Immersion Weekend Helps Choir Understand Music About Holocaust Victims

In his 37 years as choral director at Nebraska Wesleyan University, William Wyman has experienced countless special opportunities.

  • 8 international concert tours
  • 1st American choir invited to participate in the St. Peterburg, Russia International Choral Festival
  • 1st collegiate choir from Nebraska selected to perform at the American Choral Directors Association National Convention
  • Performances with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra
  • Performance with the Munich Symphony Orchestra
  • An upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

But one recent experience has topped Wyman’s list.

“By far this was the most profound 24 hours spent with the choir,” he said.

Last month, the University Choir traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, for an immersion weekend to help them better prepare for their invited performance at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Convention.

An invitation to perform at the showcase concert is special in and of itself, said Wyman. Invitations are typically reserved for foreign choirs. Others are selected by audition. The University Choir along with choirs from Minnesota State University and Wartburg College combined for a 60-minute performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn.”

“Invited appearances at ACDA are rare and significant,” said Wyman. “We started practicing last spring because we knew it would take a significant amount of rehearsal time.”

An immersion weekend seemed logical. It would provide an opportunity to get away from campus distractions and focus solely on the music.

Joining the choir for the immersion weekend were the Minnesota State and Wartburg choirs, Dr. Lee Nelson, the conductor for the ACDA showcase concert, and the piece’s composer, Stephen Paulus.

Paulus wrote “To Be Certain of the Dawn” to honor the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. The song — which mourns the victims of the Holocaust — was a gift to Joseph Edelheit, a Minnesota rabbi who lost 27 members during the Holocaust.

Edelheit joined the choir in Des Moines where he openly shared personal survival stories and reflections.

“To see over 200 singers in dead silence and tears running down their faces,” Wyman recalled. “It was absolutely astonishing.”

Wyman said those personal stories made the piece more real.

“It makes it tougher emotionally too,” said Wyman. “It’s raw drama. Music definitely has the power to move people.”

Music has the power to change people too, a message Edelheit shared with the vocalists.

“He told them it was up to their generation to see that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again,” said Wyman.

This is the University Choir’s seventh appearance at the ACDA convention. They performed Friday, February 10 in front of 2,000 attendees in Madison, Wisc.

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Before performing at the ACDA Convention, the choir spent an immersion weekend learning the stories behind the music.