Conrad Grebel celebrates 50th anniversary in song

January 29, 2014 | Focus On | Number 3
Conrad Grebel University College
Composer Tim Corlis, left, with Gerard Yun, Kenneth Hull and Mark Vuorinen, conductors of Conrad Grebel University College’s three choirs, who came together to perform Corlis’s musical setting of Psalm 150 on Nov. 30, 2013, at one of the college’s 50th-anniversary events. (CGUC photo)

As home to the Music Department at the University of Waterloo, the culture at Conrad Grebel University College is steeped in harmony. The college hosts dozens of concerts each year: instrumental ensembles, jazz band concerts, vocal performances and choral presentations.

Nevertheless, it is truly a special occasion when the department joins together for a mass concert like the “Celebration in Song” that took place on Nov. 30, 2013, at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Waterloo. With the sanctuary filled to capacity, this special event celebrating Grebel’s 50th anniversary showcased the college’s three choirs: the University Choir, the Chapel Choir and the Chamber Choir.

To cap off the event, the choirs formed a mass choir to perform the world premiere of Psalm 150, a commissioned piece by Grebel alumnus Timothy Corlis.

According to Corlis, who composed the music, the psalmist expresses in Psalm 150 the “HalleluYah” with instruments, including trumpets, organs, cymbals, harps, strings and tambourines—many of them loud instruments—and then ends with the word, neshamah, translated as breath or spirit: “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!” This is the same breath or soul that God gives in the Genesis creation story.”

In setting Psalm 150 to music, Corlis describes the piece as “a journey up the mountain. We share earnest prayer and devotion in the beginning, and follow it by exuberance and excitement as we push on towards the summit. Sometimes the air gets a little thin up there. It reminds us that we are, physically and spiritually, inseparable from our creator. We may face fears of the unknown and the mysterious . . . wonder and awe as we climb higher. Life, breath, worship all at once, indistinguishable.”        

The piece, commissioned by Conrad Grebel University College, was made possible with the Henry A. and Anna Schultz Memorial Fund. The fund, administered by the Mennonite Foundation of Canada, was established in 1982 by Lena Williams of St. Catharines, Ont., in memory of her parents. Henry was a church music conductor and self-taught violinist, and all members of the family participated actively in singing and the playing of various instruments. Music, especially sacred music, was an important part of the life of the Schultz family and of their participation in Mennonite church life in rural Saskatchewan.

A recording of Corlis’s “Psalm 150” is available online at www.timothycorlis.ca/composition/psalm-150/.

--Posted Jan. 29, 2014

Composer Tim Corlis, left, with Gerard Yun, Kenneth Hull and Mark Vuorinen, conductors of Conrad Grebel University College’s three choirs, who came together to perform Corlis’s musical setting of Psalm 150 on Nov. 30, 2013, at one of the college’s 50th-anniversary events. (CGUC photo)

Composer Tim Corlis, right, is pictured with Lena Williams, who established the Henry A. and Anna Schultz Memorial Fund in memory of her parents. The fund was used to commission Corlis to write a musical setting of Psalm 150 to help Conrad Grebel University College celebrate its 50th anniversary last fall. (CGUC photo)

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