A world musical premiere is happening right here in Fargo– and you are invited to attend!
Fargoans have a new feather to put in our caps: the world premiere of a new choral piece by a Grammy Award-winning composer will happen on May 19 when 80 seventh grade vocal students from Discovery Middle School perform The Golden Queen. The piece has been commissioned by the American Composers Forum (ACF) for their ChoralQuest middle-level music program, and is composed by Concordia College music professor, choral director, and award-winning composer, Dr. René Clausen.
Part of the ACF commission includes direct coaching and instructional time for the choral students with the composer. “Students at Discovery can expect a rich experience working with Dr. Clausen on this new composition,” said Suzanna Altman, Director of Education and Community Engagement for American Composers Forum. “The ChoralQuest series is designed to breathe new life into the available repertoire for choral students, and to give composers the unique challenge of writing works for young, changing voices.”
An opportunity to work with a composer on a new piece is a very unique occurrence in any musician’s career, and for it to happen while these vocal students are in middle school is “an amazingly special honor” according to Sarah Barnum, one of the vocal music teachers at Discovery. She will be directing the combined seventh grade choirs for the piece’s premiere.
Dr. Clausen (pictured, far right) has made three visits to Discovery to work with the students. At his first visit in November, he listened to the choir perform to better understand their capabilities. He also quizzed the students about their interests and what they are passionate about in their lives. Beyond the silly “puppies and bacon” responses from the students, Clausen did learn that self-identity and growth were important issues for the seventh graders.
Typically, a composer would write both the music and lyrics for a commissioned piece. What makes this composition unusual is Dr. Clausen invited the Discovery students to create poems as inspiration for the lyrics of this new piece, using those important issues they identified. In the end, the words Dr. Clausen chose to accompany his musical score are a poem written by two fifth graders from Clara Barton-Hawthorne Elementary School.
Madison Hokstad and Stella Peterson (whose father, Russ Peterson, works with Clausen at Concordia) wrote Servants of the Sun Goddess to express a theme of growth and growing that Dr. Cluasen identified earlier with the seventh graders. Stella’s mother suggested the girls write about sunflowers. Madison likes to write poems and loves to incorporate “professional” words into her writing. The girls used a thesaurus for the word “glen” in their poem. “The other words just found themselves on the paper,” said Stella. Listen to a recording of the girls’ recitation of their original poem.
“This is a great honor,” said Stella, when asked about collaborating with an award-winning composer. “It’s kind of fun to experience a bit of popularity,” shared Madison. Neither of the girls has heard the music yet, so are anticipating the premiere with much excitement.
Dr. Clausen brought all of his award-winning composition skills and choral directing experience to this new piece—it has not been vocally scaled back to make it an “easy” piece for young voices. “One of the biggest challenges to presenting this new work has been preparing our students for the caliber of the piece. There are multiple splits for both the men and women, and the piece really stretches the ranges within each section of the choir,” said Barnum.
A sentiment echoed by James Wolter, who is also a vocal music teacher at Discovery. He will be accompanying the choir on piano for the premiere performance. “I can tell the students are excited about this new piece based on their work ethic. We received the score in late March, which means we will have roughly ten rehearsals before the concert. You can tell the students want to do this piece justice as they have been working diligently perfecting notes and rhythms. The students have already surpassed my expectations of how they were going to perform this challenging piece. It is so exciting to see students grow and achieve so much!” said Wolter.
Dr. Clausen has returned to Discovery twice more in recent weeks to work with Barnum’s and Wolter’s combined seventh grade choirs on their performance of his new piece.
Consider this your invitation to hear this newly commissioned work for yourself, on Monday, May 19 at 7:00 p.m. in the Auditorium at Discovery Middle School, 1717 40th Avenue South. In addition to the premiere of The Golden Queen, there will be other selections performed by the seventh grade choirs and performances by the eighth grade choirs at this Spring Vocal Concert.
The Golden Queen will be published American Composers Forum and distributed exclusively by the Hal Leonard Corporation following the Fargo premiere and made available for middle-level choir performance across the country.
Read the full media release regarding this exciting world premiere.