I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

Chamber Choir

Chamber Choir

Benedictines have been making beautiful music for centuries.

Benedict of Nursia (c. AD 480-550) included in his Rule — a book of precepts written in 516 for monks living communally under the authority of an abbot — a chapter (#19) on The Discipline of Psalmody.

It reads, “Let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

I am guessing that at the first Benedictine monastery, established in 529 in Subiaco, Italy, one musically gifted monk likely trained his confreres to perfect (or at least improve) their chanting … and the vocal coach was born!

The monastic tradition of making music continues nearly 1,500 years later. In the 1990s, the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain recorded, Chant, the best-selling album of Gregorian chant ever released.

The Monks of Norcia at St. Benedict Monastery in central Italy sing while they brew their famous beer. And it’s almost a given that if you have subscribed to this blog, you have heard the monks of Saint John’s Abbey making music a time or two (or two thousand) — in the Abbey Church, or the classroom, or while baking Johnnie Bread.

Axel Theimer

Axel Theimer

Of course, one need not be a monk to produce beautiful sounds.  For nearly half a century, Dr. Axel Theimer has been singing in Collegeville and training Johnnies and Bennies to do the same — whether they be vocal performance majors or (like yours truly) proud members of the Men’s Chorus or Chamber Choir.

In 2017, Axel put his money where his vocal chords are by establishing The Axel Theimer Endowed Choral/Vocal Music Education Scholarship Fund. The fund is designed to benefit SJU/CSB students majoring in this specific field of study.

Over the past year, a collection of Johnnies — many of whom studied music under Axel’s direction — have stepped forward with leadership gifts in support of this new fund. I recently connected with three of them.

Two donors, Bret Amundson, DMA (SJU ’05) and Seth Beckman, DA (SJU ’88), went on to pursue careers in music and academic administration. Bret was recently promoted to the role of Dean of the School of Arts and Letters at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. Seth will soon begin serving as the Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

But not all music majors are created equal. Another lead donor, John Kelly, MD (SJU ’85), went on to pursue a medical degree and now serves as a pediatrician for HealthEast Clinics in the Twin Cities.

Despite their differences in age (modest) and career paths, all three alumni shared remarkably similar reasons for supporting this new fund at a leadership level.

First and foremost, they wanted to honor Axel Theimer. All stated that they had been transformed by Axel. Not only did they gain impressive technical expertise from a master vocal coach, they were also shaped and nurtured by a generous teacher who was constantly available to his students. The three have remained in touch with Axel as their relationships with him have morphed from teacher/student to mentor/mentee to colleagues/friends. 

The other critical reason these three men are supporting this new scholarship fund at the leadership level is to allow students from all backgrounds — especially those who may lack the financial resources — to pursue a Saint John’s education. They also expressed a strong desire to “take the pressure off” students who are passionate about music but may feel driven to consider careers that are likely to have greater earning potential.

As one donor shared near the end of our conversation, “Music has always been a venue for transformation. Today, more than ever, we need musicians helping to transform our world. Given Benedictines’ long history of making beautiful music, it makes perfect sense that Saint John’s should be the leader.”

“Let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

If you are interested in learning more about and/or making a gift in support of The Axel Theimer Endowed Choral/Vocal Music Education Scholarship Fund, please contact Brad Neary, Senior Development Officer, at 612-810-9344 or bneary@csbsju.edu.