One of my greatest privileges has been to sing in The Concordia Choir for the past two years. And like many, I was saddened by the announcement of Dr. Rene Clausen’s retirement after over three decades of exemplary service at the college. With Dr. Clausen’s retirement came a sense of uncertainty within the program. With someone as impactful as Dr. Clausen, it was a hard thought to ever see someone else leading the ensemble. This meant that finding someone who understood the tradition of the choir, who would be willing to push the choir into further greatness, was paramount to its success. After three very impressive finalists, I was delighted when the announcement was made that Dr. Michael Culloton would become the next Director of Choral Activities and conduct The Concordia Choir. I have had the great pleasure of working with Dr. Culloton during my freshman and sophomore years, and I have looked to him as a great mentor for my four years at Concordia. But more than that, I have always been extremely impressed by his brilliant conducting, his affinity for hearing tonality, and his superb and modern programming of music. Dr. Culloton serves as a prime example of a modern thinking professor, and I am certain that he will lead The Concordia Choir into the next era of greatness.
Dr. Culloton has served as a vastly impactful figure on the Concordia music landscape for the past eight years. As director of Kantorei, Cantabile, and the Concordia Chapel Choir, he has often used his pulpit to instruct not just music, but of inclusivity as well. One of my favorite memories was singing Jocelyn Hagen’s “Hands” and Jocelyn coming in to work with the choir. I have often heard him speak on the values of singing the music of underrepresented composers and working with living composers to sing modern music. Working with Jocelyn was a unique experience, as getting to work with living composers is always a special privilege. They are able to give a unique understanding of the writing of the choral piece being performed. Unlike Bach, where much is left to speculation, working with Jocelyn was a learning experience in living composers. And in a day and age where civil rights continue to be discussed, it is necessary for music to reflect the views of the people. In his programming, I have seen great works by Bach and Brahms, and modern works by Hagen and Hogan. He balances the old and the new perfectly, understanding the needs for both in modern music. His affinity for hearing pitch is incredible. I remember working with him in the Chapel Choir, and he could hear micro tonalities. One of the trademarks of Dr. Culloton is how breathtakingly in tune his choirs are. His freshman choirs sing at a level beyond their years, thanks to the hard work of the choir and their conductor. I have always been amazed by the level of intonation of the choirs at this school in general, and the three choirs directed by Dr. Culloton are no exception.
Another aspect where Dr. Culloton has been impactful in the recruitment aspect. In addition to his work with the choirs at Concordia, Dr. Culloton also directs the Minnesota All-State Lutheran Choir (MASLC). This is a choir where high school students from all across Minnesota and North Dakota come to campus and sing. At the end of their experience, the mass choir goes on a tour of Minnesota. Dr. Culloton also serves as a clinician for the High School Choir Festival every January, where he works with the massed singers in a piece for performance. With Dr. Culloton moving into the position as the director of The Concordia Choir, the choir and college both continue to have an impactful admissions representative to continue to grow the choir.
I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Culloton about his promotion and I asked him how he felt with directing the Concordia Choir in the years to come. His statement shows the dedication that he has towards the choir and the school: “I am honored and thrilled to be appointed the next Director of Choral Activities at Concordia, an institution that was formative for me as a student many years ago. The Concordia Choir will continue to represent the beloved Lutheran choral tradition while also exploring new paths that will keep the spirit of ‘reformation’ alive! I have greatly enjoyed the eight years during which I worked side by side with Dr. Clausen as conductor of three choirs and professor of music education and church music at Concordia, and I look forward to many more years of service to the college and our students.” In the four years that I have had the honor in knowing Dr. Culloton, I have always known that he puts the students first. My favorite statement that continues to resound with me is “It is you (the choir) and me against the music!’ His work continues to influence students in a positive way, and I look forward to seeing The Concordia Choir continue to grow and sing under Dr. Culloton’s leadership.
Congratulations Dr. Culloton!