Making A Masterpiece: Commissioning a World Premiere for NCHS Choirs

The Advancement Center’s mission is to advance the achievements of world-class public education by connecting private funding to innovative programs that benefit our schools and community. There is no better face of North Central High School than the Counterpoints and Descants. Every December the two choral groups combine with the NCHS orchestra to perform a free concert for 1,000 community members at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church called More Joyful Sounds of the Seasons.

This past December The Advancement Center funded a grant to commission an original piece of music by Associate Professor of Music at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Dr. Dominick DiOrio for the Counterpoints and Descants to perform at Sounds. Dominick DiOrio is a composer and conductor that has an extensive resume that includes serving on the board of directors for Chorus America, and at only 32-years-old, Dr. DiOrio is one of the rising stars in contemporary choral music. He has won numerous composition awards and his music has been performed by professional ensembles of the highest quality all over the world. Dr. DiOrio composed a piece that was specifically written for the strengths of the students and featured a winter text for the two most advanced choirs that included a performance opportunity for the quartet of string players from orchestra, as well as a student pianist.

“The students at NCHS are absolutely fantastic. This was not my first time working with them, as they have sung many of my pieces before. But this was the first time that I got to write an entirely new piece of music for Mike Raunick and both the Counterpoints and the Descants. This program is storied, and the students are a joy to work with, as they imbue their singing with the spirit of the music and the text!” – Dr. DiOrio

This experience provided a fantastic opportunity to have the two nationally-recognized choirs work together on a significant piece of music and do something that had never been done before by the choirs at North Central High School: commission a brand-new piece of music to be specifically performed by our students. Dr. DiOrio’s inspiration was a sleigh ride, and that great fast feeling of exhilaration one gets from moving quickly through the brisk snowy air. He went out to create a piece of music that had that sense of momentum and velocity. All 120 students had a private coaching session with Dr. DiOrio who joined them for a rehearsal as well as the world premiere performance; providing a rare opportunity to work with a musician of this caliber.

“The voices of the students were the most inspiring part. The sound of the choirs at NCHS is always so beautiful and unified, and I knew I would be writing for an excellent ensemble of happy people!” – Dr. DiOrio

The North Central High School performing arts department has always been a leader in the school music community, and this process is another way that they can put their tradition of excellence on display.

Working through this process with Dr. DiOrio gave students a look at what it was like to compose an original piece of music.

“This element of musicianship is often difficult to include in a traditional choral classroom, but this opportunity really involved the students in the creation of the brand-new work. It allowed students to learn about music composition, which is an entirely different aspect of musicianship, and exposed them to a potential career path.” – NCHS Director of Choirs Mike Raunick

Most high school students never have the opportunity to work on a piece written just for them, let alone a piece written by an internationally recognized composer. Learning about composition is one of the nine national standards for music education outlined by the National Association for Music Education.

“I learned that when working on a piece composed just for you it gives much more space to put your own creative spin on it. We were able to play with the piece and mold it to fit our sound, to really make it our own.” Tatum Parker, Counterpoint

All of the performers got the chance to explore interpretational choices and technical aspects of the piece for the very first time, which created a truly unique experience.

“I was most excited about the opportunity to have our two most advanced choirs work together, to expose these students to the process of music composition, to give them the opportunity to work with an outstanding professional composer, and to share this piece with our community. This has the potential to impact an infinite number of students and community members for years to come.” – Mr. Raunick

In addition to the support The Advancement Center provided for this original piece of music, the NCHS Choir Parents Organization takes an active role in ensuring that finances never prevent a student from participating in Counterpoints or Descants. Both choirs are made up of rich diversity in culture and socio- economics and students are encouraged to participate fully, regardless of any financial challenges. Dr. DiOrio could not contain his excitement at seeing his original piece of music performed so beautifully by such a diverse group.

“There is no feeling more special than hearing one’s own music brought to life, especially when the faces of the singers and players are radiating with that same joy. If my music can make the singers, players, and listeners feel moved, then I’ve done my job in an immensely satisfying way!” – Dr. DiOrio