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Choir Tribute Remembers the Kennedy Assassination

A Tribute to Kennedy
With the recent performance of “Rise, Fall and Immortality,” a piece commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Concert Choir accepted a multimedia challenge and chalked up one more success in a season of growth for St. Norbert choirs.
“The piece uses familiar tunes, but then it also takes some text from Kennedy’s speeches,” says Sarah Parks, director of the music program. Arranging the piece became a family affair when Parks’ father, James Sjolie, aided in researching and gathering fresh text needed to complete the song’s narrative component.

Sarah explains, “It was important for students to know that [the Kennedy assassination] was the emotional equivalent to something like 9/11, when a nation stopped and experienced a tragedy together.” Storytelling became central to the message and a learning experience for choir members as performers.
The choir presented the Kennedy piece by invitation, at the Oct. 24 Wisconsin State Music Conference in Madison, Wis. Michael Rosewall (Music) was the conductor with Elaine Moss (Music) accompanying.
Celebrating Kennedy’s leadership in the areas of space exploration and civil rights, the newly released work, composed by Kurt Bestor, relies on visual and audio media as an accompaniment to choir, brass and percussion sections. Sarah Parks encountered the piece last March at the National American Choral Directors Association (NACDA) convention in Dallas. It was commissioned and first performed at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza in Dallas to mark the pending 50-year anniversary of the president’s assassination.

“It was a hard-hitting performance,” says Brian Anderson ’14, “from incredibly dissonant chords by the choir to trumpet fanfares. The accompanying narrative and slideshow added to the dramatic effect.” 

New numbers, new venues
The Concert Choir’s prowess is matched by that of the expanding Chamber Choir, where things are “not-so-chamber anymore” according to Parks. Membership is up from the standard 40 to 52 singers in total. These numbers reflect a general boost in students seeking to include choir in their schedules.

“It’s amazing to see who comes in,” Parks says. In the Concert Choir, backgrounds range from veteran music majors to students who have only sung at church choir, to those who have never had the chance to be a part of an ensemble at all.

With these numbers, the music department relishes the new 200-seat venue they have in Birder Hall. Student recitals at the new campus hall in particular create a “special sound,” says Parks, in comparison to the larger space of the Walter Theatre, formerly used for these recitals.
“The recital hall is a wonderful addition,” adds Anderson. “The intimate size of the space allows for a better connection with the audience members, a crucial aspect of every performance.” 

The recital hall, though, is not the best choice for big-ticket events like the annual Festival of Christmas. This popular event almost fills the 700-seat Walter Theatre, to the point where a second night might be offered. “It’s a problem I’d love to have,” says Parks.

The festival, featuring holiday favorites, showcases all the college ensembles. The musical celebration is followed by a special dessert reception and silent auction. All funds raised aid underfunded music programs in Wisconsin public schools. “It’s a neat St. Norbert connection that a lot of times the funds go toward alumni teaching in our schools,” says Parks.

Nov. 5, 2013