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Magnum Chorum: Expressing the divine through choral music

Three St. Olaf College alumni wanted to recapture the rich musical heritage of their college experience as they began careers in the Twin Cities several years ago. Their gift to music lovers in the metro area and beyond is Magnum Chorum, an a cappella choral group. The three, Peter Haugen, Jin Kim, and Martha Kunau, are members of the St. Olaf class of 1990.
Now in its 17th season, Magnum Chorum will offer its spring concert, “The Road Home,” Saturday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. in St. Mark’s Chapel at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. The guest conductor this spring is Christopher Aspaas, who conducts the Viking Chorus and Chapel Choir at St. Olaf.
“When we started Magnum Chorum, we wanted to continue the tradition of music that transforms the lives of listeners and gives them a message of faith and hope,” says Kunau, executive director. “We had our first rehearsal March 19, 1991. At the time we knew of no other group that came together out of the sheer joy of singing and that also joined congregational worship services.
“We’re the choir in residence at Westwood Lutheran Church (ELCA) in St. Louis Park. They provide rehearsal space and we offer music for their worship twice a year. In 2007 we collaborated with Westwood’s senior choir in a benefit concert for a St. Louis Park ministry.” They sing at worship in other metro churches as well.
Four concerts each year are at venues divided between Minneapolis and St. Paul: A requiem in the fall is followed by Christmas, midwinter, or Lenten concerts, as well as a spring concert. A Stephen Paulus piece, “The Road Home,” inspired the concert coming in May, and will be featured along with music by St. Olaf Choir director emeritus Kenneth Jennings, and by Eric Whitacre and Moses Hogan, each involving the homeward or the heavenly journey.
“Our music is primarily but not exclusively sacred,” Kunau says. “We also find sacred references in beautifully written secular pieces. We sing primarily a cappella but some works are accompanied by orchestra. Until a few years ago, we were all St. Olaf graduates, but that’s no longer true.
“Our guiding values, in addition to sacred music and faith, include musical excellence, fellowship, and stewardship. Our singers volunteer their time and some give money. We also have a wonderful group of donors,” she adds.
“I’m the one who asked how we could build support for our group,” says Magnum Chorum member Kim Bowman, who has become director of development. “About two-thirds of our support comes from charitable contributions. This allows us to maintain our practice of singing for worship and to commission new sacred music. It’s rare for a small group like ours to invite commissions.
“We’ve kept our size to 36 to 40 singers. We hold annual auditions for both new and returning members,” Bowman says, “but there’s not a spirit of competition in Magnum Chorum. Instead there’s a shared passion around the music.
“We’re aware that we have an unusual name,” Bowman continues. “Our name is intended to convey the importance of the choir in expressing the divine and the infinite through voice, music, and text.
“We offer five recordings, and one in particular has received critical acclaim. ‘Wonder Tidings,’ the Christmas music of Stephen Paulus, is distributed nationally. We’ve had requests from all over the United States for this CD.”
As do other members of the group, altos Kunau and Bowman have day jobs that engage their time and energy. Kunau is principal gifts officer in the St. Olaf College advancement office. Bowman is director of endowment and planned giving at Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Participating in Magnum Chorum provides balance.
“It’s a wonderful part of my life,” Bowman says. “It’s fulfilling and it’s a blessing to create music and to share with our listeners compositions that have been received, enjoyed, and preserved across the centuries.”
For concert information, to contribute, to order CDs, or to learn more about Magnum Chorum, visit the Web site: www.magnumchorum.org or phone Kim Bowman at 612/924-4111.