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Working in Harmony

Sabbaticals can be solitary endeavors, as faculty work to write books or conduct experiments in labs. But for Yi-Lan Niu (Music), it was a collaborative journey.

Niu’s sabbatical project was two parts: Produce a music album and develop a website for promotion – the latter being something her students frequently ask for help with, but, until now, she didn’t have experience to share. Throughout the project, Niu found support from several areas of the St. Norbert community.

The recording of Niu’s album, featuring 14 sacred songs from the collections of 19th-century French composer Charles Gounod, was funded by the college and St. Norbert Abbey. Niu enlisted the help and talent of Elaine Moss (Music) as accompanist. The pair met for two hours a day over an eight-week period before heading into the recording phase of the project, when Niu and Moss learned firsthand the painstaking process of recording an album.

“It’s not about the music anymore, it’s about the making of the music. We had 20 takes for just three pages on one piece,” Niu says. “Those moments were really hard because both of us put our skill, our faith, our musicianship through such a big test: this idea that we had to be perfect. When you practice, it’s not hard. It’s hard to work with other people. You have to learn how to trust each other.”

That trust stretched further as Niu made plans to market and distribute her album. She worked with Brian Pirman (Art), who designed the album cover, and with Taylor Jadin, Ben Hommerding and Susan Ashley in Information Technology Services to build a website.

Building an online presence to showcase a portfolio is an important part of self-promotion, a skill Niu’s students have an interest in learning. Niu also took the time to reflect and journal during her sabbatical, giving her another way to share her experiences with her students.

“If my students are going through the same challenges, I now have the knowledge to help them,” Niu says. “This whole process has made me much more humble and appreciative of so many different people.”

The album, “Chanter et Souffrir,” is in post-production with Centaur Records, a classical music label in the U.S. It’s slated to be released early next year and will be available at the college bookstore and through Spotify, iTunes and Amazon.


Oct. 31, 2019