Lessons of both music and life shape Concordia Choral Activities department

Dr. Rene Clausen has been a professor and the conductor of the Concordia Choir for 34 years. Dr. Michael Culloton is in his 8th year as a faculty at the college. As the end of Clausen’s final year approaches, the two music faculty share some of their experiences with each other and their students, as well as what the future will look like for the music department. 

Culloton and Clausen have known each other since before they were faculty together. Culloton was a student of Clausen’s and a member of the Concordia Choir during his time at Concordia as a student.

“I knew at that time that [Culloton] was going to be an outstanding choral musician, as he had all the tools needed–talent, discipline, and passion for the art. It has been fun to follow his career through high school teaching, his pursuit of his advanced degrees, and his return to Concordia as my associate conductor, conducting three choirs as well as music education courses,” Clausen said.

Culloton also reflected on some of his memorable experiences with Clausen, from being his student to collaborations as faculty. 

“One of my greatest joys has been collaborating with Dr. Clausen on the Concordia Christmas Concerts, the largest event that the college puts on each year. As a student, these concerts were some of the most meaningful and formative experiences that I enjoyed, along with the Concordia Choir tours,” Culloton said.

Clausen and Culloton have had a large impact on many of their students. Freshman Madeline Schulte is in Kantorei, one of the choirs conducted by Culloton. 

“Dr. Culloton is such an inspiration for me to become a better musician as a whole. In Kantorei, he is so positive and really knows how to light a fire in your soul and make you passionate about any music he puts in front of you,” Schulte said. 

Senior Andrew Hoek has been in Kantorei and Chapel Choir with Culloton in the past. During his junior and senior years he has been a member of the Concordia Choir with Clausen. 

“It’s been an incredible experience to sing under Dr. Clausen. Making music at such a high level with him has been one of my favorite experiences at Concordia and I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been here while he is still teaching,” Hoek said. 

Aside from the lessons students learn from these two men about music, Culloton and Clausen also have taught their students many life lessons that their students will take with them.

“I have also learned how important it is to have an open mind and open arms to everyone who comes to you not only wanting to make music but wanting to grow in life,” Schulte said.

“I’ve learned to always respect people and to respect the music. Hearing all of the heartwarming devotionals and This I Believes has truly opened my eyes to other perspectives and I’m forever grateful for that experience,” Hoek said.

 As Clausen heads into retirement, he plans to continue to pursue composition, travel with his wife, and see his children more. Culloton will become the next Director of Choral Activities, which will make him the conductor of the Concordia Choir and the artistic director of the Christmas Concerts. 

“I would hope that the department doesn’t feel much of a change in who we are… [Clausen]  has always challenged us to be great, and that won’t change. We’ll miss his wonderful musical gifts a lot, there is no question about that, but my goal is to make music that the college and our choir alumni will be proud to hear as we take our music around the country in the years to come,” said Culloton. 

Clausen shared some final thoughts he had for choir students and all Cobbers. He encourages students to seek excellence and enjoy the process. 

“Singing is a ventilation of the spirit, and brings you into closer contact with the best  aspects of humanity and the human spirit.  It is more important to seek to be the best you can be than to evaluate your success in terms of some impossible goal of perfection.  Choral music is an art form that requires us to form community–positive community–to build trust, to engender the most noble features of humanity, to express yourself in a way words cannot, to cleanse yourself by uniting your beautiful voice with other human beings,” Clausen said.

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