DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Some performances exist because of place.

In our region, a special place for sound is an abbey.

The abbey was built for religious purposes, but woven into the construction of its church portion was an intent to enhance music in dynamic ways (detailed at the end of this column).

So, Sunday night, for the 13th time, St. Norbert College Music Department performed a well-attended concert, “Brass & Organ Christmas Spectacular,” in St. Norbert Abbey Church.

Many familiar melodies were performed with enhanced settings, notably the brass and organ combination.

The word “spectacular” has roots in the visual, as something of a spectacle for the eye. At this concert, the “spectacular” is for the ear.

The experience is amazing – how unamplified instruments can produce music of sound that at times is almost overwhelming to the ear.

This concert also features sounds of a string quartet and a handbell choir – also with an added glow and reverberance from the acoustics. The setting especially serves the handbell sounds well.

Much of the audience could not see the musicians. The church’s sight lines are for above – the towering walls and specialized “sound ceiling” – rather for a traditional performance hall. And the sound is for musical instruments rather than the spoken word, which is fractured by the acoustics. Much of the audience could not understand announcements and acknowledgements.

Two of the latter were for compositions performed in the program. The authors were present: John Hennecken of the St. Norbert College faculty for two brass quintet arrangements and Marty Robinson of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh faculty for two brass and organ arrangements. Each adds to the literature of elevated, wondrous music for expert musicians.

The music Sunday night was alternately mellow, soothing, exciting, inspiring, comforting, joyous and very often brilliant – altogether why the concert has existed in the unique space at this time of year.

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Musicians

Organ: Devin Atteln

Brass: Jamie Waroff, Michael Henckel, Marty Robinson (trumpet); Philip Klickman, Andrew Parks (French horn); Andrew Zipperer, Kenneth Johnson (trombone); Eric High (bass trombone)

String Quartet: Taylor Giorgio, Matthew Kirkendall (violin); Blakely Menghini (viola); Steve Westergan (cello)

St. Norbert College Handbell Choir: Philip Klickman (conductor); Drew Bolder, Elizabeth Brefka, Eliza Burmesch, Mileana Burmesch, Anna Heinzen, Mahri Hodges, Austin Kobylarczyk, Sarah Labinski, Claire Ostopowicz, Benjamin Taylor

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Program

Brass and Organ

+ “O Come All Ye Faithful”/“Joy to the World” – arranged by Howard Cable

+ “O Little Town of Bethlehem”/“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” – arranged by Howard Cable

+ “O Holy Night” – arranged by Arthur Frackenpohl

+ “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” – arranged by Arthur Frankenpohl

String Quartet

+ “Riu, Riu, Chiu” – by Mateo Flecha

+ “Concerto Grosso (Christmas Concerto)” by Arcangelo Corelli

   II. Allegro

   III. Adagio – Allegro – Adagio

   V. Allegro

+ “The First Noel” – arranged by Sarah James

Brass and Organ

+ “Westminster Carol” – arranged by Don Gillis

+ “Away in a Manger” – arranged by Stephen McNeff

+ “Ding Dong Merrily on High” – arranged by John Rutter

+ “The Christmas Song” – arranged by Luther Henderson

St. Norbert College Handbell Choir

+ “All Glory, Laud and Honor” – arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski

+ “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – arranged by Martha Lynn Thompson

+ “Good King Wenceslas” – arranged by Ron Mallory

Brass Quintet

+ “Cherry Tree Carol” – arranged by John Hennecken

+ “Wexford Carol” – arranged by John Hennecken

+ “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – arranged by Luther Henderson

Organ

+ “Adeste Fideles” – arranged by Marko Hakanpaa

Brass and Organ

+ “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” – arranged by Marty Robinson

+ “Silent Night” – arranged by Arthur Frackenpohl

+ “And the Glory of the Lord” from “Messiah” by George Frederick Handel – arranged by Marty Robinson

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Side note: Donations given at this concert are to support the Norbert “Nubbie” Ecker Chamber Music Endowment Fund of St. Norbert College.

“Nubbie” Ecker was chair of the Music Department of the college during a period of growth. One of his hires was Dudley Birder, who elevated the area’s performance scene to great heights.

“Nubbie” Ecker also added with a performance series featuring notable guest artists.

From an article I wrote for his retirement in 1981, this is “Nubbie” Ecker: “Music is for everybody. There’s nothing more relaxing than to sit down at the piano and begin to play. I think everybody would like to do that. It doesn’t have to be anything great, just something for the enjoyment, the relaxation. Just like I like to play golf. I don’t do it because I think I could ever be a great golfer. I do it because I just enjoy being out there, and I’m thinking about the golf game rather than a lot of other things.”

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THE VENUE: St. Norbert Abbey Church is known for its setting and its acoustics, which can be both tricky and awesome. The church was built in 1956-1959 with sound in mind. The abbey houses Norbertine Order priests, who at the time of the construction sang the entire liturgy. A reverberant space was necessary so the liturgy could “be carried out in great and proper splendor,” according to a historical booklet. A geometrically configured ceiling enhances the reverberance, which is softened somewhat with acoustical plaster. The nave walls of the clear story are of porous travertine marble. The lower regions are of highly polished marble. Accordion-style pleats on the side chapel walls help the sound to reverberate in all directions. Floors are of slate or highly polished marble. The church houses a 2,778-pipe organ designed by the noted firm of Casavant Freres of Canada. The architecture is influenced by the Cistercian style of “elegant plainness.” It’s from Medieval times, with the building made of smooth, pale stone, with columns, pillars and windows and not much embellishment. Color arrives in the church through 18 stained-glass windows, including a massive one in the west vestibule. The interior footprint of the church is 168 by 95 feet.