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A mission of music 

& & by Julienne Gage & & & &

On Wednesday, the Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ will resonate with the angelic voices of the world-renowned Luther College Choir directed by Weston Noble. Noble, who has dedicated more than a half-century to the production of Luther College choral music, has put together a mostly a cappella repertoire of sacred songs from throughout the ages.

The spiritual sounds include music from the Renaissance, black spirituals and pieces from Mozart's Requiem.

"I want a variety of music for the audiences because touring is a business. You want to sell your product," says Noble. "I keep in mind what the audience will respond to, but I stay within the sacred realm."

Sacred music is the choice of the Luther College Choir because of the Iowa school's Lutheran heritage and its tendency to perform in churches around the world, but Noble says it also reaches people in a way that secular music doesn't. "It gives us a certain definite mission," says Noble, "There's absolutely no question that it has a spiritual influence [on the audience]."

The Luther College Choir, which has toured throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America, finds that audiences around the world have basically the same response to their singing -- listeners always walk away emotionally moved.

"A human voice has the ability to project all different shades of emotion," says Noble. "There's shades of joy and sorrow. You enter a realm that is one step beyond words, and it can't be expressed verbally."

In fact, not all singing is based on prolific hymnal lyrics; some of the music projects spirituality by its tone or even its repetition. For example, Noble says, "Renaissance music is the epitome of spirituality because it descends from the chant, and the chant is often referred to as the purest form of worship that there is.

"Black music," he continues, "is the epitome of rhythm and of pathos or sorrow."

The choir's ability to capture a variety of emotions and to echo the voices of different cultures and historic time periods helps to diversify their audience and gives the concert a communal feeling.

Three years ago, when the Luther College Choir performed at St. John's Cathedral, they filled the church and left their reflective impression on the broad-based audience.

"There was a huge cross-section of people," says Stan McDaniel, minister of music at Westminster Church. He says the audience was made up of people of all ages, including area high school students, choir directors, people of Lutheran faith and Luther College graduates.

And the famous talent of Noble's singing group doesn't escape any of Spokane's performing arts experts. "The whole musical community comes out for this," says McDaniel. Nor has the fame of the Luther College Choir escaped the interest of well-known pop artists. In 1996, Dave Matthews and his long-time friend guitarist Tim Reynolds recorded a 23-song acoustic set. Some of the recordings were later produced on the CD Live at Luther College.

One of the choir's latest honors is to record selections of the Mozart Requiem with the Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis. Shortly after finishing up their tour this year, they will return to the Midwest to begin the musical collaboration.

"It's a real plum," says Noble of this recording opportunity. "We're only the second college choir asked to sing with the Minnesota Orchestra."

These opportunities are the reward for the practice and musical dedication of Noble and his choir. Since most of the singers are students, they have rigorous academic schedules, but choir is an integral part of their daily activities. Students practice every day for an hour and spend at least one semester practicing the songs that will be performed on tour. And aside from their one major yearly tour at the national or international level, they make smaller trips and performances.

Noble's direction is also a major factor of the choir's success. McDaniel compares Noble to Robert Shaw, who is considered to be one of the 20th century's greatest conductors. "He's in that class of conductors," says McDaniel.

Noble knew he wanted to conduct since childhood when he would imitate choirs and conductors on the radio. In his senior year of college at Luther, he directed the choir and realized that this was his life's passion. In 1948, Noble returned to Luther College on a one-year professional choir-conducting position. Decades later, Noble is still teaching and directing Luther College's most talented young voices, and he jokes, "I like to say it's been a long year."

McDaniel hopes the choir's successful appearance at St. John's three years ago will create a similar phenomenon this year when the choir sings at Westminster.

"It's sheer excitement to have the choir come," says McDaniel, "They're such a powerful group. Hearing them is a life changing experience."

& & & lt;i & The Luther College Choir, under the direction of Weston Noble, performs at Westminster Congregational Church, 411 S. Washington, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $10; $5 students. Call: 624-1366. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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