|Singing to the choir
Student musicians join the song, enhancing worship at the abbey
|This year’s Abbey Singers included, left to right, Matt Christoff ’14, Tessa August ’12, Nikki Schommer ’14, Lauren Belanger ’14, Timothy Van Eperen ’13 and Dave Carroll ’12.
For a select group of student singers, coming together in the lofty space afforded by St. Norbert Abbey has given them the chance to experience a professional working context under the guidance of the abbey’s director of music and liturgy.
The Abbey Singers of St. Norbert College is a professional, paid group of students who perform every other Sunday at the abbey’s 10 a.m. Mass. The group sings a sizable repertoire that ranges from plainsong to the polyphony of the Renaissance, from traditional African pieces to gospel music.
David Carroll ’12, a non-traditional student who has been earning his teaching certificate at St. Norbert, is a founding member of the Abbey Singers. He brings with him a breadth of experience, making him both a member and a mentor of the group. Carroll says, “This group is expected to arrive at its rehearsals ready to sing a piece from start to finish. You don’t learn notes while you’re in rehearsals. That is what we mean when we say a professional choir.”
The group is in its second year and is led by Michael Frisch, O.Praem., director of music and liturgy at the abbey. The ensemble emerged following a discussion among music-loving Norbertines. The Rev. Jay Fostner, O.Praem., ’84 (Mission and Student Affairs) worked out the funding details while Frisch initiated the collaboration with the college’s Sarah Parks (Music) to spread the word to students.
Parks says the students have reaped benefits from high expectations. “In this situation, the Abbey Singers are also part of the choral program, so that level of moving directly into the music and taking on personal responsibility comes right back to our program because the students are much more independent in their learning process.
”Students who might aspire to become Abbey Singers are also motivated, says Parks. They work to become better readers and stronger singers and to show that level of independence that is now expected within the ensemble.
The 2011-12 group included Carroll, Tessa August ’12, Lauren Belanger ’14, Matt Christoff ’14, Derek Luckow ’13, Timothy Van Eperen ’13 and Nikki Schommer ’14.
August, a vocal performance major, says: “We’re balancing this performance group on the side while six of us are also in classes and one of us is student-teaching. So, it has really helped me prioritize better and has built up my own repertoire, which is great because, as a music major, a lot of times you do end up working in churches.”
Hearing the group perform at the abbey church, known for its rich and resonant acoustics, is an astounding experience, according to Frisch: “It’s quite beautiful, what they can do in our church.”
The Rev. James B. Herring, O.Praem., prior and vicar of the abbey, adds: “Having the Abbey Singers participate in liturgy here at the abbey certainly enhances our liturgical experience for both those who come to celebrate the Mass and the presiders as well. And of course, as St. Augustine would say, singing is twice praying.”
July 8, 2012