By Conspirare alto Lauren Vick
The first time I ever sang a piece by Stephen Paulus was my first day of rehearsal with the St. Olaf Choir. It was his setting of Arise, My Love and it has been swimming through my mind ever since. I had, until then, never found myself humming lines of choral music during study sessions, meals, parties, and even while sleeping (so my roommate swears!) – I was instantly on the lookout for more Paulus, curious if that piece was a hidden gem, or perhaps just the tip of an iceberg… Lucky me, I grew to learn that not only did he have more fabulous choral music out there, but also chamber music, operas, and orchestral works!
Learning Stephen’s music also led me to fall in love with the poetry of Michael Dennis Browne, a man who so gracefully and honestly captures the essence of humanity in lyric lines that touch you deeply. Paulus sets those lines to brilliant melodies that warm my heart and consume my brain space. I know nothing about sports, but I’ll steal a term that I feel applies to Stephen and Michael’s collaboration: Dream Team!
Stephen’s legacy is truly inspiring. There is resounding agreement that he was, on top of being a brilliant composer, a true role model. He was influential in the world of self-publishing and shared his experiences with both peers and those of a younger generation. I reached out to a few friends of mine for their reflections and have compiled them below. All are unique but each touch on the same themes: Steve’s friendship and love first, and then his musical legacy, influence, and mentoring.
Pictured right: Lauren Vick (photo Travis Chantar)
conductor & composer
“Little did I know, that in 1969, when I casually asked Steve Paulus if he would be interested in writing a piece for my choir, that it would lead to his composing some 40-50 works (we lost count of the total number) of every dimension and for every conceivable occasion. And, that it would lead to a life-long personal friendship, with our families celebrating all birthdays and holidays together. Further, little did I foresee that those early invites might ‘spark’ a steady stream of incredible choral gems that eventually established Steve as one of the world’s foremost composers of choral music.
So much inspiring music and all coming into being over such short period of time. It all now seems like a dream!”
Michael Dennis Browne
“It was an extraordinary privilege, and challenge, to come up with words that matched, in some measure, Stephen’s very beautiful music. The resulting piece has changed both our lives… and the response in terms of sales was so strong that Stephen founded Paulus Publications and began to publish more and more of his own music.”
(on the collaboration for “Pilgrims’ Hymn”)
Composer & Director of The Singers: Minnesota Choral Artists
“I loved laughing with Stephen Paulus! He was a hilarious and engaging friend, whose support in the early years of The Singers was impactful beyond measure. When we wrapped the final recording session of our ‘Splendid Jewel’ recording, Steve stood and thanked the choir by inviting them to his house for pizza and wine. It was a Thursday night and nearing midnight, but we all went and celebrated until about 4am. He was a gentleman and a talent whose passing I mourn to this day.”
“Steve’s work and role-model as a self-publisher paved the way for so many of us to create and publish our own music. But perhaps even more influential was his warm generosity toward his colleagues that set an example for all of us as we learned how to navigate this business. I miss him (and his funny quips!) but continue to feel his influence in the kindness, humor, and spirit of sharing that helps define our Minnesota new music scene, and I feel very acutely that we who knew him are charged to move forward in that same spirit.”
“Steve Paulus was always such a leader in the composing community, not only through his music but his work ethic, his independent business sense, and his willingness to reach out to a younger generation of composers and lend a hand. One got the sense that composing was never just a job to him. He lived his craft everyday.”
“I met Stephen shortly after I moved to Minneapolis in 1980, and our paths crossed many times in the years that followed. Of his many attributes, I would say the one I valued most – and benefited from most – was his generosity. Stephen was always willing and eager to be helpful. He freely shared advice, opinions, knowledge, experiences, wisdom, humor, words of encouragement and, of course, his singular creative voice. And while much of Stephen’s legacy is embodied in his music, for me it extends beyond to encompass one of the most generous people I’ve known.”
“Steve was a generous soul and a hard-working advocate for both his colleagues and his art form. He was a pioneer in the realm of entrepreneurial, full-time composers and candidly shared his wealth of knowledge with anyone who asked. Steve’s beautiful spirit is sorely missed, but we are lucky that his spirit continues to live on through the sensitive and poignant music that he gave to us all.”
“His music is layered in meaning. It invites you to return to it and when you do, there is always something deeper, richer, delightful to discover. I admire his ability to compose a beautifully constructed lyric line. It’s maddeningly difficult to create a highly original and memorable lyric line. At this, Stephen is one of the best. His musical signatures – quick rhythmic bursts, elegant uses of minimal percussion, a well placed chord which resolves in an unexpected and highly emotional way and, of course, his masterful ways with text setting – make his music his, and his alone. In his music, Stephen met his goal – to be authentic. His music lasts, and will last for many years to come.”
(from “Intense, Hardworking and Fun Loving – Remembering Stephen Paulus (1949-2014)”, newmusicbox.org, 10.28.14 )
“Taking a survey of Stephen’s choral works would be like getting a graduate degree in writing for the voice. He had a once-in-a-generation mind for choral writing and a kind spirit to go along with it. I’ll never forget the first time I sang a piece of his. The graciousness with which he wrote for singers is something I try to honor every time I put musical pen to paper.”
President & CEO of American Composers Forum
“Stephen will always be remembered for his legacy of great music, but the American Composers Forum also honors the generous gift of time and talent he gave to fellow composers throughout his life. There is a long list of composers who are deeply grateful for the support and guidance he offered as they developed their own professional careers. His spirit lives on at ACF.”
Spotify playlist curated by Lauren Vick