Chris Essig’s influence on fine arts education cannot be understated—not only at Ben Lippen School, but in the state of South Carolina.
His skill with stringed instruments, refined and polished not only by his multiple music degrees and decade-plus experience teaching, but also in circumstances of pressure, such as recitals and weddings, has made an undeniable difference in the Fine Arts Department at Ben Lippen. Since stepping foot on Monticello Road, he not only launched the guitar program, including multiple levels of classical ensembles, a bluegrass band, and more, but transformed it in such a way that the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has recognized it in the Top 50 Guitar Programs in the United States.
Wrote Thomas Amoriello, Jr., Chair of the NAfME Council for Guitar Education in a 2019 article about Mr. Essig, “due to their involvement in the Ben Lippen Fine Arts Department, Ben Lippen students will have developed the beginnings of a lifelong appreciation for the arts, an understanding of the power of communication conveyed via artistic means, a confidence and desire to participate in the creative process within the arts.”
That “confidence and desire” has translated into many awards and commendations that Mr. Essig himself, and students under him, have received: All-State Guitar nominations, performances at South Carolina Music Educations Association (SCMEA) conferences, and more.
While Ben Lippen’s Director of Fine Arts, Taylor Nelson, echoes the above sentiment, calling Mr. Essig a role model and “living curriculum teacher”: someone “who teaches his students to create as an act of worship,” he knows there is so much more to teaching music than sounds on a stage.
“He equips them with skills that they carry with them far beyond their time at Ben Lippen,” Mr. Nelson said, “including collaboration, presentation, and the ability to serve their families, churches, and communities through music.”
Mr. Essig has certainly changed the Fine Arts Department here—and now he will change the standard for music education in South Carolina.
He has been nominated as President-Elect of the SCMEA Guitar Division. Having served on the executive board for the last four years, he is most “excited to see the potential for continued growth in awareness of thriving guitar programs in our schools in this state,” he said.
While this new step is thrilling, he has already made positive change during his term as a member of the board. Most notably, he helped implement “professional development for teachers who teach other instruments, develop(ed) state standards for guitar, assist(ed) in developing education degrees specific to guitar at the college level, and creat(ed) more enrichment opportunities for students.” He has paved the way for even more guitar education by working, with the other board members, with the University of South Carolina to create a guitar education degree, which would “create more opportunities for guitar majors and future guitar teachers.”
As to what he would do during his 2-year term as president, he plans to work with a team of teachers to “draft College and Career Ready Standards for Guitar,” with an overall goal to provide young musicians with ample opportunities to hone their skills and spread the joy of music to their communities.
“I hope to cast a vision and work with the executive team to ensure that South Carolina students have more and more opportunities to thrive as students of the guitar in their schools and communities,” he said.
And, as in all things, he hopes to spread the love of Christ to all he encounters in this new position.
Mr. Nelson closes with a school-wide sentiment.
“Ben Lippen School is better because of Mr. Chris Essig. His love for Jesus, expertise in music education, and ability to connect with students make him a model of excellence in Christian education. We are grateful to claim him as a member of the Falcon family, and we congratulate him on his well-deserved appointment as President-Elect of the SCMEA Guitar Division. We have no doubt that his enthusiasm and leadership will continue to move SCMEA forward with excellence.”