christmas at luther for nick

i just saw the below article in Chips, my alma mater’s newspaper.  a classmate of mine died our senior year while there, and while we were not particularly close, i had known him 3 1/2 years, we sang in choir throughout college, and he was all-around an amazing guy.  nick died in a car accident about 3 months before we were supposed to graduate.  i had no idea that his family was putting this together, but to honor nick at the candle-lighting ceremony at christmas at luther is the most amazing and heart-wrenching thing that i can think of.

 from chips:

It has been said that life can change in the blink of an eye. For the Duelo family of Golden Valley, Minn., that realization became all too true a few years ago.

On February 7, 2003, Nick Duelo, then a senior at Luther College, was traveling to Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. to visit friends when he was killed in a car accident.

Deulo’s mother, Judy, described Nick as having a “joyful spirit.”

“Every day was an adventure for [Nick],” Judy said. “He greeted life with open arms.”

Nick was an MIS major, with hopes of going abroad after Luther, working in the MIS field or being a youth director.

Nick was so close to having his major complete at the time of his death that Luther awarded his family with his diploma posthumously in May of 2003.

During his time at Luther, Nick was an active member of choir, being in Norsemen his first year, Cathedral Choir as a sophomore and Collegiate Chorale in his last two years. In high school, he was also the lead vocalist in a band with his friends called BORN.

Music meant a great deal to Nick, who once said in an essay: “Music is an integral part of my life.”

Friends of Nick’s also realized the significance music played in his life.

“Nick loved music so much. He was always touched by it,” said Kelly Flynn (‘04).

Also, at Nick’s commemerative service, 35 members of Nick’s fellow Norsemen choir members came to sing All is Well, a song Nick’s mother said he was particularly fond of when he sang it during his first year at Luther in Norsemen.

That is why it was important for Judy and Pete Duelo to find some way to honor their son’s memory with music. To do this, the Duelos donated money for Luther to pay a composer to commission a piece of music for Luther choirs to sing.

Last winter, the Duelos contacted Dr. Timothy Peter, professor of music and director of Collegiate Chorale and Norsemen at Luther to see if he could help them find a composer to commission a piece of choral music in memory of their son.

“[The Duelos] felt Nick’s participation in choir at Luther was one of the most significant parts of his Luther experience,” said Peter. To help them achieve their dream of commissioning a piece of music, Peter connected them with composer Mack Wilberg.

“We were always so proud of any work we’ve done by Mack Wilberg,” Peter said. “It seems that every time we’ve done a piece by him it has been very meaningful for both the participants and the listener.”

Wilberg works out of Salt Lake City, Utah with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

“We were told that his greater gift was arranging familiar hymn tunes,” Judy Duelo said. “The tune most associated with Christmas, Silent Night was suggested.”

“It’s pretty neat that we have someone as important as the Mormon Tabernacle arranger do a piece for us,” said choir member Patrick Burzlaff (‘07). “It says that this is something special.”

Peter has been a conduit between the Duelo family, Wilberg and Luther music faculty through this entire process. He helped Wilberg find the right piece to use and also spoke to other ensemble conductors at Luther to decide at what point in Luther’s annual Christmas at Luther tradition to use Silent Night.

“We decided that the family really wanted something that had a familiarity to it,” said Peter. “They were really honored that we would consider it for the candle lighting because that meant a lot to them.”

“The candle lighting song is not done anywhere else the way Luther does it,” said Judy Duelo. “The goal of this music is to touch the soul and transport the listener,” she said.

The candle lighting portion of Christmas at Luther has customarily been the part of the performance where lights are turned off in the Center for Faith and Life and choir members each light a candle and sing a more subdued piece.

Peter feels the commissioning of Silent Night is a worthy endeavor.

“Christmas at Luther is very special to this school and this department,” Peter said. “All of the conductors feel so fortunate to work on this project.”

This will be the 25-year anniversary of Christmas at Luther.

“I think that Silent Night is powerful just in itself,” said choir member Kelley Sundin (‘07). “But when you put it into the context of why we’re singing it this year in memory of the student who passed away and for the 25th anniversary of Christmas at Luther, it makes it really special.”

Students at Luther are respectful of what it means to be working on Silent Night this year for Christmas at Luther.

“It’s a really big deal to be commissioning a piece,” said choir member Drew Rindfleisch (‘07). “I think it’s nice that this community is able to do that after losing one of its own.”

Rindfleisch also said that Christmas at Luther is more than just a concert, it is a ceremony.

“It’s a celebration,” said Rindfleisch.

Pete and Judy Duelo, along with their son Paul and the composer Wilberg, all plan on attending one of the Christmas at Luther performances.

“Music is so powerful and is an organic, living thing,” said Judy Duelo. “We hope that this music in loving memory of our son will move its listeners and strike a deep spiritual chord at this holy time of year.”


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