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More Than a Conductor

More Than a Conductor

A family's legacy in The Concordia Choir honors the legacy of Dr. René Clausen

"The scholarship support and alumni connections have helped me immensely with my career exploration, especially in New York City. It's amazing…there are Cobbers everywhere! I'm so grateful and excited for the future." —Marin Wilts

When Kristi (Aune) Wilts '94 was a young woman, she treasured visiting with her Grandma Kay, especially reading articles in the Fargo Forum featuring The Concordia Choir. One afternoon as they read an article about Dr. René Clausen, her grandmother, knowing Kristi's talent and love for singing, whispered to her, "Wouldn't you love to sing for that man someday?"

Her grandmother's subtle suggestion planted a seed in Kristi's mind and heart which, ultimately, grew and blossomed into a family legacy of singing under the direction of the esteemed conductor and professor.

Marin, Kristi and Madi Wilts on the Concordia campus after a choir concert

Marin, Kristi and Madi Wilts on the Concordia campus after a choir concert.

"To be able to sing for the best was such a gift. He was so much more than my conductor. As a college student, he was my pastor. When we went through the music, he would ask, 'Why are we here? Why are we singing? Did you listen to the words you just sang?' His faith is deep. He humbly reminds us we have a unique opportunity to share our God-given talents through music. He embodies the mission of Concordia College," shares Kristi.

More than two decades later Kristi is living the mission herself. Happily married to Scott Wilts, they have two daughters and a son, and she has built a successful career in the insurance industry all while staying connected to her alma mater. She recently had the pleasure of singing for Dr. Clausen again at the all-alumni choir reunion—and this time with her two daughters. Both Madi '19 and Marin '21 have followed in their mother's footsteps as members of the illustrious Concordia Choir. Madi sang in the choir for two years and is now a middle school choir director and music educator in Burnsville, Minnesota. Marin is enjoying her second year in the choir, and feels lucky to also be his student in conducting courses. The three Wilts women have performed together several times at Concordia events—with mom usually in the middle—and even managed to surprise her once.

Marin shares, "At the end of every concert, the choir sings Beautiful Savior . Upholding the tradition of the song is very important to everyone, as is the solo. When Dr. Clausen chose me for the solo as a sophomore, I started crying and thought immediately of my mom. I decided I wanted to surprise her. I worked it out to get to the middle of the choir so I could stand by my sister, Madi, and my mom, and when Dr. Clausen pointed at me to begin as the soloist, I could feel my mom squeeze my hand. It was a moment I had dreamt about…it was so special and really brought Concordia in my life full circle."

Kristi, Madi and Marin shared that Dr. Clausen explains that while Beautiful Savior is a holy and spiritual piece, it is also part of the legacy and mission of the choir, so if one isn't religious, they still can feel connected to it and motivated to perform it beautifully. We all have a duty to sing it that way.

Says Madi: "He motivated us to not only be the best musicians we could be, but to share unconditional love with others because that is what he showed us."

Another example of Dr. Clausen's connection to his students is his "This I Believe" project. Every Friday, a choir student has the opportunity to give a five-minute talk on any message and in any language. Intended to provide a time for the group to slow down, connect and share something that is personal and meaningful with each other, Marin says she appreciates the opportunity it provides to hear Dr. Clausen's response and philosophy in life—character and integrity—and the chance to just be human.

The Wilts girls with Dr. Rene Clausen

Madi Wilts, Dr. René Clausen and Marin Wilts.

"It's easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of music and perfectionism. This allows us to just be ourselves and invites inclusivity, in a safe space with respectful conversation."

In addition to support from Dr. Clausen and classmates, both girls have earned and benefited from scholarships, support that has made college more affordable and less stressful.

"The way Concordia handles the Presidential Scholarship process was excellent—I felt so valued and that this scholarship and the school would help to build and strengthen upon who I am, which it did," says Madi.

In honor of his service and celebration of his upcoming retirement, the René Clausen Choral Legacy Endowed Fund has been created to provide a sustained stream of income to support Concordia's Choral program which will carry forth this living tradition of excellence in music.

Madi Wilts' quote in the tour program last year might sum up her family's feelings best: "It's hard to ignore Dr. Clausen's talent, especially as a composer. He's the most genuine, caring teacher I've ever had. He helps us see the important things. Dr. Clausen wants us to express ourselves through our music, show love for each other and be kind to people."

Dr. René Clausen announces his retirement

Create Your Concordia Legacy

Make a lasting impact by making a planned gift through your estate. There are many ways to make a lasting impact by making a planned gift through your estate. Contact Trina Hall at 218.299.3445 or [email protected] today, to learn more.

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