Ground Zero encounter shifts music alum’s focus

Pianist Jed de la Paz, piano, and cellist Michael Avila perform de la Paz's arrangement of "When Peace Like a River" for the Commencement Concert on June 12.
Pianist Jed de la Paz, piano, and cellist Michael Avila perform de la Paz's arrangement of "When Peace Like a River" for the Commencement Concert on June 12.

August 2, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker

Pianist Jed de la Paz arranged most of the religious songs for his honors project titled “Soli deo Gloria,” or “For the Glory of God Alone.” It was an undertaking he never imagined pursuing and ultimately involved arranged hymns and gospel songs for cello, voice and violin.

The pieces he worked on include  “The Lord’s Prayer,” de la Paz’s favorite of the arrangements he’s composed. The version offers a new way of hearing a timeless song, he said. He pursued the project this spring as a senior music major, in completion of La Sierra University’s Honors program.

“It was supposed to be one song. I thought it would take about a week,” said the new La Sierra alum. “It was amazing how everything came together.” Once licensing hurdles are cleared, he plans to officially release the arrangements as an album.

de la Paz graduated cum laude on June 13 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and is aiming for a career in dentistry, a field that allows room for his pursuit of music and by which he can aid humanity through outreach, he said.

His life could have taken an entirely different and more secular path if the plans he made several years ago had worked out to his desires. But a key disappointment followed by a pivotal experience in 2002 at the 9/11 Ground Zero site in Manhattan helped redirect de la Paz’s interests.

de la Paz was born in the Philippines and grew up around Los Angeles, attending high school in Alhambra and Temple City.

His parents gave him piano lessons at age seven mainly because he kept banging on the piano, de la Paz said with a smile. Around age 10 he began accompanying the children’s choir at the Pasadena Seventh-day Adventist Church which he attended with his family. While in the eighth grade his piano teacher suggested he apply to the well-known Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. He auditioned for enrollment in the school, but the institution was accepting three piano students at the time and de la Paz placed fourth on the final list. He was discouraged. “I could say I was kind of blaming God.”

But then he received an unexpected call from a friend asking him to consider serving as an accompanist for the San Gabriel Academy Choir. It was directed at the time by Calvin Knipschild. His friend invited him to hear the group perform at the Temple City Seventh-day Adventist Church.

de la Paz, still unhappy about his thwarted efforts to enter the arts school, attended the performance and took a seat in the back of the church. “I wasn’t expecting much,” he said. “But when they did the concert I was blown away.”

de la Paz enrolled at San Gabriel in 2001 and began accompanying the choir. That September 11, terrorists flew jets into the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan and into a side of the U.S. Pentagon. The huge mountain of rubble where the twin towers had stood became known as Ground Zero. During an East Coast performance tour the following year, San Gabriel’s choir visited the site. Security and protocol rules around the devastated area required visitors to maintain silence.  But Knipschild, moved by the scene, directed the choir to sing the National Anthem.

People began gathering to listen to the group and security guards let their impromptu performance continue. “It was one of the most spiritual moments of my whole life. There were tears in people’s eyes,” de la Paz said. “One woman came up to me and kept saying ‘thank you.’” Her teenaged son had died in the attacks. She told de la Paz that when she heard the choir singing she felt peace. The singing gave her hope, she said to the young pianist.

“At that moment I suddenly forgot about making it into the prestigious music school. I was proud I was from a small Christian academy,” de la Paz said. “I realized the Christian choir was different because they sang for a higher purpose. They wanted to share what Jesus had done for them.”

de la Paz is applying to dental school. He is considering participating in a mission trip next year through his church, the Temple City Seventh-day Adventist Church, or recording additional arrangements.

He became interested in dentistry after attending a career fair at Loma Linda University and after serving on a church mission trip to Fiji where he worked 12-hour days as a chair-side dental assistant. One female patient needed a tooth extraction. She had not previously received any dental care. “When she came in to us she was in so much pain,” de la Paz said. He shook the woman’s hand as she left the clinic following the procedure. It was a bittersweet moment for the pianist. “This was the same feeling I had at Ground Zero,” he said. “I realized I wanted to help more people and do dentistry. …I felt like as a dentist I could change the rest of people’s lives.”

de la Paz enjoyed the community and diversity of La Sierra’s campus, including its musical diversity, he said. While a student he played in the Wind Ensemble, Big Band, jazz trio and learned to play gospel music. He also directed Home Based Ministries for three years, including its musical components. He planned a mission trip to Hawaii where students rebuilt a school and held a week of prayer.

de la Paz also served as a leader for La Sierra’s freshman orientation program. “A lot of people come here because they visited and felt a warmth they didn’t feel anywhere else,” he said.

As an Honors student, he benefited from the variety of ideas and views expressed in classes. But the most important lesson learned in the program is that a life of service is the greatest calling one can have, he said.


PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)


  • Last update on  October 03, 2010