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Published December 02 2010

Concordia Christmas concerts celebrate late president's spirit

Concordia Choir conductor René Clausen says it felt like he was “hit between the eyes” when he heard of the death of Concordia President Pamela Jolicoeur.

“She was a good friend,” Clausen says.

This weekend’s annual Concordia Christmas Concerts will be the first since the beloved president’s death in June. The concert theme “Out of Darkness + Let Your Light Shine” reflects both the memory of that loss as well as hope and healing for the future.

Clausen, the artistic director for the concerts, had originally planned to craft this year’s theme around “the wonders of creation” and stewardship of God’s handiwork. He was well into preparation for that when Jolicoeur suffered her fatal stroke.

“We felt Pam had been ripped away from us,” he says. “It was a wounded campus all summer.”

For many with ties to the college, the Concordia Christmas Concerts in Moorhead and Minneapolis will be the first time that they’ve gathered with other Cobbers since Jolicoeur’s death. And Clausen thought it would be a disservice to fail to acknowledge what had happened, so he scrapped the original concert plans and refocused them on the feelings surrounding Jolicoeur’s memory.

“I think that when you acknowledge your feelings, you’re on the road to recovery,” Clausen says.

The theme of darkness and emerging light is reflected in the concert’s mural, which, like last year’s mural, was created by Paul Johnson, a designer from Pelican Rapids, Minn. The 176-foot art piece is visually darker on the edges, particularly to the left, then becomes bright, vivid and joyful toward the center.

Within those more joyous portions of the mural, shepherds throw their hands in the air and rejoice. Rainbow-like images frame the face of deity. And stones along the path are personified with expressions of happiness.

The concert also reflects the movement from darkness to light. Instead of opening with an instrumental prelude, which is typical for the Concordia Christmas Concert, it begins with a narration of the words, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.”

And early on, the music conveys a dark tone, like in “Watchman Tell Us of the Night,” a piece composed by Clausen in a minor key.

He believes the loss of Jolicoeur is written “all over” the early moments of the concert. But the show doesn’t dwell in sorrow.

“It’s also about the healing that comes on the heels of grief,” Clausen says.

“As it progresses, it becomes a lot more bright and light-hearted,” says Elijah Miller, one of the 450 student musicians taking part in the performance.

Clausen believes what Jolicoeur “would not want us to do is dwell in the land of darkness.”

In fact, the concert spends most of its time on the illuminated end of the thematic spectrum.

Even though much of it is a memorial to the memory of Jolicoeur, Clausen says the story of Christmas is “always the central feature” of the concert, which is why it features such works as “Silent Night,” “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella,” “Joy to the World” and “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing.”

Miller, a sophomore at Concordia, sees the concert as “a good way to remember, but it also shows us that we should move on and find all the good things in life.”

And the final choral number, “All is Well,” reflects that hope in the words, “All is well, all is well. Heaven and earth rejoice! For tonight darkness fell into the dawn of love’s light.”

If you go: Moorhead

If you go: Minneapolis

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734