Asbury University Honors Dr. Gilbert Roller

WILMORE, Ky. — Kentucky Symphony #1, an orchestra piece written by retired professor Dr. Gilbert Roller, is an interesting piece of music. Its melodies combine across sections in surprising ways, and contrasts in volume and tempo keep the work exciting to listen to. It is challenging and rewarding, both for the performers and the audience.

It is also a love song.

The Asbury University Concert Band, Collegium Musicum Piano Trio and Orchestra performed during the Winter Festival of Music.
The Asbury University Concert Band, Collegium Musicum Piano Trio and Orchestra performed during the Winter Festival of Music.

It is a love song to Roller’s wife of 63 years, Jeri, with tributes to her support and loyalty written into the score. It is a love song to Kentucky and the God who fashioned its rolling hills, trilling birds and dramatic landscapes. And on an icy evening in February, it became a love song from the Asbury University Music Department to Roller himself in honor of decades of leadership and creative inspiration.

The Music Department’s Winter Festival of Music featured the University Concert Band, Collegium Musicum Piano Trio and Orchestra and was held in honor of Roller, who taught at Asbury from 1975 to 1993. Selections on the program ranged from classical music to more modern works, including a movement of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C Minor and “Rejouissance: Fantasia on Ein Fest Burg,” by James Curnow ’66. The evening’s music concluded with the first and third movements of Roller’s “The Kentucky Symphony.”

Dr. Gilbert Roller (right) signed copies of his novel, The Healing Horses, after the concert.
Dr. Gilbert Roller (right) signed copies of his novel, The Healing Horses, after the concert.

“Dr. Roller’s music is unique,” said Dr. Mark Schell, chair of the music department and a former student of Roller’s. “His creativity has many different expressions — he paints, he composes, he writes. So when you hear his music, it doesn’t sound like anyone else’s. It’s a real honor to be able to offer a tribute to someone who has been so influential.”

Roller taught music theory and music appreciation throughout his tenure at Asbury, and he also helped guide the department through its initial accreditation process in 1978. Those who were his students, however, remember his personal touch and attention.

“He always felt like his job was to engage students, to love students and to share with them from his own life what it looked like to be in intimate relationship with Jesus,” said Dr. Jon Roller, Gilbert’s son and a member of Asbury’s Worship Arts faculty. “As much as he loves classical music, he’s more interested in music engaging people than he is about the style he loves. When we do contemporary things here, he’s all for it, because if it’s engaging students, that’s what he cares about.”

Following the concert, Roller signed copies of his newly completed novel, “The Healing Horses,” a book that reflects many of Roller’s own experiences with faith and family. At 85 years old, his creative juices — whether exhibited in the paintings hung on living room walls around Wilmore or the harmonies that sang from the stage of Hughes Auditorium — seem undiminished.

“He’s never allowed himself to lose the creative spark,” Jon said. “There’s something in him that just has to create.”

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