Birthday composition

When the Heidelberg University Concert Choir performs its annual home concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at St. Mary Catholic Church, the singers are to premiere a special piece commissioned in honor of long-time director Ferris Ohl for his 100th birthday.

Ohl celebrated his birthday last September and he is expected to be in attendance when the choir gives its first performance of the piece “i carry your heart” with text by poet e.e. cummings and setting by California composer David Conte, who also plans to attend.

Choir Director Greg Ramsdell involved several choir members in selecting the text for the commissioned piece and he selected Conte, whose works the choir has performed in recent years. The idea that the choir will perform the work of a living composer makes it even more exciting, he said.

“It certainly inspires us that we will be singing the work of a living composer and other choirs will be able to perform it in the future,” Ramsdell said.

He described the piece as “very mysterious, very profound.”

“It is based on an acoustic scale, so it has an other-worldly quality that speaks of a profound respect and awe.”

“i carry your heart” demands strong advocacy on the part of the choir, which Ramsdell says has been up for the challenge of learning a very difficult piece.

“It demands an extensive amount of rehearsal time to perfect, but with Conte’s music, it’s worth the time. He is a true artist,” Ramsdell said.

Conte has composed more than 80 works, including six operas, a musical, chamber music and works for chorus, solo voice, orchestra, organ, piano, guitar and harp. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University and received master’s and doctoral degrees from Cornell University. Conte is professor of composition and chair of the composition department at San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Ohl directed the choir from 1946-85 and his choir alumni are loyal to him. Many are reunited with their former director and mentor when they return to Heidelberg to sing in the Alumni Choir, a tradition of Alumni Weekend each June.

“This poem represents what I hear from alums every year when they come back to sing with the choir,” Ramsdell said. “When they left Heidelberg, they carried with them treasured memories of singing with the choir and of Dr. Ohl in particular.”

The concert also is to have another special component. As a tribute to the devotion to Heidelberg music of Ohl and his wife, Dorothy, an endowment has been established that is to assist music students with travel and workshops, and bring to campus professional singers and continuing education for music teachers. The university is in the process of seeking gifts to continue the Ohls’ legacy and fully fund the $1.5 million endowment. The endowment is about one-third funded.

In an effort to reach the $1 million mark, a donor has stepped forward with a challenge match of $300,000. Any cash pledge made to the Ohl Endowment up until the day of the home concert would be matched up to $300,000. Heidelberg hopes to make an announcement at the concert regarding funding of the endowment.

The theme for the concert is “Faith, Hope & Love,” a deliberate reference to the final verse of the “love” chapter: 1 Corinthians 13.

“Because of the sacred allusion inherent in this theme, a great deal of the repertoire we will be presenting is drawn from the sacred choral tradition,” Ramsdell said. “However, rather than simply pulling from a limited number of genres and styles, the repertoire for this program is intended to represent a diverse and eclectic potpourri of choral literature.”

The concert is to feature “Cornerstone,” a piece with strong allusions to the gospel style; “Praise the Lord,” an African folk song; “Break of Day,” Michael John Trotta’s emotionally charged setting of John Donne’s poem of the same name; and “No Time,” an arrangement of three camp meeting songs.

“There should be no question that each selection on the program has been expertly wedded to inspiring texts of universal appeal,” Ramsdell said.

Several selections are to feature solos or accompaniment by students from the choir. Featured soloists are to include Cody Henderson, Chelsea Smith, Kelly Devine, Cy Boehler and Tim Borham. Organ accompaniment is to be provided by Stephen Smith and violin accompaniment is to be provided by Cedric Robinson.

Established in 1938, the Concert Choir is open to all Heidelberg students, regardless of major. The choir rehearses three times each week and performs more than 15 concerts each year, including a domestic tour and a performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”

St. Mary Church is at 85 S. Sandusky St., Tiffin. The concert is free. An offering is to be taken.

For more information about the Ohl Challenge, contact Lee Martin, executive director of development and institutional relations, at (419) 448-2027 or e-mail lmartin@heidelberg.edu.