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Christmas Premiere Debuts on St. Norbert College Stage

“And all shall have the singing heart.”

These words, a single line from the 1882 poem “The Poet,” hold new meaning for the members of the music department this Christmas. They form the title of a new piece from royal composer Paul Mealor, commissioned by the college. It was given its world premiere by the St. Norbert College Chamber Choir earlier this month.

The new Christmas song, commissioned to mark the 900th anniversary of the college’s founding order, the Norbertines, became a reality thanks to gifts from Frederick and Teresa Schmidt ’75 and the Choral Music Endowment Fund.

Composer by royal command
Readers who witnessed the 2011 royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will already have heard the work of the renowned Welsh composer Mealor. His piece “Ubi Caritas,” a favorite of the royal couple, was performed by the choir of Westminster Abbey during the ceremony.

Mealor, in fact, has been commissioned several times by the royal family and has reached international renown as one of the world’s most performed composers. Most recently, he has received commissions by Netflix and the BBC.

A mission-aligned world premiere in the Walter Theatre
The SNC Chamber Choir gave the first performance of “All Shall Have the Singing Heart” (Novello, 2021) at the annual Festival of Christmas Dec. 3-4, 2021. The choir performed under the direction of Sarah Parks (Music) and was accompanied by Elaine Moss (Music).

Parks first met Mealor at a choral conducting symposium in Aix-en-Provence, France, where Mealor was a visiting artist and Parks was a conducting scholar. Parks describes the commissioning of a choral work as, generally, a two-part process. For a piece to be created, there must be both a composer who is interested in creating the work and a fitting text around which to create the song.

“Professor Mealor composes one Christmas anthem each year,” she says, “so we were very excited that he would choose to write a piece for St. Norbert College.” In collaboration with Mealor, Sarah Parks chose several verses from “The Poet” by the English cleric and writer Alfred Gurney, since she felt they truly reflected the Norbertine mission of St. Norbert College.

She says, “The final verse of the song really seemed to capture the work, life and legacy of St. Norbert and connected well to the favorite motto of the college’s founder, Abbot Bernard Pennings: ‘Let us love one another’ 1 John 4:7.

                “Lord Christ, Thou art the King of Love,
                    Thou art the Poet true;
                All who would thy vision share
                    Must learn Thy works to do,
                All, all shall have the singing heart
                    Whose feet Thy steps pursue!”

A memorable experience for student musicians
The premiere was a particularly moving opportunity for SNC’s Chamber Choir seniors this year. For students like senior Katherine VanDenHeuvel ’22, this will be one of her last choral performances at SNC.

VanDenHeuvel says: “When it hit me exactly what we were going to do, I was jumping in a circle and waving my arms like a little kid. No one joined me, but I think we were all really excited that we were the ones to sing this piece and be credited in the score forever. ... I personally feel blessed by God to be a part of it.”

Dec. 14, 2021