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The Tree of Life My Soul Hath Seen: The Ensembles

Olivia Enquist, Staff Writer

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Luther Ringers

Luther Ringers is one of the most recently-founded music ensembles at Luther and is directed by Professor of Music and College Organist Gregory Peterson (‘83). In 2007, a small group of students performed a handbell piece to open Christmas at Luther at the request of Nordic Choir Director at the time Craig Arnold. After receiving positive feedback from the community, Luther Ringers became an official group on campus. In their early years, they borrowed handbells from local churches. The group had permanent instruments after Blanche Kangas, a personal friend of Weston Noble (‘43), donated handbells to the college.

The Luther Ringers play six octaves of Schulmerich Handbells and six octaves of Malmark Handchimes. Luther also owns a set of Whitechapel English Handbells, a set of Petit & Fritsen “Flemish” style handbells, a set of Schulmerich silver melody bells, a Schulmerich bell tree, and additional chimes. At this year’s Christmas at Luther, Luther Ringers played “Greensleeves (What Child Is This?)” arranged by Jason W. Krug, which was notable due to its rhythmic variety.

Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Orchestra is directed by Professor of Music Daniel Baldwin and is both the largest and the oldest orchestral ensemble on Luther’s campus. During Christmas at Luther, Symphony Orchestra performed a wide range of pieces. At the beginning of the concert they performed “A Frosty Christmas Eve” from “In Terra Pax: Christmas Scene” by Gerald Finzi. In this piece, they collaborated with Associate Professor of Music Andrew Whitfield, who performed the baritone solo. In their individual piece “Pines Near a Catacomb,” which is the third movement in “The Pines of Rome” by Ottorino Respighi, the orchestra took advantage of the Center for Faith and Life’s acoustics and played the trumpet solo as it was written in the score. Trumpet player Michael Winkler (‘19) performed the solo from behind a closed balcony door. This had a muting effect and made it sound as if the trumpet was being played from a great distance away. Baldwin explained why he chose the piece for the orchestra.   

“I chose the piece for its obvious connection to the 2017 theme, ‘The Tree of Life,’” Baldwin said. “I chose the Respighi because it is supremely beautiful, I knew the orchestra would play it well, and  I thought it would add color and variety to the program.”            

Cantorei

Weston Noble (‘43) founded Cantorei in 1996. He conducted the choir until 2005 when the post was assumed by Instructor in Music Linda Martin. Assistant Professor of Education and Coordinator for Music Education Jill Wilson currently directs the treble choir. They sang the “Holly and the Ivy” by Kirby Shaw, and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” by J. Edmund Hughes. Their second piece utilized a set of the Luther Ringer’s old English handbells.

Aurora

Aurora is an all-female first-year ensemble directed by Assistant Professor of Music Jennaya Robison (‘96). The ensemble was first established in 1981 under the name “Valley Singers.” Through its history, the ensemble has gone through multiple name changes. Its current name, Aurora, is the Latin word for “dawn.” This change represents that Aurora is often the first ensemble in which female vocalists participate and, for many, one of the first collegiate experiences that they have at Luther. The group often collaborates with the first-year men’s choir, Norsemen. This year, Aurora sang “A Spotless Rose” by Ola Gjeilo and  “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” from “Gloria Kajoniensis” by Levente Gyongyosi. Robison declined to comment.

Collegiate Chorale

Assistant Professor of Music Jennaya Robison (‘96) conducts the 106 mixed voices of junior and senior singers that comprise Collegiate Chorale. During Christmas at Luther, they sang pieces that highlighted their variety in style. Their first piece was a traditional Spanish folk tune titled “Fum, Fum, Fum!” arranged by Kirke Mechem. This piece was about one minute in length and up-tempo in rhythm. In their second song, the Collegiate Chorale displayed their sense of phrasing in a legato and soft piece called “His Light in Us” by Kim André Arnesen. Robison declined to comment.

Nordic Choir

Nordic Choir was founded in 1946 and is the top choir at Luther. For 57 years, Weston Noble (‘43) directed the choir. This year marks the first Christmas at Luther performance under the direction of Director of Choral Activities and Assistant Professor of Music Andrew Last (‘97). Nordic Choir sang “And Every Stone Shall Cry” by Bob Chilcott, as well as “Mary Had a Baby” by Craig Courtney, which featured a solo performed by Aidan Spencer (‘18). Last declined to comment.

Norsemen

Instructor in Music Mark Potvin (‘01) is the conductor for the first-year men’s ensemble, Norsemen. Craig Arnold established the group in 1981 before becoming conductor of Nordic Choir in 2005. In the past, the group has held the title of the largest auditioned first-year men’s choir in the country, though the choir’s size has varied throughout the years.

The choir sang a Nigerian folksong called “Oba Se Je” by Christopher Aspaas. They also sang a piece that was written specifically for the group by alumni Matthew Erpelding (‘00) called “Ring Out, Ye Bells,” with a solo performed by Jarrod Gross (‘21). Potvin described the process of reaching out to Erpelding.    

“The piece ‘Ring Out, Ye Bells’ has been difficult for Norsemen, in part because it is a brand new piece of music,” Potvin said. “When I got the job as conductor of Cathedral and Norseman, I sent a text to one of my classmates who I sat next to when I was in Nordic Choir. I said ‘you’ve got to write a piece for Norsemen for Christmas’ and he said that although he wanted to, he was too busy. I said ‘if I have to get up and conduct at Christmas at Luther, then you have to write a piece.’ He agreed and eventually wrote the piece for us.”

Christmas Brass

The Christmas Brass ensemble is made up of 19 brass instrumentalists and is directed by Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music Joan DeAlbuquerque.

The ensemble opened the concert with “Fanfare Prelude for A Mighty Fortress” arranged by Eric Alexander. This piece helped connect the anniversary of the reformation throughout the concert. The group also played during the hymn “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” This year’s Christmas at Luther marks the first time that DeAlbuquerque has conducted within the concert. She was excited  for the opportunity to include her students within the experience of Christmas at Luther because many of the brass players  have never experienced playing in the concert before.

“I felt really good about being able to provide my students an opportunity to experience something as great as Christmas at Luther,” DeAlbuquerque said.

Cathedral Choir

Cathedral is a mixed choir directed by Instructor in Music Mark Potvin (‘01). Originally, Nordic Choir and Cathedral choir were combined, and the ensemble was called the “Nordic Cathedral Choir,” which changed around the last midcentury. Potvin discussed how he thought the sense of unity and family was something that set this year’s Cathedral group apart.

“Cathedral has this really intense sense of family about them,” Potvin said. “They genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We laugh a lot in rehearsal. I don’t remember that about my Cathedral experience, so I think it’s something special to this group. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but at the same time they really take their music-making seriously.”

The group sang “Weihanchten (Christmas)” from OP. 79 No. 1 by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. In addition, they also sang “Christ the Appletree” by Stanford Scriven, which includes the text of this year’s theme.

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