Published on October 26, 2020 by Ashley Smith  
string quartet performance

Samford University associate professors Joel Davis and Jeffrey Flaniken were named finalists for the nationally acclaimed Lilly Fellows Program’s 2020 Arlin G. Meyer Prize in Musical Performance. They were chosen for the prestigious honor based on their collaboration in presenting the Samford String Quartet’s 2017 live performance of “Antiphons-Benedictions” from Davis’ String Quartet No. 1: Vespers.

The Arlin G. Meyer Prize is awarded biennially to a faculty member from a college or university in the Lilly Network whose exemplary works of art align with their Christian faith. It is named for the late Arlin G. Meyer, professor of English at Valparaiso University, who served as program director of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts from its inception in 1991 until his retirement in 2002.

The award rotates through different artistic work categories, ranging from imaginative writing and performing arts to the visual arts and nonfiction. As a result, the music performance award is only presented every 10 years.

“I have been waiting for an opportunity to participate in this competition since 2010,” Davis said. “I am immensely grateful to Dr. McGinnis, Provost Hardin and Dean Hopkins for their endorsement of our application, as this recognition would not have been possible without their support,” said Davis. 

Wilton and Vicki Bunch commissioned Vespers in fall 2013. The Bunches also endowed the Samford String Quartet, which is comprised of four Samford faculty members: Jeffrey Flaniken, Angela Flaniken, Caroline Nordlund and Samuel Nordlund. 

The piece was Davis’ first original work for a string quartet. It premiered at Samford in February 2016 and has since been featured in several concerts by the Samford String Quartet, including its October 2016 performance at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.  It is also included in the Samford String Quartet’s recent album Sacred Music for String Quartet and in the Amernet String Quartet’s Alabama String Quartets album released this fall.

The piece was a labor of love for Davis as it allowed him to compose work that was inspired by those who commissioned it and those who would be playing it. “The Vespers Quartet has many layers of personal meaning, as I sought to weave in elements that paid homage to Dr. Bunch’s background in ministry as an Episcopal priest. Additionally, I was writing with very specific musicians in mind; accordingly, Vespers was refined to match the skills, sensibilities and personalities of the Samford String Quartet members. So much so, in fact, that virtually every note, bow stroke and gesture in the piece was crafted to match the individual voices of the two married couples who comprise the ensemble,” said Davis. 

Davis was a member of the second cohort of the Lilly Graduate Fellows during graduate school.  “At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, my experience in the Lilly Fellows Program has been nothing short of life-giving, vocation-affirming and deeply inspiring,” Davis said.  He continues his relationship through an annual conference and has presented on several occasions, including this year in a virtual setting. He also serves as a member of the national selection committee for the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program, which will matriculate its 12th cohort of graduate fellows in 2021.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.