerton.

Sams was born in Columbus, Ohio, and had a Protestant upbringing, being that his father was the preacher and his mother was the organist of their local Church of Christ.

“I am very spiritual, but because of sexuality issues I was pushed out of the church in order to be true to myself,” said Sams.

His relationship with his family is very good, but difficult. At age 11, Sams discovered he was bisexual, and was already heavily involved with the church.

“I found my spirituality in music and poems, basically through the arts. I have my beliefs and I put them into practice in a non-traditional church way,” said Sams.

He attends the La Verne Church of the Brethren and is excited about its inclusionary policy towards gays and bisexuals.

“If I am silent, everything is fine. It has got to change and it has got to start in the home,” said Sams.

He has had an extended outlook on education through attending various colleges and has his long term and short term goals mapped out.

“School has helped me see the power of education through taking the classes I have always avoided,” said Sams.

Even at a young age, Sams lived his life through music. In high school, at 14, Sams traveled on the weekends, singing in different churches, trying to create a professional musician status for himself, sending out demo tapes to see if someone would ask him to come sing. Besides being musically talented, his education has played a big role in who he is politically and spiritually.

In 1993, he participated in the march for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Rights in Washington, D.C., amongst millions of activists. Another key event in his life came in 1984 when he traveled with a contemporary Christian group, the Continentals, in Belgium and Holland.

His goals are to get through his senior project, which is writing an opera, and to teach at the college level one day.

“I dream some day of becoming Dr. Skip. I would also like to end up teaching,” said Sams.

The opera is entitled “Awake” and he will play the lead male role. He hopes to take it on the road after graduation.

“I always hated opera music until I came to ULV,” said Sams. “Ever since I was a little kid, I used to watch Fred Astaire’s movies and dream about writing the music, dancing in them and doing it all.”

The opera is in English with a little bit of Gaelic, which comes from Sams’ primarily Irish background, although he calls himself an “American mutt.” The opera is approximately 2 1/2 hours long with two 15 minute intermissions. It will be performed March 15-17.

“Awake” is based on a dream his sister Beth Ann had eight years ago, which made a lasting impression on him.

When his sister described her dream it sounded like it occurred in Ireland or Italy to Sams. So he figured there could be no better way to get inspired to write the treatment for the piece than to visit Ireland. So Sams and a friend traveled to Ireland for two weeks to do the research necessary to make this dream come true.

“I came back with a lot of clothes and music, and my friend Mary Ann [Sellers] came back with the books,” said Sams.

Sellers has written most of the libretto, and last spring they decided to bring it out in the open to be Sams’ senior project.

“Awake” is influenced by many different things, resulting in a wide range of styles. It carries messages from his childhood, his background in church music and his pop and rock days, as well as a classical influence. Sams describes his opera as an art piece, but he feels some might find it a controversial opera, “as if a painter would paint a square, but some people think it is a circle,” he said.

The first act is innocent and fun, then the second act introduces strange characters using big band music and the third act shows the two main characters in their maturity. The auditions for his opera will be Dec. 6 and 8 from 4-7 p.m. in Founders Auditorium. The auditions are open to singers, dancers and instrumentalists.

He feels he learned a lot in doing this opera because it is such a huge project. Completing the opera will be the fulfillment of a life-long dream of his, that he is really capable of producing something of this caliber.

“The most exciting thing about this opera is watching all the elements of the various aspects of my education come together,” said Sams.

Sams has played an active role in the Theatre Department on campus, participating in many productions, including “Twelfth Night” and “Romeo’s Garden.” He is in the Chamber Singers, was in the ULV Jazz Ensemble and is an active member of the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Student Union.

Outside of school, Sams likes going to the beach, whale watching, writing music and poetry and concentrating on finishing his degree.

“I want this degree before I turn 30. I am going to do it,” said Sams.

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