Northwestern Singers to Perform Special Commissioned Pieces for Community Jan. 24
January 19, 2022
Members of the Northwestern Singers entertain during the fall semester holiday gala. The group will perform three commissioned works at a “Singers Celebration Concert” Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. in Herod Hall Auditorium.
A local audience will be treated to a 30-minute “Singers Celebration Concert” at 7 p.m. on Jan. 24 in Northwestern Oklahoma State University’s Herod Hall Auditorium to hear three musical pieces specifically commissioned for the Northwestern Singers.
The Singers, who were chosen from among a number of groups submitting live recordings seeking to be selected as an Honor Choir to perform at this year’s Oklahoma Music Educators Association Convention in Tulsa, will premiere the commissioned works at the convention on Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.
“We have three pieces commissioned for us for this performance, and they’re absolutely beautiful,” said Gentry Mortensen, senior vocal music education major from Woodward. “Because they were commissioned just for us, they’ve never been done by anyone else, meaning we don’t have anything to go off of.”
Dr. Karsten Longhurst, director of choral studies and assistant professor of music, said the Singers’ rehearsals have been strenuous since the first week of the fall semester. The group also has received feedback on their performance from three guest conductors: Belinda Flynn, president of the Oklahoma American Choral Director’s Association; Alisha Beleele from Alva High School; and Dr. Dee Wilkins, former director of choral music at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.
“Our rehearsals have been rich in growth with deep emotion as well as fun experiences,” Longhurst said.
The three commissioned pieces include “Beneath These Alien Stars,” “To the Wonder” and “Take My Hand.”
Longhurst explained that “Beneath These Alien Stars” is a poem by Mormon pioneer poet Vesta Pierce Crawford, and the music was composed by Dr. Matthew D. Nielsen, who Longhurst shares heritage in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The pair also went to school together at the University of Southern California.
“I know how incredible of a musician [Matthew] is,” Longhurst said. “I knew he would understand the type of group the NWOSU Singers is and be able to write a piece that would allow us to really excel at expressing the text with beauty.
“Vesta’s words were so evocative of dealing with hardship, akin to COVID during the time of our discussion, we thought it would be a great text to bring to life in music. Our students really enjoy expressing the deep emotions of this darker text.”
The second commissioned piece comes from the poem “Nicht mude warden” by famous German poet Hilda Domin. Dr. Kira Zeeman Rugen, who is a member of the choral and musical theatre faculty at Scottsdale Community College where she is music directing "The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” composed the music for this piece. Longhurst said Rugen renamed the work “To the Wonder” to make it more recognizable to an English public.
Upon learning from Longhurst that he is fluent in German, Rugen began working with a German friend to select the text. Rugen also is inspired by nature, so when looking at poetry to set to music, it was fitting to find something in that vein.
“The irony of this poem is that it’s so short, but Kira has made a sort of sonic-poem, or poem of soundscapes, around the text to capture the essence of the poem,” Longhurst said. “We love singing this work even though it was one of our most challenging.”
The third work commissioned is an arrangement from Stacey V. Gibbs, a prolific gospel arranger and composer with more than 100 compositions published. “Take My Hand” comes from a discussion between Longhurst and Gibbs about arranging a childhood favorite gospel hymn of Longhurst’s called “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by Thomas Dorsey, the Father of Black Gospel Music. Longhurst explained that he has sung the hymn for funerals and at other times when hope was needed during difficult times.
“The students and I have discussed the works and found personal connections with each of them,” Longhurst said. “Some students can hardly sing some of the works without crying because they have found such deep connection to the messages within the text and because of the beauty of the music.”
For more information about the Northwestern Singers, visit www.nwosu.edu/university-singers or contact Longhurst at (580) 327-8692 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More about all facets of the Fine Arts Department may be found at www.nwosu.edu/fine-arts.