Luther Alumni Magazine

Dorian—for adults!

Andrew Last ’97, associate professor of music and director of choral activities, conducts singers during Luther’s inaugural Dorian Choral Retreat for adults.

It began with the vision of associate professor of music and director of choral activities Andrew Last ’97. “I always imagined facilitating an event on Luther’s campus with alumni, those passionate about singing, those interested in experiencing Luther College, music educators, church musicians, and more.” The long-established traditions of the youth Dorian camps were also a catalyst for creating the Dorian Choral Retreat for adults.

Susan (Stockseth) Potvin ’02, coordinator, helped implement what others had long hoped for. “Over 300 high school and 400 middle school students participate in the Dorian Music Camps each summer,” Potvin notes. “The parents whose kids attend began questioning how they could join in on the fun too.”

Thus, the inaugural Dorian Choral Retreat for adults was created and held on Luther’s campus June 29–July 1, 2018. Weekend festivities were about much more than simply bringing together those interested in music. “This was about reintroducing a tradition and bringing a breath of fresh air into the music program,” Last says.

More than 200 attendees celebrated that music tradition during the weekend through rehearsals, breakout sessions, keynote speakers, and exploring Decorah. Last, director of Nordic Choir, was the primary conductor, with other Luther choral faculty—including assistant professor of music Jill Wilson and instructor in music Mark Potvin ’01—presenting breakout sessions. Additionally, rehearsals were alternated with interest sessions featuring alumna Karen (Gesme) Brunssen ’75, associate professor of voice and opera at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and Brett Robison ’96, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis. Tom Trenney, minister of music at First-Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Neb., offered a keynote address Saturday evening. Trenney shared his passion for church music, composition, and teaching with participants through leading a hymn-sing, which included audience participation, during the final Livssang performance.

From Luther graduates having sung in one of the Luther choirs to first-timers on Luther’s campus, participants celebrated music collectively and individually. “On Friday night,” Thomas Mayfield ’76 says, “I told Dr. Last that something had been absent from my life: the joys of singing among a group of people. The weekend was not about Luther College, but it spoke volumes about the rich and deep music traditions on this campus.”

Mayfield was just one of many participants who rediscovered a piece of themselves through the retreat. “The spiritual presence in the music and in the group was abundant,” Jasmine (High) Heckman ’06 noted. “We would end each piece all together, and in the congregation of the singing, God’s presence was there.” Though each attendee had unique backgrounds, careers, and interests, everyone was a part of the music-loving community.

The inclusivity of the event extended to the Decorah community too. “It was about welcoming everyone,” Last explained. “There was something for everyone. We even did activities like a beer choir at Pulpit Rock among the community of Decorah simply because music is capable of bringing together everyone.” Throughout the course of the retreat, attendees were given ample time to explore Decorah outside music rehearsals.

At the end of the retreat, participants came together for their final performance, Livssang. The event showcased a variety of songs the choir prepared, including pieces such as “For Everyone Born,” arranged by Tom Trenney, or “There Is No Rose,” composed by Connor Koppin. Between performances, reflections were offered by a variety of attendees. From Luther alumnus David Pfotenhauer ’15 to Shelly Schaeufele ’92 to Arlene Sparks, director of music at First United Methodist Church in Boca Raton, Fla., they spoke of music as it connected to their lives. As the retreat came to a conclusion, Mayfield best summed up what every participant was thinking by final note: “If this is what the first year was like, I cannot wait to see what the coming years hold for this retreat.”