A Cappella alums use shared bond to honor directors, bless students
Rev. Bart Day ’92 had a big idea.
The three-year member of the University A Cappella Choir wanted to somehow honor his beloved director, Professor Edmund Martens, in Concordia’s new Music Center. Currently under construction, the beautiful and functional facility will soon provide Concordia students with a new learning space matching the quality of its music program and faculty.
“I was in Seward in 2017 when Dad Martens was recognized by Concordia for his life of service. It was wonderful to see him, get a big hug and thank him for his loving service that shaped the life of every student who sang under his direction,” Day explains. He remembers with great fondness the A Cappella tours and rehearsals, but also the Saturday morning conversations he shared with fellow choir members at the Martens home over freshly baked brötchen. “It was formative and left a deep impact on my life and service to the church.”
When Day contacted Concordia’s advancement office about recognition opportunities within the new building, he learned that a large choir rehearsal room will be one of the premier spaces. It will feature abundant light flowing through expansive windows, adjustable acoustics, and the capacity to record music through connections to the building’s modern recording studio. While the choir rehearsal room seemed like a perfect space to honor Martens, Day also learned that recognition in premier spaces requires larger contributions—in this case, $500,000.
Consequently, Day’s big idea grew even bigger and better. He decided to honor the service and legacy of all the permanent directors of A Cappella—Dr. Theodore Stelzer, Dr. Paul Rosel, Martens and Dr. Kurt von Kampen--inviting A Cappella alumni from across the decades to join in. “We have a unique bond that transcends time and change,” Day explains of the A Cap alumni. Convinced they’d be eager to collectively honor their directors, he re-set his fundraising objective at $500,000 and took immediate action.
First, Day helped Concordia secure a wonderful $250,000 matching gift commitment and made his own personal pledge to the project. Then he, along with his wife Julie, volunteered to chair a committee of A Cappella alumni to carry the message forward to choirs from each A Cappella era. The Days were joined by Stan ’68 and Liz ’67 Obermueller, Sharolyn Sander ’71, Carlene Bauer ’81 and Peter Baye ’09, who each made their own personal pledges to the project and volunteered to serve on the A Cappella Matching Challenge committee.
Liz Obermueller is pleased to serve. “It has been fun to hear everyone’s different experiences, but it also is an affirmation of our shared experiences.” A Cappella was a “deep and powerful experience, emotionally, socially, and spiritually,” she says of her four years under the direction of Dr. Paul Rosel. “It spoke to us on so many levels, really. It broadened our horizons in the United States and the world while we delivered the message of Jesus Christ in a beautiful way.” Obermueller especially remembers “circle up” times before and after concerts, where choir members prayed and prepared to share their music or reflected on the day with thanksgiving before closing with prayer or song.
Baye, an ’09 graduate now serving at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha, fondly recalls another type of circle. “I’ll always remember when we would surround a congregation or concert attendees and sing one of our unaccompanied songs. As I looked around at my fellow choir members, I got a glimpse of heaven. Outrageous talent all pointing people to Christ in wonderful harmony?! It didn’t get any better for me.”
Day and Obermueller agree that Concordia’s directors played powerful roles in shaping the experience of each choir. As it is for any faculty or staff member engaging with students, “the overall experience was placed squarely on their shoulders,” says Obermueller. She believes Concordia’s directors, each with their own gifts and limitations, fully embraced the responsibility of helping each choir grow into an exceptional group. “They were the captains that steered the ship, and it was good to have a good captain.”
They were good captains indeed. As Baye, the youngest member of the committee, recalls, “Kurt von Kampen was one of the reasons that a homesick kid stayed in Seward for 5 years. He was a mentor and friend. He was a model of humble leadership. I am honored to be part of this project.”
For members of the committee, honoring the directors merely complements the primary goal of helping current and future Concordia music students. “Music is integral in teaching the faith. This new space assures the church’s song will continue to be faithfully proclaimed for generations to come,” says Day. “Our future church workers and lay leaders deserve the best space and program to prepare them for lives of service where music is foundational. This new facility and our financial support only grow the legacy and impact for the future.”
In echoing Day’s sentiment, Baye adds, “For me, A Capella is my “Neverland.” If I could go back and live in those moments for a while, I certainly would. I can’t go back, but I can remember them and be part of creating a similar experience for so many more to come.”
While all general gifts to the Music Center project are invited and celebrated, A Cappella alumni gifts can also be counted toward the A Cappella Matching Challenge, where up to $250,000 in gifts from A Cap alumni will be matched dollar for dollar for a total of $500,000.
Something like this will not happen again in our lifetime,” says Day to his fellow A Cappella alumni. “Now is the time to honor the A Cappella legacy and leave a mark on Concordia for decades to come. Every gift makes a difference and gets us closer to the goal.”
Online gifts to the project can be made at cune.edu/harmony or, for A Cappella members, via the Matching Challenge. Checks may be mailed to Concordia University, Advancement Office, 800 N. Columbia Ave., Seward, NE 68434. A Cappella Alumni should note “A Cappella Matching Challenge” in the memo line; all others should indicate “Music Center capital project.”