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SNC professor records sacred vocal piece album

By Press Times Staff

DE PERE – Dr. Yi-Lan (Elaine) Niu, an associate professor of vocal performance and director of the music department at St. Norbert College, has published a vocal album, “Chanter et Souffrir” (To Sing and To Suffer), through Centaur Records.

This album was Niu’s sabbatical project sponsored by St. Norbert College and the St. Norbert Abbey.

It’s a collection of sacred vocal pieces composed by French composer, Charles Gounod (1818-1893).

“The reason I took this project, those are not easy pieces to learn, so that would be perfect for my scholarship, thinking selfishly,” Niu said. “I teach in a Catholic school, and I feel part of my responsibility is to make sure I do promote the college mission, which is a learning community, which is important for us here in De Pere and Green Bay, and releasing this album is a good way to do it, so everyone can listen to it.”

The album includes 14 pieces, most not well known to the public.

To prepare, Niu read numerous biographies on Gounod, and met with a French expert who specializes in 19th century poetry.

“Not only do you have to learn your part, your accompanist will have to learn their part,” Niu said. “In a way you’re singing your words, but he or she will have to paint the musical photo to know what’s happening in the music.”

The purpose of this album is to introduce these musical pieces to interested musicians and music lovers, as well as to project a calm and positive attitude through the words of faith, she said.

“The music is about struggling and how we can use our faith to coexist with our struggle, because we can never not struggle, because that wouldn’t be life and there wouldn’t be learning involved,” Niu said.

She has appeared as a featured soloist in major works, including “Reqiuem” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo a 7 voci” by Claudio Monteverdi and “Gloria” in D major RV 589 by Antonio Vivaldi, and numerous operatic roles.

Niu completed her masters of music degree in voice at the Eastman School of Music and her doctor of musical arts degree in vocal performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Chanter et Souffrir,” also features accompiant by Elaine Moss, instructor of piano and staff accompanist at St. Norbert College.

Gounod, the focus of the album was one of the most famous French Opera composers, with the works “Faust” and “Roméo & Juliette.”

His best-known vocal piece, “Ave Maria,” has become one of the most performed vocal pieces in the repertoire.
Gounod’s life was torn between theater and church.

He studied the choral music of Palestrina in Italy from 1873-1877. At the age of 28, Gounod was inspired by Catholicism and seriously considered becoming a priest.

However, he changed his mind and became a full-time composer instead.

With a particular admiration for church music, he began to compose for masses, in addition to producing operas.

“We coexist and learn with struggles,” Niu said. “His life was full of this struggle and recovery with this struggle, the very last piece, called ‘Redemption,’ showcases that.”

“Chanter et Souffrir” will be available in the bookstore at St. Norbert after Oct.1, and the digital version will be distributed both nationally and internationally after Jan. 1.

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